Controversy in Sinsheim – Kießling’s Phantom Goal puts asterisk next to Hoffenheim – Leverkusen result

Though we rarely do in-depth reviews of singular games, dear readers, the events which occurred in the match between Hoffenheim and Leverkusen are worthy not only of some attention, but of a detailed explanation of the Laws of the Game and the responsibilities of the Officiating team.

First off, let’s set the stage. Leverkusen went into the half leading the game 1 – 0 against Hoffenheim.  On the 70th minute from a Leverkusen corner, Stefan Kießling heads in a goal at the near post…. or does he? At first, Your Humble Narrator thought it was a goal, as did the commentator of the game. But, let’s take a closer look at the replay, shall we?

The ball, after being headed by Kießling, crosses the goal line outside the post and slips THROUGH the side netting, falling into the back of the net. The referee signals a goal. The referee’s assistant, who is on the opposite side of the pitch, also signals a goal, given he does not have an angle of sight to have allowed him to see the difference.

Play is resumed. About a minute later, the Hoffenheim ground staff approaches the referee to indicate that the net has a hole in it, and that the ball traveled through the hole. Here is where things get complicated. According to FIFA’s Laws of the game, once the referee has resumed play, he CANNOT change any call he has made previous to the restart.

In other words, had the referee consulted with the grounds staff, noticed the hole, and confirmed the ball had traveled through it, he CAN call back the play, if and only if he has not resumed play. Once he HAS resumed play, however, the laws of the game FORBID the official from changing their ruling. This is to protect referees from excessive harassment from players regarding controversial plays. Once the whistle is blown and play is resumed, what Your Humble Narrator refers to as “Law 19″ takes hold.

Law 19 is not one of FIFA’s laws, dear readers, as FIFA proscribes but 17 laws to govern the Beautiful Game, but is in the category of “conventional footy wisdom” that players, managers and referees acquire and abide by as they become experienced with the ins and outs of the game. What is Law 19, you ask? In my own words: “Shit happens. Get on with it. The show must go on.”

Now, Law 19 notwithstanding, as a licensed soccer referee, I can tell you that this is a nightmare scenario for any ref, and Dr. Felix Brych, who was the match official in charge of this match, was most definitely living a nightmare after this occurred. We’ve all been there, and at the level of FIFA sanction, I am certain Dr. Brych has been don this same ready many, many times.

I can’t speak for everywhere, but in the province of Ontario in the country of Canada where I live, they prepared us for exactly this type of situation from the very first training session you take on your road to becoming a licensed match official. The GOLDEN RULE that they drill into you is this; it does not matter if it takes you ten minutes to restart play. It doesn’t matter who you ask, how long you ask, or what you ask to make your final decision. It is ALWAYS better to take the time, talk to your assistants, and do whatever you can to ensure that you make the right call before you restart play because, once you restart play, you cannot reverse your decision.

Now, with the game at 2 – 0 for Leverkusen, presumably, had the match ended at that score, there may have been an attitude of “Well, the goal didn’t change the outcome of the match, so it’s really of no consequence in the bigger picture.” Citing my own refereeing experience, I can assure you 99 times out of 100, the calls even themselves out over the course of a match.

Oh, but not so fast, my dear readers. Hoffenheim are awarded a penalty on the 82nd minute. Bernd Leno saves, with a tense goal mouth scramble that follows and is cleared. So there is a bit less controversy now, right? Hoffenheim got their chance to pull the goal back, they missed. All is well, no? Well, not quite. Sven Shipplock comes on and nods a header through Bernd Leno that Leno probably should have saved. 2 – 1 Leverkusen, which is how the score ends.

Oh, and let’s not forget the goal that Hoffenheim scored that was called back for offside…. that wasn’t offside. Ironically enough, the poor offside call was made by the same assistant referee whose responsibility it was to check the defective netting which Kießling’s header slipped through. Did I say this was a nightmare for the officials? I stand corrected. This is a nightmare cubed. This is the nightmare that makes the rest of your refereeing nightmares seem like wet dreams filled with super model and porn stars all clamouring to satisfy your every fantasy.

Now, in fairness to Bernd Leno, the Leverkusen goalkeeper, the whistle had been blown a good second before the pass that led to the goal was struck. Bernd Leno did not offer a save at the shot. Would he have saved it had the whistle not been blown? It’s hard to say, but he WAS in the best possible position to offer a save. All things being equal, I give Leno a 33% – 50% chance of making the save had the play not been blown dead for offside, but I digress….

The plots in this game are thicker than cold pea soup, dear readers. Allow me to use my experience as a footy fan, licensed match official, and student of the beautiful game to explain the various dynamics, scenarios and technicalities which surround this controversial match as best as I am able for you, my dear readers.

Now, as a match official, I am loathe to critique other referees at any level for two very simple reasons. First off, it is in poor taste. I am of the opinion that, rather than criticize someone else, you should strive to do better than they have in similar circumstance and failing that, you should keep your criticisms to yourself. Secondly, and most importantly, I know first hand that being a soccer referee is INCREDIBLY difficult. Being a GOOD soccer referee is even MORE difficult.

I would argue it is far more difficult to officiate than to play simply because players are allowed to make mistakes. Referees are not. Not in the eyes of the public, not in the eyes of the teams, the players, the fans or, most importantly, in the eyes of other referees, themselves or the dreaded referee assessor who dissects your performance and illustrates in great detail your every fault, error and oversight.

Now, in the eyes of FIFA, they are very understanding of the plight of the match official, and they understand that no referee ever has or will referee a perfect game. Indeed, if you read over the Laws of the Game, nearly all of the laws which are subject to any form of interpretation are prefaced by the seven words that all match officials live and die by.

“If, in the opinion of the referee…”

You don’t need to be a lawyer to realize that these seven simply words are essentially FIFA’s way of standing behind their referees. It does not matter, according to the laws of the game, whether a player ACTUALLY tripped an opponent. It does not matter if there was contact on the play or if a player took a dive. What matters is simply the OPINION OF THE REFEREE. Referees are protected even further by the laws of the game when some fouls are listed as “Trips or ATTEMPTS to trip”, “Strikes or ATTEMPTS to strike”.

So, given that the laws of the game state that if, IN MY OPINION as a referee, while serving as the match official in a game, a player ATTEMPTS to trip an opponent, I am fully within my rights and responsibilities to call a foul.

Does it matter if the player ACTUALLY tripped the opponent? No, it does not.

Does it matter that the player INTENDED to trip the opponent? No, it does not.

Does it matter if everyone, INCLUDING THE PLAYER WHO WAS TRIPPED, is over the opinion that he accidentally tried to jump over the players leg and tripped himself?

No, it does not.

Regardless of the actual facts or the professions of the players involved, the opinion of the referee is all that matters with regards to the game (s)he is officiating. The referee is the ultimate authority, (s)he is the only authority with regards to the match that they officiate.

I assure you, dear readers, that if I had a nickel for every lie, deception, false claim or protestation made to me in a mere year and a half as a part-time soccer referee attempting to sway my judgment, I would not only own and occupy Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, but I would place an offer to purchase, lock, stock and barrel, the entire province/state of Bavaria that was so incredibly lucrative, the German government simply could not refuse it.

In return for all this power, however, there are some basic responsibilities which are demanded of the officiating team. One of those is the fact that prior to the match, the field of play MUST be inspected by the officiating team and verified to conform with the laws of the game as specified for that particular competition, which are explicit in their descriptions of what is and is not acceptable.

Though some league have minor variations, it is quite explicitly explained that the netting of both goals MUST be inspected to ensure they are properly affixed to the goal posts and are in good repair, leaving no gaps or defects which might lead to a ball passing over, under or through the netting, both prior to the start of the first and the second halves of the game.

I do not think, given the context of this post, dear readers, I need to explain why this is stipulated. Now, in my opinion, dear readers, this is where the fine point with regards to the laws of the game, and ultimate culpability for the phantom goal lies.

In my opinion, if the side netting of the goal, which bared but a single broken strand to allow the Kießling header to sneak into the net and lead to the awarding of a bad goal, WAS ALREADY BROKEN PRIOR TO THE HEADER which slipped through it, then the fault surely lies with the officiating team.

If, however, the side netting was NOT torn prior to the Kießling header, and the power of the header burst a weak seam in the netting, then the blame cannot be affixed to the referee’s assistant nor to the referee as defective equipment led to the missed call.

“But – but – but the ref shoulda seen it!” you will exclaim from the peanut gallery, with the usual assumption of non-referees that we referees are supposed to be omniscient and immune to reasonable restrictions known as “human error”.

My counter argument is simple; It is not the referees responsibility to stress-test equipment, up to and including the netting affixed to the goals. It is the home team’s responsibility, luckily for Dr. Brych and his officiating team, (in this instance that is the injured party Hoffenheim), to ensure the field of play conforms to the standards as set out by the league. If the field crew did not notice any weakness or defect in the netting prior to the match, then why should the referee be any different?

