Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World
By Raphael Honigstein
Yellow Jersey Press, 2015
England qualified for Euro 2016 at a canter, the only team with a 100% winning record. And yet Roy Hodgson’s side has never looked convincing or, perhaps more importantly, exciting. In nine months we’ll build our hopes up just to see them dashed once again. Few fans would disagree that a long-term strategy is needed, a major overhaul of the current creaking system. The blueprints are clear for all to see – France 1998, Spain 2010 (Graham Hunter’s Spain is the book to read) and Germany 2014. So I couldn’t help reading Raphael Honigstein’s Das Reboot with the Three Lions in mind.
Before I compare and contrast, let me first say that Das Reboot is a brilliant book; insightful, well-written and well-structured. Guardian journalist Honigstein is clearly a man in the know but there’s never any danger of the guest stars stealing the show. Klinsmann and Bierhoff represent the management, while Lahm, Müller and Mertesacker are the most vocal of the World Cup-winning squad. There are even chapters written by ex-players on the 2006 and 2010 tournaments; Thomas Hitzlsperger and Arne Friedrich respectively. Honigstein plays the Matthäus-esque libero role throughout, orchestrating but also bringing plenty of skill of his own. His writings on Müller, Khedira and Kroos, and the Bayern-Dortmund rivalry, are particular highlights.
As the subtitle suggests, Das Reboot is a book about the German journey – ‘how German football reinvented itself and conquered the world’. Honigstein uses the 2014 World Cup success as the central narrative thread but then weaves the history around it. The millennium is the starting point, the wake-up call, as Die Mannschaft lose to England and finish bottom of their Euro 2000 group. In true Hollywood style, footballing visionaries and a band of talented brothers come together to overcome complacency and tradition, and win the sport’s greatest prize.
Fitting tributes are paid to the trailblazers; Dietrich Wiese, the man behind ‘a revolution in youth development’ which saw the creation of certified academies at a cost of £1billion to Bundesliga teams; the revolutionaries Rangnick and Klopp who overthrew the sweeper system with their philosophy of gegenpressing (high pressing); and Klinsmann and Bierhoff, the men credited with starting the project in the face of widespread scepticism. The basics of the project were simple – ‘the law of larger numbers…more coaching for more talents equalled more skilled football players’. The execution, however, was an intricate endeavour.
There is a lot for England to learn in Das Reboot – the accessibility of academies, strong links with schools, a certification regime, the importance of large numbers of qualified youth coaches. To a certain extent, it is about ‘attention to the little, easily fixable things that cumulatively made all the difference.’ However, what is most striking in Das Reboot is the intelligence of the players, and this is not necessarily replicable. Müller jokingly describes himself as an ‘Interpreter of Space’ – it’s hard to imagine Raheem Sterling or Ross Barkley saying something similar.
For the coaching system to work, the German players must think for themselves and take responsibility. There is a ‘culture of accountability’ that in theory could certainly benefit English players but do they have the cognitive powers to make that work? In Das Reboot, there is a great story about stats technology being introduced to Die Mannschaft. What starts as a tool for the coaches to give players things to work on becomes a social point for the players, as they discuss tactics amongst themselves. Education and communication lead to a more democratic, winning environment.
‘Football has become a mind game’ is one of Honigstein’s take-home messages in Das Reboot. ‘To get better in the modern game translates into taking in things more quickly, analysing them more quickly, deciding more quickly, acting more quickly.’ Rangnick’s vision of football doesn’t take shape overnight. To create a generation of Müllers, Lahms and Schweinsteigers you need the best youth coaches working with talented and engaged young players from the earliest age possible. In England’s case, you need to break everything down and start again. As Weise says, perhaps with our fuddy-duddy FA in mind, ‘there will always be smart people with good ideas. But the key is for them to be in a position to actually implement their ideas.’
Buy it here