Soccer biographies constitute a niche genre in Germany. Unlike in England, where big names can expect serious money from serialization rights, there's relatively little to be made from having a book penned. There just isn't that much demand for the musings of twenty-something millionaires and why would there be? The level of access to players that the German media enjoys drastically reduces the potential for dramatic revelations.
But there are exceptions. Harald "Toni" Schumacher's Anpfiff from 1987 caused such a storm that the goalkeeper lost his place on the national team. Schumacher had spilled the beans on his peers' sordid off-pitch activities and exposed wide-scale doping in the Bundesliga. The latter allegation was never properly investigated. Instead, the book effectively ended Schumacher's career. He fled Germany to play three more years in Turkey before filling in as an emergency keeper for eight games for Bayern Munich.
Twenty-four years later, Philipp Lahm's The fine difference -- How to become a top player today is causing similar ripples in pre-publication serialization in Bild. Ex-Germany manager Rudi Völler called it "a disgrace," adding that the Bayern Munich and Germany captain lacked "any sense of decency." While Felix Magath questioned the 27-year-old's motives ("he wants to make money from the book"), Hoffenheim Holger Stanislawski found the biography in "poor taste"; "it's the worst thing you could do," said Stuttgart sporting director Fredi Bobic.
The harsh criticism is surprising, for The fine difference is no Anpfiff. Lahm offers no scandals, no personal attacks on fellow players or coaches, not even any sensational new insights. "It's a rather quiet book", wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung in its review on Friday. "Harmless, at times boring" was Hamburger Abendblatt's verdict. So what's the problem?
Lahm's main crime, it seems, was writing frankly about the training regimes under various coaches. His verdict on the short reign of Jurgen Klinsmann at Bayern (July 2008 to April 2009) was less than flattering. "We practiced little more than fitness. Tactical things were neglected. The players had to get together before [the games] to discuss how we wanted to play. After six or eight weeks, all players knew it wouldn't work with Klinsmann. The rest of the season was damage limitation."
In Lahm's writing, Felix Magath at Bayern from 2004 to 2007, comes across as rather one-dimensional, too. "He works with pressure," writes Lahm. "He keeps many players in the dark and gets the maximum out of them that way. It's very tiring for the players ... after a while, they're not impressed by this pressure anymore. His tricks don't work." There is a passage on Louis van Gaal's refusal to change a less offensive setup last season ("the whole team was thinking about going forward, the defense nearly collapsed ... he simply refused to acknowledge and deal with the deficits in this [playing] philosophy") but the most interesting chapter describes the rather shambolic preparations for the disastrous Euro 2004, when Rudi Völler oversaw an exit at the group stage. Lahm: "The practice sessions are surprisingly relaxed. It was like a bunch of friends going away on holiday to play a bit of football. We trained perhaps for an hour a day ... We don't practice anything specific at all, apart from crossing the ball, with someone shooting at goal unmarked. Good fun, but totally random ... There were no tactical talks, no video analysis of the opponents, no analysis of our own mistakes."
It's obvious why Magath and Völler wouldn't be pleased to have their management style described in such a manner but their reactions are very telling. They and other critics don't actually disagree with Lahm's assessments. In fact, those things aren't mentioned at all, perhaps because Klinsmann's tactical ineptitude, Van Gaal's intransigence, Völler's lackadaisical approach and Magath's ruthlessness were widely known before the book.
Instead, they question his character and the legitimacy of the exercise. The player, they're saying, had no right to divulge dressing room secrets, no right to tell the truth. Lahm has violated the omertà, football's secret vow of silence.
As far as Euro 2008 is concerned, the critics might even have a point. The fullback describes "a schism in the team", bemoans "too much egotism" and explains that "older players were talking down to younger ones on the pitch." Again, nothing earth-shattering. But one can question the wisdom of delving into problems of a team a mere three years after the event, especially since many of the same players -- and coach Joachim Löw -- are still active today. That's the reason Germany's general manager Oliver Bierhoff felt that Lahm has "overstepped boundaries." FA president Theo Zwanziger added that "Lahm made the mistake of misjudging the possible interpretations and dynamics" and even Löw castigated his trusted captain for attacking Völler and Klinsmann. But on a whole, the reactions from Frankfurt (the German FA's headquarters) were much more measured and muted than those from the various clubs.
So if the money is negligible, why did he do it? The book is probably best understood as the next stage in Lahm's attempts to emancipate himself from his nice, but bland image. The process began in November 2009, when he criticized Bayern's haphazard dealings in the transfer-market ("one can't simply buy players because they are good") and continued with an ill-timed intervention in the captaincy debate on the eve of the World Cup semifinal against Spain. "I don't want to give the armband back [to Michael Ballack] after the tournament," he declared. In that respect, it's possible to read his book as an opportunistic move to gain credibility and stature at the expense of relatively weak, already discredited targets.
But even if his motives were somewhat circumspect, it shouldn't distract from the message; the truth, even if uncomfortable, is important. Since almost no one is willing to go on the record about the shocking lack of professionalism that can still be found at the highest level of football management, supporters must deal with rumors, dubiously sourced exposés and gossip. As a result, there are still plenty of Völlers and Bayern Munich-era Klinsmanns who are shortchanging fans and club chairmen by doing next to nothing or being crassly incompetent. They get away with it, by virtue of a soccer omertà that prevents the public from scrutinizing their work properly. The game likes to keep everything in house and does its best to obscure behind-the-scenes realities. That kind of secrecy needs to be resisted by those who love the game, however. Transparency and the freedom to talk about the shortcomings of the main off-the-pitch protagonists are integral to any progress. Lahm might only have confirmed what many were suspecting, but his openness is (in most instances) nevertheless to be commended. He helps a discourse that overly relies on opinion become a tad more informed.