After all, the grounds crew are (presumably) who specialize in the care of the field of play and in ensuring it conforms to the standards set forth by the league. The referee is not a groundskeeper. Referees, under no circumstances, are to repair ANYTHING on the field of play because that is not their area of expertise. That is not their job nor their responsibility.

What IS their responsibility is that if they notice an issue with the field of play, they are to inform the home team, and the home team is responsible for making the field of play conform to the standards of the league or else the match is not to be played. It is to be rescheduled or forfeited, based on the rules and standards of the league in which the match is to be blamed.

Sorry, dear overly-critical fan who loves to blame the referee from the peanut gallery in an exercise of Schadenfreude, a German word which represents the act of taking joy in the hardships and miseries of others. Not the referee’s job, not the referee’s responsibility. That’s a Hoffenheim employees mistake. That’s his mistake, not Dr. Brych’s nor his assistants. Nice try, though! (coughcoughassholecoughcough)

Now, as a referee, I will break the unspoken law of Omerta (or “Code of silence”) to confide this much in you, dear readers. We referees know when we miss calls or make the wrong call. We know before players do, before the fans do, and before the managers do. It’s part of the explicitly sharp instincts and intuition you must develop if you want to stand in the hot spot and wear the coveted “White patch” which signifies FIFA accreditation, the highest level of refereeing accomplishment in FIFA’s infrastructure.

As they say in show business, however, the show much go on, and REGARDLESS of how awful a call we may make, how blatant a foul we miss, or how MANY of them we make or miss in one game, we are taught from the beginning, when most of us are still adolescents, that we must continue officiating the match as though we are infallible and we have not, can not, do not and will not make mistakes. Much like how your grandmother never passes wind, even when she is the only one in the room and both her own ears and nose betray her, it simply does not happen and that is the assumption which we are expected to operate under.

There is a line which I was taught by a man who has over 50 years experience as a match official, and whose knowledge and experience in the beautiful game are so extensive, they are beyond argument or reproach. “When a player trots by me and says “You really blew that call ref,” I look him dead in the eye and say “If you think that’s bad, wait to you see how I call the second half.” And I’ll let you in on a little secret, dear readers. That line works. I know. I use it frequently. Simply because, it doesn’t matter if I “blow the call”. I am the referee! What are the seven golden rules?

“If, in the opinion of the referee….”

As the referee, my opinion is the only one that matters, and my opinion cannot be wrong. It’s mine. It’s only wrong if I say it’s wrong. If you, as an outsider, want YOUR opinion to be the one that matters, you take the referee training courses. You work your way up the ranks. You earn the white patch. Then, YOU will be the opinion that matters, and YOU will enjoy the privilege of an infallible opinion for roughly 90 minutes at a time. Until then, I hate to break it to your, but your opinion means absolutely nothing. If you want to be right, at least in the context of the match, you’re going to have to agree with the referee.

That is the Law as per FIFA, and it’s not going to change any time soon, dear readers, because if it does, no one in their right mind will ever officiate again and you can’t play the game without referees. (Or goalkeepers, as per the Laws of the Game, but I digress….)

If you insist that this is ludicrous, allow me to explain why this, the infallibility of the match official, is an integral part of the laws of the game and that without it, most matches would be doomed to descend into chaos and turmoil.

THE SECOND that you, as the match official, establish that you have made a mistake, that tiny inch of ground that you have conceded to the players will soon turn into a light year of problems. Every second of the rest of that match will be an agony of scorn, derision and an endless and incessant petition from every and any player manager and fan to pounce on that weakness and exploit it.

You have established that your almighty opinion, which is the ONLY authority in the match, is negotiable. And you will be astounded at the aggressive negotiating tactics players and managers will employ to try to “negotiate” a favourable decision from you, the now puppet referee. You have, and will utterly and irrevocably lose control of the match and even the best and most well trained, experienced and well-prepared match officials will ever get that control back before the match is over.

The second the match official loses control of the game, he is no longer fit to execute his primary duty as an official, which is to protect the players safety. Once you are held in contempt by the player, you are no longer respected and your decisions are not heeded. If the player does not heed your decisions or respect your authority, he will challenge it, not by punishing you, but by taking liberties with the opposing team. Those liberties, if they do not result in an injury, will most certainly result in what safety specialists and professionals refer to as a “Near miss”; an instance which, although it did not result in an injury or fatality, easily could have given a minute change to the circumstances of the incident.

As much as a match official trains themselves in mental and emotional toughness and acuity, we are not robots. We do have feelings, and we do genuinely regret our mistakes. The temptation to give “A make-up call” is ever-present when you know you have made a bad decision in a match and you must constantly fight against it once it happens. This becomes a distraction which makes it difficult to give the game the attention that it requires, and the results on the pitch deteriorate quickly if you do not recover your focus and put your emotions aside.

In my experience, wherein I have made more bad or non-calls than I could ever possibly count in a single match, let alone over my entire career, I have come to see that, over the course of a full game, the bad calls, missed calls and questionable calls always even out in the end.

A casual observer, a pundit, a professional soccer analyst or even a professional football player or manager may not SEE that, as not all bad calls or non-calls are exceedingly visible or easy to identify, but any other match official who is worth his salt would likely agree. It all comes out in the wash. There is simply too much that happens over the course of a match to state definitively that one mistake, one contentious call or non-call, no matter how big or how small, determines the outcome of the game.

There is but one universal truth in football and it is this; the players on the field dictate the outcome of the game. 100% of the time, the players on the field dictate the outcome of the game. As a match official, this is at the heart of what we, between one another, refer to as “Law 18″. FIFA’s has 17 Laws that govern the game, and we frequently refer to Law 18 as “the law of common sense”. The golden rule of this law is as stated above. “Always remember that the players on the field dictate the outcome of the match.”

Do not be fooled by the players, the fans, the managers, the pundits, the professionals, the peanut gallery, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, the arm chair quarterback, the evangelists, your mother, your uncle Bob or your preacher into thinking that THE REFEREE dictates the outcome of the match! The referee does not get paid to dictate the outcome of the match! The referee gets paid to get blamed for the results!

Don’t laugh!

It’s a fact!

It’s a fact you learn after your first match, I assure, and after nearly every match thereafter. Some matches, more people blame you than others, but inevitably, the game is never lost because the goalkeeper didn’t make a save. The game is never lost because the defender didn’t mark his man! The game is not lost because the player strayed offside to try to score a goal that he couldn’t score from an offside position! That would be LUDICROUS! RIDICULOUS! OBSCENITY AND PROFANITY! Never, never NEVER! Never in a million years did the PLAYERS ON THE PITCH dictate the outcome of the match!

“It’s all the ref’s fault, coach! I swear I was onside, I SWEAR I was.”

“That ball NEVER crossed the line, ref, I SWEAR it didn’t.”

Bollocks. Lies and deceit. Nonsense, blasphemy and heresy. Shame on you poor losers for your blatant lack of sportsmanship. The match official doesn’t try to rob you of your victory, so why should you blame him for your defeat? Because you’re a sore loser and you lack character, that’s why. Plain and simple.

Grow up.

Did the REFEREE make the defender go in, studs up, from behind, on the last man when he was clear on goal?

No. He did not.

Did the referee push the attacking player past the second last defender before the ball was played forward, making him offside?

No, he did not.

Did the referee make the goalkeeper stray a bit too far off his line, or prevent him from getting to the ball a second earlier?

NO! HE DID NOT!

AND EVEN IF HE DID, THE REFEREE IS CONSIDERED PART OF THE FIELD! IT’S IN THE LAWS OF THE GAME! A ball that bounces off the referee is the same as a ball that bounces off the grass.

That’s the Law!

We know the laws! That’s our job!

Do you? Chances are pretty good that if you THINK you do, YOU DON’T! So quit kidding yourself! You’re certainly not fooling any referees out there, I’ll tell you that much. You might fool your friends, but you won’t fool the ref, and if you do, shame on you for subverting the laws of the game for your own selfish desires, because that is contrary to the spirit of the game, which is what the laws of the game are supposed to uphold. Even if you do get away with this heinous crime, you are still a criminal by virtue of action if not by virtue of indictment, and shame on you for bringing disrepute to the beautiful game.

“but-but-but-but what about that bullshit penalty ref?”

What about it? WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER 89 MINUTES OF THE GAME? DID THE REFEREE MAKE ALL ELEVEN PLAYERS INCAPABLE OF PUTTING IN SUFFICIENT EFFORT TO WIN THE MATCH FOR ALL NINETY MINUTES OF THE MATCH’S DURATION WITH A SINGLE DECISION?

NO! He did not, can not, will not and never has.


The ONLY truth in football is that 99.9999999999% of the time, the players dictate the outcome of the match with their play on the field.
The other minute percent of the time, the referees he made an honest mistake at the ABSOLUTE LAST SECOND of the game where nothing could be done to alter it, and in those rare instances, I can only say that despite the illusion of infallibility, we refs make numerous mistakes over the course of EVERY game, but even on the worst of games, we will ALWAYS make less mistakes than the players because the only we a ref can make a mistake is if the player makes one first and we misjudge it. So, at our ABSOLUTE WORST, we are just as bad, for a tiny moment, as one of the players.

