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THE STORY IN SHORT VIDEOS

THE STORY IN SHORT ESSAYS

The career changers: From the idyll to the big World of Football

Sokrates - Brazils tragic football hero from the 70s and 80s.
Sokrates - Brazils tragic football hero from the 70s and 80s. Copyright: imago/WEREK
They were gone. Failed, banished, submerged, imprisoned. Or: They kicked somewhere where nobody noticed them. In dusty amateur places, in empty traditional stadiums or elsewhere. It’s about fabulous footballer careers that began anything but hopefully – and then still have a happy ending. These stories are almost ready to be filmed.

It’s the stories that begin sometime in the youth team when the stars’ posters are maturing into football dreams and then somehow nothing happens. The school, the job, and the studies suddenly lie between themselves and the big career. Another talent, already in his youth of the stature of a boxer begins to delude himself and ends up behind bars. A footballer’s dream can’t be any more broken. This is followed by the miraculous turnaround between the upper league and the regional league, back to the professional business behind the scenes, and then overnight at the very top. That’s a path our nobodies take.

Then there are those who, according to their own statements, “never wanted to become professionals”, who are content with a well-paid “decent” profession. The nice guys from next door, the Oberliga Kicker, who go to church before the departure for the away game and for whom the warmth of a nest and a regular income is worth more than the glamour world of the shrill professional business.

Police trainers, car salesmen, and prospective lawyers believe that professional football is only a dream that is casually talked about in the cabins of amateur or leisure teams. “Did you see the Bavarians on TV last night,” they say. Or: ” I could get involved in the way 1860 is playing at the moment”. And then some really get the opportunity. Suddenly they’re on the team with the big ones.

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ISPO Munich 1974, Werner Liebrich (left) and Helmut Rahn, both part of the winning 1954 squad.
ISPO Munich 1974, Werner Liebrich (left) and Helmut Rahn, both part of the winning 1954 squad. Image: Imago Sportfoto.

The feeling of having made it often occurs with young professionals. They are often at the top of their career at a young age – resting on their laurels, then changing clubs like shirts. Others are mercilessly torn apart by critics as professionals – and then somehow manage to convince everyone of their great footballing skills.

One of the most prominent German players of the last 20 years has to flee the Bundesliga in order to make it with professional football. He takes 3 leagues as a detour to get to the top.

It becomes problematic when one is already at the top – and then for some reason, not always invented, he goes crazy. Professional football attracts a lot i.e. the big money, the celebrity bonus, the beautiful women. And it often leads to a dead end. An English football monument ends up in prison because of its drunkenness and returns like a fairy tale. Even a German world champion has experienced how glorious fame can taste. Another, later world champion, let himself be chatted about. From those for whom football is only a means to miraculously increase money, from the dubious shopkeepers and the men from the back rooms.

We, therefore, distinguish four categories of these players:

  1. Players whose talent was underestimated and who made it to the top via detours
  1. Soccer players who first kicked in the amateur arena or who came all the way to the top as career changers
  1. Professionals who were regarded as failed and showed it to all critics
  1. Players who already had a big name as pros but fell from the top to the bottom and eventually came back.

1st Category: Not considered a talent and yet at the top of the list

20. Lars Leese: First car dealership, then Anfield Road

“I met you before somewhere! “ – Gladbach-Manager Jupp Heynckes (l.) and Lars Leese, in 2006.
“I met you before somewhere! “ – Gladbach-Manager Jupp Heynckes (l.) and Lars Leese, in 2006. (Photo by Bongarts/Getty Images)
Lars Leese – The story of the goalkeeper from the Rhineland, who overnight becomes the “Mister Cinderella” in England, was brilliantly literalized by Ronald Reng in The Dream Keeper 2002. The book becomes a bestseller because it tells a true story that you can’t really think of more beautifully and which every amateur footballer secretly dreams of.

And it starts like this: Lars Leese, who never plays a Bundesliga game at Bayer Leverkusen and can only be seen as the 3rd goalkeeper in the team photo for the 1996/97 season, unexpectedly changes to Premier League promoted FC Barnsley in 1997. On the island, the 1.97 m giant becomes the hero of the fans with only 18 league appearances. A local writer in Barnsley even dedicates a poem to him.

Poetry and truth are not so far apart in the work of Lars Leese, now 48 years old. He worked as a car salesman in the Westerwald, where he made his first career steps in Neitersen. His biggest thing “The Dream Keeper” delivers in the season 1997/98 at the Anfield Road in Liverpool. Against the Reds, the German goalkeeper giant drives the star strikers to despair. Leese can’t believe it himself: “I’ve risen from the ashes like a phoenix, from the district league to the Premier League. Then I play a few matches and play a decisive role in ensuring that we win at such a place of worship.”

For the dream keeper, the Premier League adventure comes to an end with his relegation in 1999. “Later, to put it bluntly, I disappeared into oblivion again,” he says years later. Prussia Cologne, Borussia Mönchengladbach II, and 1st FC Cologne II. From the dream. “But,” says Leese, “nobody can take Liverpool away from me anymore.”

19. Carsten Linke: The "Football God" who came from the District League

One of the favorites of the crowd - Carsten Linke.
One of the favorites of the crowd - Carsten Linke. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
There are players who could play for a lifetime without being noticed. Carsten Linke, now 53, almost became one.

Until 1988, when he was 22 years old, the defensive all-rounder played for VfL Bad Zwischenahn in the Ammerland region of Germany, who are not known for their footballing exploits regardless of their reputation. More football province is almost impossible. In 1988 he managed to make the leap into the 2nd league relatively late via VfB Oldenburg. Next stage is FC Homburg, but in 1993 the two-time first division team from Saarland stopped playing the professional fiddle in German football.

