Not that the title, the date, or any other circumstance allowed for that guess, but this article is a retrospective of the second year of running this blog. Whereas the first anniversary allowed for an easy, optimistic, almost jovial piece, this year’s will be more somber, more reflective, and more personal.
The reason for this article being almost two months late is a simple one. Back in December, my retrospective on the year past was very much unclear. I started writing, but struggled on every word, sentence and paragraph. I tried to imbue the piece with a narrative, but ultimately failed. This failure got me reflecting again, and just one short game analysis, and a few conversations later, I decided to take a break from writing which turned into a complete break from football.
This text will try to give context for that break by going through all the experiences I had in the last year, the highs, and especially the lows, culminating with my personal future, and the future of this blog.
A Head in the Clouds
The end of 2018 was marked by a great many highs. After a joyous trip to meet Eduard Schmidt in Canada, I was inducted into the secret (Facebook-group-chat) world of all the tactics bloggers and writers I formerly admired from afar. Although this new world opened for me, I did not really dive into conversation with many of them.
Back then, I justified this decision with not having anything interesting to discuss, but to be brutally honest, it was not about that at all. There were so many things I would have loved to speak with them about, yet I was afraid. Afraid of challenging my own assumptions and opinions, afraid of being proven wrong in the views I held so firmly. I became complacent with the accolades I received and cared more about seeming smart, than actually being right. Remember this theme, it will come up again and again.
In context with me gaining all these contacts, I also received the chance to write a piece for the advent calendar hosted by Konzeptfußball. Among all the brilliant pieces put forth, I was allowed to write an experimental text about Counterdynamics. As this piece constituted a deeper dive into football theory than I ever dared before, I was prompted to write more texts in this style. More abstract and theoretical than game analysis, appealing to a wider and more knowledgeable audience. But, I didn’t. I started writing some articles, but quickly lost interest in publishing them. Once again I didn’t want to put my thoughts out towards a broad audience, an audience less gullible than the small and intimate bubble of Paderborn Fans, an audience more critical and able to put up scrutiny.
Another moment which prompted the same reaction was Tim Walter lauding the analysis I had written about Kiel’s game against Paderborn. I thought about going deeper into the ideas expressed there, but eventually didn’t.
I didn’t become aware of my true reasons back in the day. As every week offered another success, I never had any motivation to stop and critically assess myself. In reaction to my anniversary piece, I was hit up by Phillipp Klement, who asked to meet me. It felt so absurd to have a deep and intellectual talk with a person whose work I had written about so frequently and full of admiration. And it felt even more absurd to become friends, talking frequently and becoming privy to the other characters in the dressing room. When everybody was celebrating the brilliant season the club played, I felt like a part of it.
Through Philipp, I also got into contact with Markus Krösche, whom I met to talk about the football philosophy he tried to implement at Paderborn, my perspective as a tactics blogger and lastly the possibility to work together.
Amazingly, at the same time, I was also offered the possibilty to work as assistant coach at SV Lippstadt’s U19s who back then were competing for promotion to the U19 Bundesliga. Surprisingly, and in retrospective, unfortunately, this offer came completely independent of me writing the blog, and wholly through my work as a youth coach at a local club.
At this time, by any classical definition of the term, I was about to take a huge professional leap. I had to decide between two positions I had secretly coveted for years. In the end, it wasn’t a decision anymore. With his transfer to RB Leipzig coming through, Markus Krösche had different priorities, so that we eventually couldn’t further any cooperation.
Instead, I was thrilled to start the work at Lippstadt. After a great honeymoon experiencing the perfect conditions and facilities and getting to know the absurdly good players, doubts started creeping into my mind. With the rose-colored-glasses coming off, I became increasingly aware of the differences I had with the head-coach about almost everything. About my role, tactics, video analysis, training methodology and the treatment of players. When I finally experienced how taxing it was to be on the road 6 days of the week, spending one and a half hours getting to and from training daily without earning any money beyond fuel cost, I made the tough decision to quit.
In all honesty, it was not about the money. But the time investment without having any influence and on the contrary having to engage in practices I abhorred took its toll on my mental health. Even though, logically, considering the huge stepping stone this job constituted, the decision was hard to make, emotionally, it was absolutely necessary. Funnily, in the end, I cared very little about the position I gave up, but very much about the players I got to love in our short time together.
The failure I experienced was not really one of status, but of perspective. Quitting a job you neither like nor earn any money from shouldn’t be special. The decision was made hard by me having set the wrong goals. Through the successes of the past year, getting into professional football as quickly as possible became my primary objective. In that light, quitting this job which constituted a huge step towards that goal seemed like a stupid decision.
I was troubled by it in the next weeks and months. Instead of understanding how misguided my logic was, I went into circle after circle about whether the decision was right or wrong. Absurdly, a decision I made to protect my mental health destroyed it completely. In the last summer, I became very unhappy, fell behind in my studies and lost my sense of self. If I was not successful in pursuit of this goal, who was I?
It took me a long time, until now, to finally notice the error in my ways. The problem about my goal was that it was on the one hand, very shallow. Chasing a job without any reason to chase it is like living solely for money or solely for status. On the other hand, it never really was in my control. I could put myself out there to attract attention, but eventually reaching a job in field such as football requires luck.
Eventually, I noticed that this conventional definition of success was something I never really cared about. What I enjoyed about writing was the intellectual journey and art of it, what I enjoyed about coaching, was working and having a good time with the players, whilst helping in creating the beauty of football.
And yet, through blindly chasing the wrong goal, I almost lost both. In the new season, I haven’t been coaching. In the last months, I haven’t been writing. Instead of seeing that my definition of success was wrong, I first internalized that I didn’t want to work in football, before demonizing football as a whole for my unhappiness. I forgot all the enjoyment I had through it.
Even in writing this piece, I first forgot the fun of coaching a U17s team and spending time with all the different characters in there. I forgot the successes we had together, the trophies, but more importantly, the joy and beauty we created on the pitch. I also forgot all the great experiences football brought me. I forgot my travels to Stuttgart and St. Gallen, the roadtrip across Germany I had with Judah Davies. I forgot all the contacts and friends I have gained through football. I forgot watching Manchester City dismantling Schalke a man down, I forgot seeing one of the craziest goals of all time, I forgot witnessing games such as Liverpool’s Comeback against Barcelona and Paderborn’s promotion against their own volition.
All of those experiences are wholly independent of my goals, yet became a part of it when it broke down.
Where do we go from here?
The past year showed me that success does not matter if your goals are wrong. It made clear that pursuing a classical definition of success in football is the wrong goal for me.
So, let this year be about better goals.
Let this year be about coaching with respect and affection for the players.
Let this year be about playing beautiful football and making others enjoy it.
Let this year be about exploring football deeper, with less pride, and more curiosity.
In short, let this year be about living football fully.
These goals will have their effect on this blog as well. Writing solely about SC Paderborn quickly evolved from true intellectual curiosity, to a medium of misguided ambition to a means of holding on to the wish of seeming right. In order to understand football better, I will have to challenge myself. In order to challenge myself, I will have to tackle more complicated topics. In order to do that, I will have to leave the confines of the club I have supported all my life. And lastly, this article being a pretty obvious indication of that, I will switch the language, to allow a bigger audience and tough scrutiny.