“Das Reboot,” a new book from Raphael Honingstein which hits book stores and online retailers on Tuesday, is a masterful look at how German soccer broke out of its conservative traditions to create a world champion. While Germany has always from the view of outsiders been a world powerhouse, having never fallen short of the World Cup quarterfinals in its post-World War II history, failures at the 2000 and 2004 European Championships exposed the Germans as caught and passed by several European rivals.
This story is interesting to read for any soccer fan, but it is even more interesting for United States-based fans of the beautiful game for the leading role current US men’s national team technical director and head coach Jürgen Klinsmann plays in Germany’s revival.
After the disastrous Euro 2004, where Germany bombed out in the group stage, changes had to be made. Adding insult to injury, the competition was won by Greece, which was managed by a German, Otto Rehhagel. While the DFB (German Football Federation) was fumbling about, a long-time Bundesliga manager who had won three German titles, including one in 1997 with unfancied provincial side FC Kaiserslautern, took Greece to a continental title.
When Rudi Voller was sacked following the Euro disaster, the first choice for Germany was Ottmar Hitzfeld, the FC Bayern manager who wanted a break from the game. Hitzfeld had won the 1997 and 2001 UEFA Champions League titles with Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern, respectively, a disappointing decision made worse by his willingness to accept the Switzerland job three years later (he’d take that nation to two World Cups before retiring in 2014). Attention turned to Rehhagel, but on July 10, 2004, with the nation firmly behind the potential appointment, he turned down the Germany job to remain with Greece. The decisions of Hitzfeld and Rehagal to manage other European nations reflected the amount of pressure associated with the German post, as well as the circumstances around the DFB when these decisions had to be made.
Fumbling and stumbling, Germany approached Klinsmann, then living in California. Klinsmann found the national team setup to be a mess and felt the leading clubs in Germany, particularly FC Bayern, had backward practices in terms of medicine, training and other attributes. Klinsmann was appointed after a round-about political battle within the DFB and the DFL – the German league. His new age practices became revolutionary for Germany, as did his decisions about squad selection.
An entire chapter of “Das Reboot” is in the voice of Thomas Hitzlsperger, who described the prepraations for and what transpired at Germany’s 2006 World Cup. The backwards practices of German officials through 2004 meant that the cultured midfielder, who had left FC Bayern as a teenager to join Aston Villa, had not been fast tracked into senior national team. For Klinsmann, who played twice in England and also moved around Europe like a vagabond, players not in the domestic league could be considered. Thus Hitzlsperger, who eventually moved back to Germany to feature for Stuttgart, became a national team fixture.
Hitzlsperger’s chapter is my favorite in the entire book. He gets into how training was handled, and the attitude of German people in the lead up and during the World Cup. He describes his emotions as a player as a nation ashamed and tormented by its Nazi past demonstrated some prideful signs of nationalism. In a book which is gold mine of information, “A Summers Tale by Thomas Hitzlsperger” is the gem of it all.
From start to finish, Honigstein’s work is gripping. You learn about player selections, Oliver Bierhoff’s thinking, tactical considerations from Joachim Löw, how the young core that would win the 2014 World Cup grew up together, and, of course, the back stories of so many issues that made global headlines from 2004 to 2014.
German football revolutionized itself thanks to the willingness of the DFB after much back-and-forth to take a chance on Klinsmann. The national team was able to reach a whole different level of competitiveness thanks to the competence of the staff Klinsmann left in place. The Bundesliga itself, filled with traditional clubs and old-timers set in ways of the past, was dragged along kicking and screaming.
Today, German soccer is one of the most compelling products in the global game, both at the international and club levels. Honigstein’s book is the definitive story of how Germany went from a conservative traditional structure to a revolutionary, World Cup winning one. It’s a must read for any fan of the game.