Most of us can live with that and those of us that can’t don’t do it for very long, which is why it is so hard to find good referees. Because refereeing is EXTREMELY hard, not SOME of the time, but ALL of the time. If it as easy, everyone would do it. So when those with the courage, conviction and talent TO do it make a tiny mistake, regardless of the end result of that mistake, be classy, dear readers.

Do the right thing. Refer to Law 19, Your Humble Narrators personal addition to FIFA’s Laws of the game, over and above the “Secret” law 18 that we referees share. The law of inevitability. The law of Life that none of us can prevent and all of us must deal with over and over and over again in our lives, both on the pitch and off it.

“Shit happens. Get on with it. The show must go on.”

The match official is not a God, dear readers. (S)he is not infallible, though we are instructed to operate under the presumption that we are while we are executing our duties on the pitch. The match official is not your enemy or you friend.

The match official is an observer. The match official is a guardian, a protector. That’s why we are there. To protect you. ALL of you. The player. The manager. The fan in the stands. Our PRIMARY CONCERN is ALWAYS your safety. After the players, we protect the coaches and the staff on the sidelines. After the coaches and staff, we protect the fans. Most of us, we protect the game, the beautiful game that we love. We protect it’s reputation and the spirit of sportsmanship that it represents.

Where else do Muslims, Christians and Jews embrace each other as brothers and sisters, regardless of the politics and policies of their personal lives, their nations or their cities?

Where else do nations with histories of violence, intolerance and genocide come together to compete with one another, stand side by side and show the universal human sign of respect by shaking each others hands. Every minute of every day all across this planet, people who, in other circumstances, might absolutely despise one another come together on a field, be it grass, dirt or cement, come together to share their passion for the beautiful game.

They play in rain, sleet and snow. They play in blistering heat and in freezing cold. The young and the old. The rich and the poor. They play in their cleats, their running shoes, their bare feet. They play.

Miracles happen every day, dear readers, and you would be astounded how often they happen on the soccer pitch. And every time I think that I have seen too much intolerance and poor sportsmanship to keep on acting as a guardian of the spirit of the beautiful game and it’s laws, I witness people, young people, old people come together and do things that would melt your heart, and I fall in love with the game all over again.

And despite all the nights when I come home drenched in sweat, fresh off of an earful of spite and hatred and intolerance, the slings and arrows of the defeated who, as always, need to do their utmost to make me miserable as the price of their defeat, as if the $15 the match put into my pocket is justification to be made into human toilet paper, I am honoured and privileged to count myself amongst those who have been entrusted to protect the spirit of the beautiful game and those who play it.

Now, despite the controversy regarding the goal that the match official, Dr. Felix Brych awarded, according to FIFA’s laws of the game, once he blew his whistle to resume play after the goal, it was no longer in his power to call it back. I can assure you however, dear readers, that no one is more upset and disappointed about it than he is.

If my word isn’t good enough to convince you, then fast forward to the 82nd minute of the match and look at the foul which the good doctor deemed worthy of a penalty kick. The penalty he awarded was soft. It was very soft. It was what some fans might call a make-up call. A weighting of his judgment in favour of the team he could not help but feel he had wronged by not spotting the ball going to the left of the goal post rather than the right, even though Dr. Brych was in nearly perfect position for the corner.

Dr. Brych was Behind and Wide of the play, at the top of the penalty area opposite his assistant with a clear view of the kick taker and the majority of the players on the pitch and ideally positioned to be facing the direction in which the play was headed. The corner did, however, get taken faster than he expected as he was in motion when it was struck, whereas in ideal circumstances, an official would normally be stationary at the time of the kick.

Though on instant replay, it may look as though he blew the call, most observers take for granted exactly how quickly the ball moves. Given the angle at which the ball was struck and where he was standing, the ball would have been, at best, a blur of white obstructed by the body of the goal-scorer. Given that the goal post is also white and the ball is moving at high speed, Dr. Brych had to rely on secondary indicators to determine the trajectory of the ball.

The net bulges. The ball is inside the net. Goal. He looks to his assistant, who like himself turns to make a sprint towards the center line, so he does what he has been trained to do and what he has done countless times before. He blows his whistle and trots towards the center circle, pointing to the spot for a restart in play. Did he make the right call?

I have a better question. Would you have done better in his place?

Prior to reading this article, were you aware of ANY of the determinant factors involved?

The proper signal for a goal? The responsibilities of the match official? Of the ground staff? Did you know the officiating team is supposed to check the netting not once, but twice? Did you know whose job it was to repair it? Were you even aware of what the laws of the game were, or did you, in you ignorance, refer to them as “The rules”. Football doesn’t have rules. It has laws.

Now you know.

You know that, of the THOUSANDS of tiny little details which the referee is responsible for DURING the match, a single little torn thread, less than an inch across, could make Dr. Felix Brych, a FIFA level referee, the object of more scorn and disdain than he is duly deserving of from thousands if not millions of football fans, from their comfortable seats in the peanut gallery.

As for the soft penalty kick, since most fans ignorance is best on display when it comes to the awarding of penalties, allow me to explain why the penalty he awarded was soft and, indeed, is likely the only part of that match that a FIFA assessor might legitimately be displeased with.

Firstly, the ball was won, and cleanly, by the defender. Once possession of the ball has been claimed by the defender, the onus is on the player who lost the ball to avoid contact with the player who has won it, not the other way around. One of the key factors in determining a foul is in asking the question “Who initiated contact?” The player who initiates contact should ALMOST never be awarded a foul, and the circumstances where they are to be awarded a foul are rare and exceptional.

Secondly, the contact between the two players took place JUST outside the box, the momentum of the players carrying them into it after the contact for which the foul was called had taken place. After most stoppages of play, play is to be restarted where the offense took place. Since the contact took place just outside the box the restart should have been a free kick at the edge of the box.

Granted, the contact took place mere inches outside the box, but referees at all levels are expected to be able to differentiate fractions of an inch from 30 + meters away; it’s part of the job and you would be surprised how good you get at it when you practice. Shifts as the referee’s assistant (commonly referred to as a linesman) are excellent practice at judging inches, and fractions thereof, from up to 60 meters away. If you`ve got good eyes and strong concentration, it’s not as hard as you think.

Now, there is a precedent in the Bundesliga where a match was replayed due to a goal which had been awarded in error between Bayern and Nürnberg back in the late 1970s. But, hold on a second here. If they DO replay the match, is it fair to Leverkusen, who would lose a well-earned 1 – 0 lead at half-time prior to the genesis of all this controversy, because of a defect in the nets that Hoffenheim provided for the match?

I really don’t know, dear readers. There are a lot of grey areas in this scenario, but there are a few things I can tell you for certain.

Firstly, that the Laws of the Game state that once the match official blows the final whistle, the match is over and the results are final. Individual leagues and competitions are permitted to have appendixes which modify or adjust the Laws of the game and/or expand upon them. The guiding principle within FIFA, however, is that final results are just that; final.

You do not castrate the match official by second-guessing his or her decisions, regardless of how ludicrous, negligent or (from an outside perspective) heinous and questionable they may be or the implications of the result simply because of the precedent it would set.

If ONE result is subject to appeal and over-turning after the fact, then EVERY result is subject to appeal and over-turning after the fact. There is enough complaining, petitioning, and controversy in football already. Not only would such an over-turning of the result constitute a vote of no-confidence in Dr. Felix Byrch and be a serious blow to his officiating career, but it would send a frightening message to all footy refs around the globe that they were disposable heroes to be discarded the moment they make a mistake. I assure you, dear readers, if that were the attitude that FIFA would take, then they would be out of referees within five years.

The one thing that makes all the training, all the grief, the stress, the death threats and insults, the mixed messages from instructors and scathing assessments, the money spent on travel, uniform and equipment and the meager, meager pay cheques worth while to footy referees everywhere is the fact that FIFA does their officials one simple courtesy; they respect our autonomy and they stand behind our decisions made on the pitch, regardless of how ludicrous they may be. (My thoughts stray to a certain Women’s World Cup match and an absolutely ludicrous call against a goalkeeper for handling the ball for more than six seconds.)

If THAT decision was not over-turned and that game not replayed, then will they really replay an early season match that, in the grander scheme of things, will not be definitive in determining the fate of either Hoffenheim OR Leverkusen’s season? If I had to make a wager, I would wager quite definitely in the negative. Though I feel for the Hoffenheim fans, just as I feel for the players who have, rightly or wrongly, perceived themselves victimized by any and every one of my free kicks, goal kicks, corner kicks, throw ins, kick ins, penalty kicks, off sides and goals I have ever awarded, called back, or not called at all, there is a “Law 19″ in FIFA’s Laws of the Game that is not in the book and is as applicable to referees, players, managers and fans that I am willing to share with you all and it is this.

Shit happens. You have a better chance at success, both in the immediate future, the long term and everywhere in between if you follow the advice of some of the sagest football minds I have ever met, be they players, coaches or referees. “Get on with it”. You have a better chance of success if you leave it in the past and move on.

