Throughout his career, there were always more versatile teammates. From his beginnings at Hannover 96 as a teenager, observers doubted whether he would ever make it. That long dude obviously lacked pace and technical skills. Some even claimed that Per Mertesacker was only in the squad because his dad was their coach. However, they all made the cardinal error of underestimating the tenacity of that chap.
The two-metre guy from Pattensen, a remote town near Hanover, evolved into one of the best centre backs of the Bundesliga. He was a key player of the German national team for 10 years and captained Werder Bremen and Arsenal.
Now the “big fucking German”, as Gunners supporters would chant, has released his autobiography. Co-written by Raphael Honigstein, an expert on British football and the author of a book on Jürgen Klopp, “Weltmeister ohne Talent. Mein Leben, meine Karriere” features some remarkable revelations on…
… Ewald Lienen
Lienen was widely considered as a rough, overly serious and a bit weird. Everyone knew that the right behaviour and a balanced diet were of great importance to him. But he turned out to be totally different. On the night before a match, he’d hold lengthy speeches, sharing anecdotes, mocking the press, us and himself. It was hilarious.
… the day Robert Enke killed himself
I was having dinner with the national team in a hotel when Lukas Podolski read on his mobile that Robert Enke had committed suicide. A few seconds later Oliver Bierhoff confirmed the incident. You hear what he is announcing but his words don’t really reach you. No one said a thing for 20 minutes. We were all just sitting there, stunned by the shocking news.
… Arsene Wenger
I was in a Dusseldorf hotel room when Wenger called. He was talking in German – that impressed me a lot. It was exciting to get contacted by such a venerated manager. Wenger could have read the menu of his favourite restaurant to me – it would not have made any difference. I was desperate to join Arsenal.
Every coach is different. Wenger was very calm and always focused on facts. He rarely raised his voice. Occasionally he’d appeal on us to take the opponents’ breath like an anaconda or hunt for the ball like a pack of wolves – which tempted Lukas Podolski to howl. Wenger smiled. He liked that.
… the on-pitch celebrations after the 2014 World Cup final
Mario Götze was the one I was hugging the longest. I wanted to show him that all the extra effort was worth it. We had done hours of yoga together but Mario had also tried out neuro-athletic workout. All those years of hard work had paid off. Sharing our emotions on the pitch after the match, with each member of the squad, was an overwhelming feeling.
… what is going wrong at Arsenal Academy
At the moment, Arsenal youngsters are sitting sports marketing seminars for two hours a week. They click around the screen a bit and get a diploma in the end. You won’t get far like this on the job market. That has to change. Kids should not just focus on football at the age of 16. Long-term prospects as a professional player are considerably low. None of my Hannover 96 Academy teammates who were also born in 1984 have made it.
Weltmeister ohne Talent. Mein Leben, meine Karriere
By Stephan Orth & Raphael Honigstein
Published by Ullstein extra (www.ullstein-extra.de)