In 1995 Linke changed to Hannover 96 after a stopover at the 1st FC Saarbrücken and experienced pretty much everything with the leaking traditional club. He was relegated to the regional league, returned to the 2nd league and finally climbed to the Bundesliga in 2002 under Ralf Rangnick.

After a total of 314 matches in the “House of Commons” for Oldenburg, Homburg and Hanover, the left-wing player, mostly used as a central defender, makes his first Bundesliga game at the tender age of 36. On August 11, 2002, he becomes the fifth oldest debutant of the league history at the 1:2 in Hamburg. The fans of Hannover 96 always call to Left’s name the magic addition ” Football God ” in the line-up and he says goodbye in 2003 after 15 first league missions and a goal in the 2:2 against VfL Bochum into the well-deserved retirement.

18. Nicolas Feldhahn: Even Bayern Munich have fairy tales to tell

Nicolas Feldhahn playing for Kickers Offenbach.
Nicolas Feldhahn playing for Kickers Offenbach. Copyright: imago/Jan Huebner
FC Bayern as an ice-cold soccer machine with a big-time deposit account? We can forget this cliché! Law student Nicolas Feldhahn, 32, shows that even the record champion and industry giant still has wondrous player stories to tell.

Feldhahn is studying law at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. He simultaneously plays football. In 2004 he received a professional contract with the former Bundesliga club SpVgg Unterhaching. This contract lapses after the relegation of Hachinger from the 2nd league.

Also at the end of his 2nd professional stage, near Erzgebirge Aue, the relegation from the football lower house stands for the law student. The defensive midfielder moves to the 3rd league, to Werder Bremen II and later to VfL Osnabrück. The former junior player from 1860 Munich will experience a surprising turnaround in the summer of 2015. Feldhahn has the chance to terminate his contract in Osnabrück and to return to his home in Munich. He receives an amateur contract with FC Bayern Munich and is suddenly in the limelight after EURO 2016.

In the Supercup final against Borussia Dortmund, the new Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti brings him into the team and he receives the trophy after the match. “A gigantic feeling,” he later told the BILD newspaper. In April 2017, Ancelotti will take him back to the Champions League quarter-finals in Madrid. “When I’m needed, I’m ready,” says Feldhahn. But he won’t be used.

17. Hendrik Weydandt: A Marvel at the Weser Stadium

Hendrik Weydandt: A Marvel at the Weser Stadium.
Hendrik Weydandt: A Marvel at the Weser Stadium. Photo: Imago
When you’re 23, you’re actually out as a soccer player. No scout has you on the list anymore, no great coach touches you with pincers.

The same goes for Hendrik Weydandt (23). The top scorer of the men’s team of TSV Groß Munzel (Lower Saxony) would have deserved multiple mentions with his 23 goals in at least 25 matches in the district league Hannover-Land (relay 3).

The striker tries his luck at the 1. FC Germania Egestorf/Langreder from 2014. He scores 41 goals in 97 games in 4 years. Hanover brings him into his 2nd team in 2018. He plays in the Regionalliga Nord. Weydandt receives an amateur contract until 2020. In the preparation, 96 coach André Breitenreiter brings him to the pros and also uses him in the 1st Cup round, 6-0 at the Karlsruher SC. The “contract amateur”, who earned 400 Euros per month until May, is more than just attracting attention with 2 goals.

The reward: On August 25, 2018, Weydandt was in the Bundesliga opener at Werder Bremen (1:1) in Hanover’s professional squad. It will be a new miracle in the Weserstadion. He scores 0:1 for “Die Roten” just 81 seconds after his substitution for Takuma Asano to make their Bundesliga debut faster. 2 goals in 5 Bundesliga matches bring him a professional contract in September 2018. Go ahead!

16. Miroslav Klose: Long live the football province!

Miroslav Klose started out as a freshman at Kaisersalautern.
Miroslav Klose started out as a freshman at Kaisersalautern. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
I don’t want anybody blaspheming the football Palatinate! 5 German world champions from 1954, US legend and World Cup captain Tom Dooley (1994), but also 2 from the successful German World Cup Team from 2014 have learned to kick here.

In addition to Erik Durm from Borussia Dortmund, who was born in Pirmasens, Miroslav Klose, who grew up in the Palatinate, crowns his incredible career with the 2014 World Cup title. Klose’s ascent for the newspaper Fußball BILD is “probably the most famous fairytale story” in German football. The Western Palatinate regional league near Blaubach-Diedelkopf and the regional league in Homburg until 1999 seem to be the world of the Polish-born striker. Coach Grand Seigneur Otto Rehhagel only becomes aware of Klose, who was fetched by FC Homburg late at the 1st FC Kaiserslautern. On April 15, 2000, “King Otto” Klose plays against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga for the first time. In 4 years at FCK, Klose scores 44 goals in 120 league games and enchants the fans at Betzenberg with his somersault goal. Werder Bremen, Bayern Munich, and Lazio Rome are the further stages of a picture book career.

What only very few people know: On March 24, 2001, the silent Miro will make his international debut for Germany in the World Cup qualifier against Albania in Leverkusen with a 2-1 winning goal and a somersault. Mehmet Scholl, who will not take part in the 2002 World Cup, denied the team’s broadcast and Klose became a vice-world champion in Asia one year later. Until his farewell after the 2014 World Cup and alongside Pelé and Uwe Seeler, he remains the player to meet in 4 different World Championship finals.

After 2 times 3rd place at the home World Championships 2006 and 2010 in South Africa, Klose and “The Team” will finish on July 13, 2014: 1:0 against Argentina in extra time and World Champion! On July 8, 2015, Klose set a record for eternity in the semi-final against Brazil (7-1) with his 16th goal at a World Cup. By the way, the late developer never listened to a junior national team of the DFB…

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