My sincerest sympathies to 1899 Hoffenheim, Koen Casteels the Hoffenheim goalkeeper, Hoffenheim fans and their ownership group. I truly wish that I, or anyone else, could help you in your hour of need, but sadly enough, you’re going to have to help yourself. For instructions on how to do so, please refer to Law 19 as stated above.

DAS BOOT! – Match Day 9 – Friday Fix

Long time no see, dear readers. Is it just me, or do the international breaks seem to last forever? Just when we seem to get a thirst for the Bundesliga action, and for those of us in North America, grow accustomed to waking up at the crack of dawn to watch footy on the weekends, it seems our favorites leagues always have to take a back seat for some qualification matches.

For most European footy fans, I am certain the international break contained a minimal amount of heartache, with most European footy super powers booking their ticket to Brazil for 2014. Can you believe the World Cup will commence at the end of this season? I know I barely can, dear readers. Let us focus on some more immediate matters however, and take a peek at the match which commences in just a few hours here on Everyone’s Favorite German Footy Blog…..

DAS BOOT!

Our Friday Fixture this weekend will see Bayer Leverkusen visit Hoffenheim looking to capitalize on an inconsistent start from the Sinsheim squad. Leverkusen currently sit, as ever, in third place in the league. In truth, dear readers, Leverkusen seem to spend so much time in third in the league that you can nearly take it for granted. Hoffenheim, meanwhile, sit in the middle of the pack at tenth place, and need to get their affairs in order if they expect to turn their season around.

This match is a tale of two very different clubs, with Hoffenheim having become a model of inconsistency after their Cinderella run came just short of a championship a few seasons ago. Leverkusen, on the other hand, have been Steady Eddie in the Bundesliga; a consistently dangerous side that combines sound defensive play with a potent attack that features pace and finesse on the flanks with the Bundesliga’s most consistent and dangerous striker over the past three or four seasons a stable fixture through the middle, Stefan Kießling.

Indeed, Kießling’s form has led to his being included in the German national squad once again, despite being so often over-looked in favour of sexier players like Mario Gomez and André Schürrle, who’s youth and/or prestige seem to give them more clout with German boss Jogi Löw. In fact, it is likely only due to an injury to Mario Gomez which will see him out of action for the next two months that led to Kießling’s recall to the national team in the first place.

Never to be confused as a speedster, the lanky Kießling is nevertheless one of the most consistent goal-getters in the league, a fact that Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypia doesn’t seem to be complaining about. With Korean prodigy Heung Min Son flourishing on the left flank and the pacy Sidney Sam playing play-maker on the other while Swiss striker Eren Derdiyok sits on the bench, ready to nod in goals when given the chance, the Leverkusen attack may not be as flashy and as sexy as the likes of Dortmund, Bayern, or even Hannover with their plethora of goal-getters, but Leverkusen do consistently score enough goals to get points out of more matches than not, and they all look the same on the scoreboard.

For Hoffenheim, there is only one guarantee in their matches; there is bound to be goals, and lots of them. Their most meager offensive performance saw them knock in a single goal against Wolfsburg in a 2 – 1 loss, while their best display was a 5 – 1 drubbing of Hamburger SV, known to fans of this publication as the HSV virus, a moniker granted due to their unerring ability to under-achieve match after match, season after season. For those of our readership who enjoy recreational gambling, this makes them an absolute nightmare to bet on.

French Striker Anthony Modeste has a less-than-modest six  goals in eight matches thus far in his first Bundeslga season with Hoffenheim.

If you are a betting (wo)man, then by all means, dear readers, take the over 2.5 goals scored in this match. I would even venture to wager on the over 3.5 goals if you can find it, for when Hoffenheim don’t score boatloads of goals, they seem to concede them. In only two of their eight matches, Hoffenheim have kept the opposition to a single goal. They haven’t a single clean sheet to their name thus far, and they coughed up SIX goals to VfB Stuttgart, who are a far cry from an offensive powerhouse.

With two wins, two losses, and four draws thus far, it is fitting that Hoffenheim lie smack dab in the middle of the table. The bulk of their offense has come from three key figures in their squad; newcomer to the squad Anthony Modeste (a French striker), young German striking talent Kevin Volland, and Brazilian midfield dynamo Roberto Firmino. All told, those three have combined to score 16 of Hoffenheim’s 20 goals this season.They will most certainly be marked men in this fixture as former defender and current Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypia will have surely told his lads to contain them as best they can.

Sami Hyypia, left, giving instruction to his attacking players during training.

With the porous Hoffenheim defense and relatively unproven young Belgian goalkeeper Koen Casteels between the wickets for Hoffenheim, Leverkusen will hope to have a field day in the attacking third. Look for Heung Min Son in particular to make his mark on this match if he is able and knock in a goal or two for his new club. Though recent history suggests that Hoffenheim manage to score at least one goal in all their matches thus far, they have yet to face a defensive juggernaut of the caliber of Leverkusen in this young season.

Still, let’s give the Hof the benefit of the doubt and say they manage to get a least one goal past Bernd Leno. After all, who would want to disappoint the Hof?


Prediction:

Hoffenheim 1 – 4 Leverkusen

Come back soon while we review the result of this match and preview the many fixtures to come this weekend here on Everyone’s Favorite German Footy Blog…..

DAS BOOT!

DAS BOOT! – Match Day 6 – Three games you don’t want to miss

Welcome back, dear readers. Long time no see. With the Friday Fixture off and running the action is quick underway in the Bundesliga as Match Day 6 kicks off with Borussia Dortmund atop the table with a perfect 15 points, Bayern close behind with 13 points thanks a draw with Freiburg on match day 4, Leverkusen are in third place on 12 points, while Hannover are up on Mainz on goal differential to round out the top of the table heading into the games. Let’s take a look at the three most exciting matches coming up this weekend here on Everyone’s Favorite German Footy Blog……

DAS BOOT!

Your Humble Narrator, at Säbener straß, FC Bayern HQ

The Battle of the Boas

Epic

How long ago was this photo taken, when the two Boatengs playing for the Old Lady Hertha Berlin, who was then dominant in the league and led by German defender Arne Friedrich? Long enough, dear readers, to be a distant memory. The most intriguing storyline that develops with the return of Prince to the Bundesliga is the next chapter in the tale of the Boateng brothers. Once teammates long ago, their careers were so similar, and yet a schism led them down two very different paths.

Prince, the more offensively minded, chose to play for Ghana in international competition, paying homage to his blood. Jerome, the more defensively minded, chose to play for his land of birth, Germany. Prince decided he would leave the Bundesliga. Jerome stuck around a while longer before leaving. Prince went to Italy. Jerome went to England. The dichotomy that developed between the once inseparable and iconic brothers was vast and noticeable.

Now, the real question is, is their room enough in the Bundesliga for the two of them? Prince, eternally the outspoken “Bad Boy” of the Boateng brothers has landed firmly in his brother’s pond on the tails of his brother’s resounding success, and has chosen to wear the number 9 for Bayern rivals Schalke. If the signing of Neuer didn’t create enough animosity already between the two sides, then the signing of Prince Boateng throws yet another catalyst into the reaction. In the late Saturday match, be sure to catch all the fireworks when they set the Veltins Arena on it’s head when Die Bayern show up.

Expect thunderous chants and whistles from the fans, hard challenges and a high pressing Schalke attack looking to humble their opposition while Bayern will wait for their charges to make their plays before striking back with lethal efficiency, testing the once stingy Schalke defense for all the weaknesses they can find. Whether it’s Schalke or Bayern or both who walk away with points, one thing is for certain. Expect a lot of excitement when the brothers Boateng face off once again, likely shoulder to shoulder, in the battle of Royal Blue against the Kings in Red.


Battle of the Basement

For Shame

In a tale of sadness and woe, the Northern Derby is on as Werder Bremen take a trip west to visit the Red Shorts of Hamburger SV. Though both these sides are traditional power houses, or at least challengers, both clubs find themselves scrambling just to stay up in the Bundesliga. Though Schadenfreude is at times fashionable, dear readers, it is far more than a simple desire to see others fail that makes this match intriguing. A look up and down these rosters will leave any Bundesliga fan scratching their head and saying “What’s wrong here?”

Neither Bremen or Hamburg are bereft of talent. Rafael van der Vaart has returned to Hamburg, will he not help them score the odd goal? Bremen are still the owners of some solid young talent. Mehmet Ekici, Eljero Elia. Surely this team is better than a 6 point start, isn’t it? These teams have both been something of a train wreck, staggering and stumbling over the past two to three seasons until thudding into what long time readers of this publication will know we call “The Bunkster Bowl”, a battle of two bottom of the table sides desperate for the scraps of points they can scrounge from one another.

That it has come to this for these two squads is mind boggling. Though they still have some talented footballer, both these squads seem to do things that good football teams overcome avoid they have good chemistry. They concede late goals. They lose on the road. They have strong home showings, but cannot assert themselves against superior opposition nor can they stay in games when they are not in front of their own fans. These teams lack heart, dear readers. They are tin men in a real world and though Bremen show a glimmer of promise with a core of great young talent, Hamburg really need a dynamic force added to their squad if they want to have the fighting spirit to keep their distinction as the only team not to get relegated from the top flight. I smell a Bremen victory here, but I could be wrong! You’ll have to be watching if you want to find out!

Turkish Delight besieges Fort Hannover

In a game which should be surprisingly exciting, especially for long-time Bundeliga fans, will be the match between Hannover 96 and Augsburg. Hannover have really pulled it together in the past 5 years since the tragic death of then goalkeeper Robert Enke. This season, their home has been a fortress, taking all nine points in their three home games thus far, and they will be looking for three more when Augsburg come to town. Augsburg have surprised many with their performance thus far, led by a Bundesliga veteran who left us so long ago, Turk international Halil ALtintop.

The pacier of the twin brothers Hamit and Halil, Halil spent many seasons in the Bundesliga with Kaiserslautern, Frankfurt and Schalke 04. He spent many seasons tearing through the attacking third with the ball at his feet before laying off goals or knocking them in. Unlike last season’s acquisition of another old Bundesliga hand Aristide Bancé, the acquisition of this Turkish Delight has been sweet indeed for Augsburg. Sweet enough to put them in sixth place going into Match Day 6, with a chance to leap frog a place or two with a victory.

Breaking into the Fortress of the Reds will be no easy task, as Hannover have been lights out at home thus far this season. Desipte losing Konstatin Rausch to Stuttgart, the Reds are still anchored by German International Ron-Robert Zieler in goal, still have a deadly trio in attack of Artur Sobiech, Didier Ya Konan and Mame Biram Diouf and standout Japanese full back Hiroki Sakai. With the Hungarian left-footer Szabolcs Hustzi still knocking in goals off that deadly left boot, Hannover have a smattering of attacking options in their arsenal that all like to fill the onion bag.

In truth, the only real test the reds have left to prove in order to show they are now a consistent Bundesliga powerhouse is to begin winning games, or at least stealing points, away from home. Though a visit from Augsburg is not going to tell us that one way or the other, a match against a hot home team with a plethora of attacking options will not only show us whether or not Augsburg can defend against top tier Bundesliga competition, but it will tell us if they can show up on the road, as well as whether or not they are a “Big game” player, or if they will simply impress against the lesser lights and get lost against the real heavyweights.

The only way to know is to watch the match, dear readers! If the Northern Derby isn’t your thing (at least it’s early days and it won’t be snowing, dear readers!), then you should most definitely tune in at Hannover and watch one of the leagues best offenses run riot at home against a scrappy Augsburg.

That’s it for today, dear readers! If you’re quick, you might be able to catch the start of the match between Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bundesliga newcomers Eintracht Braunschweig. Though Braunschweig are a scrappy side, and they have a cute logo, it’s been pretty clear thus far that they are outmatched in the top flight, and a demolition job at the hands of the Foals will be just what the doctor ordered for a BMG squad that has really been feeling the heat thanks to some shaky play from stud young goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen, a visit from a minnow should be a great opportunity to push the reset button and start fresh with a win.

The Bundesliga is Back, dear readers. Thanks again for joining me. Now go watch some footy and come back soon for more of the top stories from the Bundesliga here on Everyone’s Favorite German Footy Blog…..

DAS BOOT!

Happy Canada Day, Eh

The Boys are Back – Top 5 Storylines after the first 5 matches of the 2014 Bundesliga Campaign

Long time no read, dear readers. Your Humble Narrator returns to regale you with tales from the land of Beer and Fußball and get you caught up on all the ins and outs of Germany’s top flight football league, the Bundesliga. Where do we begin? Berlin and Braunschweig are up, Cologne and Kaiserslautern are down.

Last we spoke, dear readers, Bayern were on the precipice of their Treble victory and we exercised caution in predicting grand improvements at Bayern with Pep Guardiola in charge. Now, with the months having flown by us, we are now staring at a new season that is already 5 matches old and there are a plethora of great story lines which have emerged in the first month of competition.

So, let’s dive right in and take a look at the five most interesting talking points of the new season after five matches here on Everyone’s Favorite German Footy Blog…..

DAS BOOT!


The Prince Returns

The biggest surprise thus far for me, dear readers, has to be the return to the Bundesliga of Kevin Prince Boateng. The brother of Bayern defender Jerome not only left AC Milan for Gelsenkirchen, but was glowing about the move in his return. Prince was all smiles for the cameras stating that he is happy to be back in Germany, back in the best league in the world which he confesses he has followed closely in the four years he has spent away from German football. After leaving Dortmund so many years ago, Prince returns to their rivals, the Royal Blues of Schalke and instantly becomes a fan favorite and key player to the squad.

The move by Boateng does not necessarily surprise me. Entering the prime of his career and both lauded for his impressive physicality and criticized for the lack of silkiness to compliment it, he is a force in the midfield regardless of the criticisms levied against him. It was clear to me that Prince needed to make changes in his career to re-define himself in the eyes of his critics and really make his mark on world football.

My surprise, dear readers, comes not that he has returned to the Bundesliga, but that he has joined Schalke, dread rivals of his former employer Dortmund and a club which has had some rocky moments that have threatened their place as a German football superpower in the past few seasons. Not only does prince reurn in Royal Blue, but he also come back wearing the number 9, the number often reserved for the offensive leader and goal producer of a team. Entrusting Prince Boateng to take the reins of a Schalke offense that has lacked in consistency over the past few seasons is a great leap of faith by the club. Luckily for Schalke, that leap of faith has paid dividends for the club thus far with Prince scoring in his first game in a Schalke uniform and dedicating it to both his girlfriend and the fans.

Playing as an attacking player will allow Prince to prove that he is more than just “A great physical specimen” as he was labelled by popular media during his time with Milan, but that he can score and create goals with the best of them in top flight competition. With their Champions League campaign underway and Prince in the starting eleven, Schalke are clearly more than willing to give him that opportunity.

Prince has become the new face of a franchise which has lacked a poster boy since losing Manuel Neuer to rivals Bayern a few seasons ago. The doubts about Huntelaar’s commitment to the club and his reduced goal output last season left the team wanting for a stronger leader on the pitch, especially one who could knock in goals. On top of making things happen in the attacking third, Boateng will also likely provide some support and tutelage to Schalke star Julian Draxler.

Though Draxler’s talent speaks for itself, having a more established and well-traveled Prince on their team will help a great deal in the dressing room and gives the squad an unquestioned leader to turn to when doubts or signs of inconsistency rear their heads. With the acquisition of the Prince, the Royal Blues of Schalke will be hoping for a return to the Bundesliga Throne Room and establish themselves as a consistent threat to top the table and claim the ultimate prize; the Bundesliga silverware.


New Faces at Dortmund keep BVB on top of the table

Most Dortmund fans were horrified, aggrieved and enraged to learn that their talisman midfielder Mario Götze would be making way to FC Bayern during the most recent transfer window. Dortmund, being the crafty and resourceful talent scouts that they are, were quick to replace Götze with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, brought in pacy striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as well as Greek defender Sokratis to put a few new tools in the shed to replace the old ones.

Many people were under the impression that Götze was irreplaceable, calling him Judas and dreading the results. Most of these people were likely wrong. Mkhitarayan and Aubameyang came in guns a-blazing and have kept the fire burning strong for Dortmund. The two have scored 8 goals between them in five matches thus far; good enough to put Dortmund atop the league with 5 victories and 15 points thus far.

The BVB faithful have been quick to embrace their new signings, dubbing them “Micki” and “Spiderman” respectively. The abbreviation of Mkhitarayan to Micki is obvious. Where “Spiderman” came from, on the other hand, is a bit more of a mystery. So dubbed by the media, I can only assume it is the result of the fact that his surname can easily be sung into the classic tune “Here’s comes the Spiderman” as “Here comes Aubameyang”. Whatever the reasons, he and Micki have taken the Bundesliga by storm and are leaving Dortmund fans saying “Mario who?”

Back atop the Bundesliga with an early 2 point lead on reigning champions Bayern, the affable Jürgen Klopp and his charges are learning that there is life after Götze and that it’s nowhere near as grim as some had feared it might be. With a deep squad and a style of football that is both exciting and effective, Dortmund are a serious threat to not only win the league this season, but go deep in the DFB Pokal and Champions League competitions this season thanks largely to the acquisition of “Micki” and “Spiderman”.


The Old Lady has some Kick

After a yo-yo campaign the past few years which saw Hertha relegated, return to the top flight and get relegated again, Berlin fans decided last year that they would not repeat their same error a second time. The storied franchise has looked like a new man (or should I say men? Or a new lady? Anyhow…) this season and look like the end to their yo-yo campaign is nigh.

Berlin stormed out the gate with a thunderous 6 – 2 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt at home to kick off the season. Not only is the victory an excellent way to start back into the top flight, but Berlin did what they found so difficult to do since their last Bundesliga campaign; they scored goals, and a lot of them. Despite the fact that the Old Lady cooled off a touch and has a record of 2 wins, 2 losses and a draw thus far, that is still good enough for 8th place overall on 7 points, ahead of Schalke 04 on goal differential.

To be in the top half of the table must be a wonderful feeling for the Berlin outfit. Given that they have experienced first-hand the joys of a “yo-yo club” by bouncing in and out of the top flight, I get the sneaking suspicion that Hertha BSC will be in the Bundesliga for longer than just the next 10 months, dear readers. The Old Lady is back, and she’s not handing out sweets and babysitting. She’s kicking footballs and taking the names of teams she’s gotten the better of. She may not be a top table finisher like she once was this season, but I have a sneaking suspicion she will spend most of the season free of the relegation zone.

Rising Son in Leverkusen

Bundesliga fans know that Germany’s top flight has become a popular place for talented young Asian footballers to come and ply their trade on the way to greatness. Few of these players has been as exciting as Heung Min Son of South Korea. Leaving Korea for Hambuger SV at the ripe age of 18 a few season ago, Son worked tirelessly to adapt to a new culture, a new style of football, a new language, and a new world of expectations with a chaotic and turbulent Hamburg side. It was a wild ride for the young Son, but he handled himself with poise and unquestioned work ethic and dedication to improve that endeared him to teammates and opponents alike.

Indeed, during all the doom and gloom that has threatened to derail Hamburg’s distinction as the sole Bundesliga side never to be relegated from the top flight, Son was the sole bright light, shining in the attacking third, often playing in a world of his own trying to take the team on his back and save it from itself. Though some may say he was long in grooming, all things considered, the young Korean responded beautifully to the challenge. Despite Hamburg’s lack of success, everyone in Germany watched the young Son eagerly, hoping to catch a moment of the brilliance waiting the break out.

Ironically, Son’s fortunes changed on the back of the usual chaos that surrounds a change in address of the Special One, Jose Murinho. When Mourinho moved on from Real to take charge of English club Chelsea, he quickly swooped in and stole the pacey left-footed André Schürrle away from Leverkusen to keep fellow German Marko Marin from getting homesick on the training ground. With a bag full of money and a hole in their starting eleven, Leverkusen wasted no time in contacting the Hamburgers and stealing their Son-shine away. Moving from a vexing under-achiever lacking in identity like Hamburg to Rudi Völler’s constantly competitive Leverkusen, its a rags-to-riches story for the young Korean that sees him center stage in one of the most exciting attacks in the Bundesliga.

Playing the left attacking midfield role that was vacated by Schürrle, Son now plays alongside the Bundesliga’s top scorer last season and a man who some may argue is the most consistent goal threat in the Bundesliga over the past five seasons, Stefan Kießling. With Kießling as his new mentor and under the watchful tutelage of German goal-scoring legend Rudi Völler, one can only expect that not only will Son develop better pace, stamina and showcase his dribbling abilities along the flank, but that over time, his nose for goal will only get stronger when surrounded by such a wealth of class and finesse in the danger area.

With Leverkusen being a side who has been continually plagued by the rigours of Champions League play, where they consistently qualify, but stumble before over being relegated to the Europa League competition, Son will definitely have a lot of football to look forward to as the season wears on. Whether he can help be the catalyst that helps Leverkusen succeed in their bogey competition or not remains to be seen, but for Leverkusen the Son still rises tomorrow after the loss of Schürrle thanks to a nice ray of sunshine from Korea by way of Hamburg.


What about Bayern?

After a treble winning season where they changed coaches, the only question to ask at Bayern is is it business as usual with Pep Guardiola in charge or not? The passionate fan, high on the thrill of victory and fueled by the adrenaline-induced illusion of invulnerability will say this means Bayern are unbeatable and will dominate European football for years to come. Those of us who reserve judgment until we are clear-headed and rational tend to be more cautious in our predictions.

As for Your Humble Narrator, I can only say, dear readers, that the road towards achieving a repeat treble (for, at Bayern, the standard can be set no lower) will be trebly difficult this time around as it was last season. To place such expectations on an incumbent manager, regardless of who he is, is unreasonable. Oh, but hark, sayeth the devout fan, “We are talking about Pep Guardiola.” Yes. We are. And though I do not wish to take anything away from Pep Guardiola, neither do I want to forget nor ignore the fact that it was Jupp Heyneckes who transformed this team from a team with the POTENTIAL to win it all into a team that DID win it all, that it took him two seasons to do so, and that the shoes he leaves behind are mightily difficult to fill.

As great a coach as Pep Guardiola may or may not be (for depending on who you ask you will get either glowing or scathing reports of the man’s abilities; just ask Zlatan Ibrahimovic), he is still a new coach who must earn the trust, and respect of his players and guide to a new level of greatness. And we are talking about one of the most talent-laden football squads in the world. Add to this the fact that they just WON everything there is to win, and if this man was anyone other than the most coveted coach in world football, then surely, the players would have a hard time coming on board and listening to his ideas.

Luckily, not only does Guardiola have the reputation to get the benefit of the doubt from even the most skeptical player, but he took great pains to learn German and “earn the right”, in the eyes of fans, board members and players, to say that he is not taking anything for granted at Bayern. Some other managers might have too much ego to dedicate such time and effort into accepting a new position, preferring to traipse in on a whim, loudly declare their own brilliance, get their hands dirty, make a whole mess of changes, put a squad on the pitch, hope for the best, and regardless of whether he is successful or not, disappear into a cloud of smoke, mirrors and flashing paparazzi 18 months later saying “I did what I could, it is time for something new” before landing somewhere new hoping to do it all over again. *coughcoughJoseMourinhocoughcoughTeamKillercoughcough

As for Pep Guardiola, I have always been skeptical of the Spaniard’s reputed messianic influence, and though I was happy to have him for all the obvious reasons, my stance prior to this campaign was and is that I would have been happy to keep Jupp Heynckes at the helm this season, but what it done cannot be undone and, for better or for worse, this is Guardiola’s Bayern now. Pep not only inherits one of the best squads in the world to manage, but the one player he insisted on bringing in is his, with the brilliant young Spaniard Thiago Alacantra now wearing the number 6 for the Bavarians.

The transition into the Guardiola system seems to have been rather seamless thus far, with the combination plays and quick passing really suiting the tight-knit chemistry amongst the squad. It has allowed players like Müller, Ribéry and Robben to wreak havoc when straying from their positions to attack the seams created by the combination passes and dangerous runs that make the Guardiola style of football a veritable marking nightmare for any team who doesn’t subscribe to the footballing philosophy that man-marking is suicide.

Indeed, with the way Bayern players have combined, popping in and out of the play to pick up balls, lay them off and confuse opposition defenses, Bayern seem to be reaching a natural climax to their footballing potential as a squad. The competition, however has barely begun, and though Bayern DID lose the German Super Cup to Borussia Dortmund and drew one of their opening matches, Guardiola was still in the experimental phase of management, giving all his players a chance on the pitch to see exactly what kind of tools he has in the shed and to watch them all in action.

As a result, early performances have been a tad short of flawless, which despite the sky-high expectations at the club is forgivable even for the divinely anointed Guardiola. With the squad being frequently rotated until recent injuries forced his hand in the midfield, Bayern plyers seem to be content to take their turns on the substitute’s bench. Though they trail Dortmund by two points thus far, Bayern are still going strong and should be in the thick of it for the league title all season long.

With no signs of rust in the Champions League, and the best yet to come from Marquee signing Mario Götze, who continues to struggle with injuries in his debut campaign in Munich, things are looking pretty good for the reigning treble winners under Pep Guardiola on all fronts….. for now. But there is plenty of football left to come, dear readers. If games were won on paper, then they wouldn’t play them at all, but in sports as in life, you never know what can happen.

Despite my kinship with the Bayern faithful, I am a fan of the game, and with a strong and revitalized Dortmund squad, bitter with defeat and eager to usurp Bayern as top dogs in Germany, the “slow and steady” Leverkusen hoping to finally make some noise and be more than third best both in the league and Champions League competition, a Schalke side who has a new Prince to lead them in their bitter rivalry against both Bayern AND Dortmund, who shared center stage in London while they watched angrily from home, a resurgent Berlin, Hannover continuing to impress at home but stumble away from it, Bremen and Hamburg stagnating to the disgust of their loyal fans, newcomers Braunschweig getting the snot kicked out of themselves while Bayern are all ho-hum, business as usual as they continue to score goals in bunches and dominate games.

*sigh*

The Bundesliga is back. Life is good. All is right in the world.

And so, as all my dear, dear readers know, with the return of football comes the return of Your Humble Narrator, here to enjoy all the best that German footy has to offer and share reviews, previews, observations, speculations and predictions from my own unique Canadian perspective here on Everyone’s Favorite German Footy Blog, DAS BOOT!

Now a proud contributor with”Fussball, Eh?” German Footy. Canadian Content.

Come back soon for our preview of Match Day 6, as we point out the key story lines in the games you won’t want to miss in this weekend’s Bundesliga action.

Pep Guardiola has tough act to follow at Bayern

So, that which has been so touted and discussed and debated for the past few month, dear readers, has come to pass and my what a sequence of events have taken place since. After the news of Pep Guardiola coming to Bayern broke, Bayern won the treble, poached Mario Götze from Bundesliga rivals Dortmund, defeated a Götze-less Dortmund in the CL Final, watched Jupp Heynckes retire after a truimphant campaign and have seen Dortmund stubbornly refuse to sign off on the acquisition of Robert Lewandowski, who just as stubbornly refuses to play anywhere but for Munich next season under Pep.

*phew*

And that’s just the start of it, dear readers. Jan Kirchoff is loving life on the one hand, knowing he is coming in to the best club in world football at the moment, but ruing the competition for starting time he will face in defense next season. Arjen Robben, recently solidified as a permanent hero in the hearts of Bayern fans alongside Franck Ribéry, is still wondering “Should I stay or should I go?” Rumours are still rife about all the talent who want to come to Munich, but with a pretty packed squad as it is, the transfers out will be as telling as the transfers in.

Anatoliy Tymoshchuk has said he will be moving on, wanting to have one or two good seasons in the old age likely as the hometown hero back in the Ukraine. Trust, dear readers, having seen with my own eyes the man and the adoration he gets from the media in his home country, Tymo has stayed as long as he could and been a brilliant teammate throughout, but it’s time for him to be the man somewhere else rather than a rarely used spare in Munich.

Luiz Gustavo will have to think long and hard about his future given that the arrival of Mario Götze and a new coach may spell the end of his playing time with Bayern despite having developed into an excellent holding midfielder since coming over from Hoffenheim. His aggressive play, pinpoint passing and tireless running have made him a true nuisance to play against and losing him to a Champions League rival may prove to be more fatal than most would expect at first glance.

In essence, dear readers, FC Bayern, who are still aiming to reap in more silverware and make it a handful with 5 trophies or more before the next campaign begins. There is, after all, a German Super Cup to consider, the UEFA Super Cup against Chelsea and the Audi Cup which Bayern make a point of pride of winning on an annual basis.

So, even for the “Blessed” Pep Guardiola, he has a mighty tall order of business to contend with coming into this Bayern squad. Nowhere are the expectations higher in World Football at the moment than at FC Bayern right now. As passionate as Bayern fans are, we are terribly critical and, much like our players, tend to have a higher than average footballing IQ.

Though fans, by their very nature, allow their passions to sometimes cloud their judgment, Bayern fans expect success on all fronts from their team, and no greater fans exist at FC Bayern than the brain trust of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Uli Hoeneß and Franz Beckenbauer, Guardiola’s new bosses.

You see, Dear Readers, when you “manage” Bayern, you are not doing so in a completely autonomous way. You must consult with and work with “The Bayern Board”, which is spear-headed by the three aforementioned Club Officials. Not only are THEY involved, but at Bayern, Jogi Löw’s ear is often close to the ground. Past Bayern greats like Gerd Müller are still involved with the team’s youth development and help groom the players.

Guardiola is truly and stranger in a strange land, which is why he has been dedicated up to 4 hours a day to learning German for the past six months or more, dear readers. Pep Guardiola may have cruised to a dominant period of play for Barcelona, establishing them as, perhaps, the best club football team to date in the history of the game, but do not mistake me when I say, as I have said for many years now, that Bayern are quickly establishing themselves as worthy of consideration into that category.

With the plethora of talent they have amassed that are signed up to 2015 – 2016 for the most part, what they have accomplished in the past 5 years, and what they stand to accomplish in the next 3 years, Bayern just might, if Guardiola does his job and leads this team to the “Triple Triple”, the unheard of dominant string of victories where they collect every piece of significant silverware imaginable and toss their competitors aside in some memorable victories, particularly in the Champions League, then this FC Bayern taem WILL become the greatest team in the history of Club Football.

This, however, is a mighty large “if”, dear readers, and to the Bayern Board, this is not an “if”. This is a “When”. Now, that being said, the pressure is on Guardiola to produce results, and to produce them immediately. As I mentioned to a friend over Twitter literally moments before the news of Guardiola’s hiring became public, only Bayern have the luxury of being able to hire and then fire someone like Pep Guardiola.

Yes, dear readers, I said it. NO ONE since Ottmar Hitzfeld, to the best of my knowledge has survived a three year stint at FC Bayern. In the euphoria of the hiring, no one has stopped to consider the possibility that Pep Guardiola might, like Jürgen Klinsmann, struggle at FC Bayern. There is a case to be made for both scenarios, dear readers; that of success and that of failure.

On the one hand, Guardiola walk into a club which possesses many players he long coveted at Barcelona. Philip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luiz Gustavo, Manuel Neuer; there is no need to scour your mind and lose hair over trying to acquire this talent. They’re yours. For life, if you want them in all but Gustavo’s case, and if Gustavo gets to play, he is happy to stay as well.

The acquisition of Mario Götze is an absolute luxury, providing them with an embarrassment of riches as far as attacking midfielders are concerned with Kroos, Götze and Müller all on board. Robert Lewandowski is ready to join the squad once Dortmund accepts the fact that they cannot stop it from happening. Rumour has it that Guardiola is steadily dedicated to making Tottenham Hotspur an offer they simply CANNOT refuse for Gareth Bale, and with the roughly €300 million or more Bayern have to spend since winning the Champions League title, why not?

They COULD throw money at Edison Cavani, but Lewandowski wants to come to Bayern and that’s all that matters. Sure, Mario Gomez is likely leaving for Fiorentina but Gomez needs to go be the man SOMEWHERE while Pizarro and Mandzukic get “Deputy Poacher” duties behind Bayern’s next big snag.

Keeping all this in mind though, dear readers, all this movement and speculation will cause some unsettling of the players in the clubhouse. Not only will there be the hangover of the treble victory to contend with, but as people come and go and speculate about their futures, keeping the lads focused so they can hit the ground running will not be easy for Guardiola.

Whether or not a man from a different footballing culture and who speaks a different language takes over the hottest team in the world and tries to keep them firing on all cylinders and dominating the opposition for the next three years remains to be seen. It would be on hell of a feat for ANYONE to accomplish, dear readers, but if anyone can achieve this feat who is not Jupp Heynckes, public opinion seems to think that Pep Guardiola is the man who can do it.

Only time will tell, dear readers, but weighing all the possibilities and seeing the facts for what they are, as an early prediction from Your Humble Narrator, I must concur with my original gut-instinct reaction to the news of the supposed hiring. Pep Guardiola will be a great find and a great acquisition for this team, but if anyone has the luxury of sufficient expectations and demands of its team to be able to fire Pep Guardiola, it’s FC Bayern.

Only time will tell us what the end result will be, but it’s going to be a VERY interesting period of transition for the FC Bayern faithful, as it is hard to tell where the team will go from here. There’s nowhere to go but down, dear readers, and hopefully, Pep has enough magic tricks up his sleeves to keep this team on the top for the next 36 months.

DAS BOOT! – DREAM FINALE – LIVE BLOG – The Preview

Dear readers, we are living the dream. Though there are many who suggest that I should be having another Live Blog at this moment, our friend and colleague Brendan Dunlop is now in London covering the game for Sportsnet, continuing the proud tradition of covering Bundesliga football.

The reasons why these two teams are here have been well documented on this publication. The dedication to the youth academies and the importance of developing young talent early and providing them with all the tools they need to succeed. The importance of excellent management, with two of the most talented managers in the world, one old and one young, facing off face-to-face as they did a year ago in three decisive matches that were dominated by Dortmund and Jürgen Klopp.

Some might ask, as Bayern fans often do, “Are you nervous?” “Do you think you can win?” Oh, ye of little faith. I am not nervous. I am excited. “Do you think we can win?” Oh silly, silly Bayern Brothers. I don’t THINK we can win. I KNOW we can win.

“Are you sure? Even against ?”

My response?

Of course. Don’t you know our songs, brother? Don’t you know our culture? We are FC Bayern. We are despised throughout Germany by opposition fans, and for good reason. We smash the dreams of their clubs on a semi-regular basis. We are the best, the penultimate, the unstoppable force who refuses to lose to anyone.

But today, dear readers, we face the SchwarzGelben. The ultimate foe. They hate us far more than we hate them. As much as they despise us, most Bayern fans respect the Dortmund fans a great deal. Their passion and choreography are beyond compare, save by us of course.

We don’t spend a lot of time sewing large flags and doing things that some stadiums won’t permit, however. We just show up in droves, the Loudest and the Proudest, The Red and White wave of fans with flags waving high and wide, and make sure we out-sing, out-dance and out-perform not only the team field, but the team on the field knows the Bayern fans are always there, no matter where they roam, to cheer our team to victory.

I fully expect Die Bayern faithful to sing loud and proud for me today, though I could not afford to take the time necessary to go to the match and sing with them myself. I will be singing in spirit however, dear readers, as can be heard in the various videos posted in this entry.

Those who know Your Humble Narrator can hear my distinct and echoing tones blaring in the background of the following video. Some despise my voice, others find it entertaining. Personally, I happen to be in the former category, which is why we have never ventured into extended forays on TV, Radio or Podcasts and remain and print / type journalist.

Twas always my plan, dear readers, to become an established writer and it still is. I was once told that the best way to fine-tune my craft would be to study Journalism. So I got into the best Journalism Program in the country at the time to see if I could refine my craft.

Well, to be perfectly honest, dear readers, it was a bit too stuffy for my tastes. Though it taught me some very essential core values to keep in mind, most notably the ethical responsibilities of the journalist which are so often forgotten and pushed to the side in the world of an advertisement-based journalism model, the poo-pooing of the creative style which typifies Your Humble Narrator’s methodology led a younger version of YHN with far more hubris than the YHN you know today, (if that is possible.)

But, dear readers, we must admit this is the most dreaded final we could possibly have. If any team in the world know how to defeat FC Bayern, it’s Dortmund. That being said, thank the Gods that German Football, Bundesliga Football, FC Bayern and BVB have gotten the respect they finally deserve.

There are those who may say that this is a disgrace and that it disgraces the traditions of football, but even now we can see the influence of YHN on this match, as they display the ultimate display of respect for one another in this match, with each team playing and singing hand in hand with the children of the OPPOSITE teams youth squad, a reminder that WE ALL play on the same team, the team of Football.

As a footy player, a footy ref, a footy fan and a footy journalist, this has to be the greatest dream come true I have experienced to date. Though you never know what tomorrow will bring us, today is a great day to be alive and a great day to be a German Football fan.

Good Luck to both BVB and Bayern.

I don’t think any fan of this puiblication has any doubts about who I am cheering for. God Bless you all, dear readers.

DAS BOOT! – Champions League Final – A Match Made in Germany Football Heaven

The dream is now a reality. Bayern are through. Dortmund are through. That which we have been saying for so many years, dear readers, has become a reality. The Germans have taken the football world by storm and proven their dominance with an all-German Derby date in London on May 25th, 2013 where Bavarian giants FC Bayern Munich take on the pride of the football hotbed that is the Rühr district, Borussia Dortmund. The pundits say, dismissively so, that “The football purists will enjoy this fixture.” Why must you be a “football purist” to enjoy a derby between two of the best clubs in Europe, and two teams who have earned the right to identify themselves as such, is beyond me.

These are two footballing giants of Europe. Their place in this Champions League final, hosted in the heart of London, England, the self-proclaimed Holy Land of Football, is symbollic of the state of the game today. The beloved EPL, plagued by financial woes, tabloid media hounds dogging their players, allegations of racism, adultery and slander running rife while everyone fears the advent of Finacial Fair Play Rules, is enough to make one wonder if this is a sports league or a day-time serial. Will there be characters who die, then come back from the dead to spite their once-spurned lovers as well? “Damn that Laslo!”

And now, in the marquee event of the Football Calendar this year, in the Grand Stage that is London England’s best football stadium, we will be watching a match between… two German Giants. You know, Germany. The land where attendance figures are at 96% of greater capacity year after year. The land where no club is allowed to have a majority owner, by law, due to the 50% +1 rule. The land where teams are not allowed to run up massive deficits in order to compete. The land where full stadiums, cheap tickets and great football are the norm. The land where they groom their own talent in their extensive youth academy system as well as purchasing stellar young players the world over to ply their trade in Germany’s top flight.

This is the same league which was one used it as a stepping stone to the EPL or La Liga. A proving ground, if you will, for players like Vincent Kompany or Rafael van der Vaart to show the world what they had to offer while their agents salivated at the huge contracts and transfer fees being tossed at their respective clubs for the services of their clients. This does still happen, dear readers, but more and more star players, like Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben and Manuel Neuer of Bayern to name a few, are saying more frequently “No, I think I’ll stay in Germany thank you.”

Longtime readers of Your Humble Narrator and “DAS BOOT!” are well aware that we have been singing the same refrain, of praise and adulation for the Bundesliga and it’s governance, which leads to record profits, record attendance, and record performances, for almost five years now, dear readers. And even I, Your Humble Narrator, jumped on the Bandwagon late, as the league was really starting to pick up steam. As much as it may grate the gears of staunch Serie A, EPL and La Liga supporters to stop believing your own hype, to stop and take a moment to admire German football and the way they do business in the Bundesliga and to start taking notes.

For those of you who have not been taking notes, allow Your Humble Narrator to set the stage for what will be the most entertaining and spirited Champions League encounters we have seen in recent memory. Dortmund and Bayern have been rivals for years. It is the age-old German rivalry. North vs. South. East vs. West. Black and Yellow vs Red and White. The rich and successful Golden Child that is FC Bayern, spending liberally and lauded the world around, FC Hollywood faces off against the hard-working and passionate fan base of the Rühr district’s Schwarzgelben, born in the industrial heart-land of Germany’s robust economy.

Though Munich now boast one of the most modern and desirable of stadiums by way of the Allianz Arena, it wasn’t that long ago that Bayern played in Munich’s Olympic Stadium, which was large, drafty, and nowhere near as intimate an environment at the new Allianz Arena is today, with an olympic sized running track separating the fans from the action on the pitch. Dortmund, on the other hand, have had the same stadium for decades with only the name having changed. The beloved Westfalenstadion, named for their geographic region of Westphalia, may be the Signal Iduna Park in title, but in the hearts of BVB fans, it will always be Westfalenstadion, the home of the Yellow Wall; a wooden grandstand that holds 22,000 of the most die-hard football fans you will ever see.

The competition between the clubs is fierce. Bayern have more money. Dortmund has a better reputation in Germany, while Bayern far more popular outside of it. Dortmund has the biggest stadium. Bayern has more trophies. Dortmund have great young talent. Bayern BUY Dortmund’s great young talent. The one talent they couldn’t buy last season was bought by Dortmund; Marco Reus. In retaliation, Bayern have successfully courted Mario Götze away from Dortmund, with Robert Lewandowski and possibly Mats Hummels not that far behind him on their way down south to the Säbener Straße. Dortmund have better fan choreography, but Bayern have the loudest fans. Both teams enjoy phenomenal fan support, at home and on the road, and have a strong tradition of passionate, educated and loyal fans who bleed either red and white or black and gold respectively.

Bayern, having thoroughly trounced Barcelona by an aggregate score of 7-0 can make a rightful claim to the title of the Best Club in European Football as of today, with a stellar array of victories, trophies, new records being set this season, and an endless list of records set historically in thir club’s books. The last team to win a Champions League title out of Germany, however, was Dortmund. Bayern can beat just about any team in the world on any given day, but one team who knows them better than any other and delights in the rivalry between the two clubs…. is Borussia Dortmund.

Dortmund eliminated Bayern from the DFB Pokal (or the German Cup, for short) last season. Bayern eliminated Dortmund from the competition this season. Dortmund edged out Bayern in the league last season. Bayern put plenty of distance between the two squads this season. To call this a tale of David and Goliath would be a misnomer, for anyone who perceives Dortmund to be a “David” in the footballing world is showcasing their ignorance. This is a tale of Goliath and Goliath, two German Super powers, one more well-known and celebrated than the other, coming tete-a-tete to settle a score that has been simmering between the two teams for about 24 months now, ever since Dortmund put an end to Bayern’s impressive string of dominance to deny them a Bundesliga title not just once, but two years running.

This match is going to get ugly. There will be cards. Passions will be running VERY high. There will be loud, screaming fans, clad in their team’s colours, singing, dancing and cheering at the top of their impressive lungs, trying desperately to drown out the sound of their opposition. There will be beautiful football from two of the world’s best clubs, featuring the bright young stars from Germany, Poland, Turkey, France, the Netherlands, Brazil and the Ukraine. Germany’s best goalkeeper faces off against it’s most under-rated. The best coach in Europe faces off against the coolest coach in Europe.

There are so many storylines in this final, dear readers, that one simply cannot count them all. One thing is for certain. It will be a great match. It will be a great final. It will be one for the ages and one that any footy fan should thoroughly enjoy. As a loud and proud FC Bayern Munich man, this will be a special final for me, because I fully expect this will be the match where my long-standing suffering of lost finals and semi-finals comes to an end. After three losses in 4 seasons in Champions League Finals, The Bavarians all agree on one thing. This is our year.

RekordMeister
DeutscherMeister
EuropaMeister
Bayern, die Meisterschaft!

Then again, nothing is set in stone, dear readers. There are no guarantees in football, and you never know what can happen out there on the pitch between now and then. Win or lose, however, it will be one hell of a match to watch. Oh, and for those of you who were not already aware of all these things, just a simple reminder.

Bayern and Dortmund play each other in the league this Saturday, in case you want a taste of how much animosity and passion exists between these two teams. With all to play for in a few weeks time, and nothing for either of them to lose in the league, expect a hard-fought and highly physical affair in the Signal Iduna Park with a little blood on the cleats and some harsh words to be shared. If you weren’t a Bundesliga fan until now, dear readers, now is an excellent time to start.

Saturday afternoon. 15:25, local time. I will be watching, with an ice-cold Löwenbräu in hand. Will you?

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