REVIEW BY CHRIS ETCHINGHAM – @CEtchingham77
The one thing that it is pretty safe to say about Jens Lehmann before reading his autobiography The Madness Is On The Pitch is that you have an opinion of him already; either from his crossing of the divide from Schalke to Borussia Dortmund or from his time in the English Premier League for Arsenal.
It should be of no surprise therefore that his book is opinionated, insightful, but above all, a thoroughly enjoyable read. He doesn’t hold back on individuals, namely Oliver Kahn and Michael Ballack as well as the heavy influence those connected with Bayern Munich have over German football as a whole. But more than that, it’s a narrative of a career for a footballer who has had to make it to the top of his profession the hard way.
The book has some brilliant turns of phrase to keep the reader entertained and engaged. In one passage he describes the flight of a ball as it heads towards him as like “a bat pissed out of its mind”, or as a youth his beliefs were “as flighty as a flag on the terraces”.
Lehmann also comes across as a deeply focussed individual. At one point during the 2006 World Cup whilst trying to prepare himself for the quarter final against Argentina he was disturbed by a phone call from his wife about their children, a subject he abruptly cut her off with by declaring “you’ll have to shelve this, I need to go to sleep now – for Germany”. It’s not that Lehmann comes across as unlikeable, far from it, its more that there is a clinical, determined nature too him. The human side comes out of him too, such as his family’s struggle to relocate to London when he first joined Arsenal, something which is often overlooked with professional footballers but is always a fascinating subject
There is little in the way of banterous anecdotes, though the tale about having to smuggle a drunkenly passed out Lothar Matthaus past Bertie Vogts into the team hotel at 5am following a night out at a Monte Carlo casino at France ‘98 is well worth a read. Being subbed at half time whilst a young goalkeeper and having to borrow money from a commuter for the train journey home whilst the match is still going on is also worthy of a mention.
Lehmann has his issues with specific individuals which he seeks to address within the book, most notable his increasingly murky rivalry with his goalkeeping foe, the aforementioned Kahn. Jurgen Klinsmann, having two outstanding goalkeepers competing for just one spot, had to pick between the two. Facing enormous pressure to stick with Kahn from sections of the media, plus dignitaries such as Franz Beckenbauer, Klinsmann had a difficult decision to make and Lehmann dedicates a detailed and fascinating section of his book to how this Game Of Thrones but with a goal instead of an iron throne played out.
Lehmann’s annoyance at Toni Schumacher’s misinterpretation of a supposed snub of a fan by Lehmann is also addressed too, as is some Machiavellian behaviour by Michael Ballack and his agent as well as the increasingly bitter relationship between Lehmann and Manuel Almunia whilst the two were vying for the number one spot at Arsenal. William Gallas also may wish to read the book with his fingers over his eyes if possible, Lehmann was none too impressed with the Frenchman’s behaviour in the infamous game at Birmingham City when Eduardo had his leg broken. There are also thinly veiled digs at Chelsea too, with comparisons over empty seats at Stamford Bridge compared to Highbury and fans wishing to be entertained rather than endure a dragged out 1-0 victory
Other tales from the background which make up the interesting nitty gritty of any sporting biography are Dennis Bergkamp the surprising practical joker, Lehmann’s inability to comprehend the English lack of punctuality compared to Germany and the etiquette of seating arrangements at football clubs.
Lehmann also delves into some of the folklore from his time as a player. The science behind the penalty save against Villarreal in the Champions League semi final in 2006; the red card in the subsequent final; and most fascinatingly of all the penalty shootout against Argentina in the quarter final of the 2006 World Cup and of course the piece of paper denoting the habits of the Argentina penalty takers – including how he was almost let down by the now legendary scrunched up piece of paper. Lehmann also discusses his transfer from Schalke to Dortmund and the bitter reaction brought about in the aftermath of that from both sets of fans; “this is not necessarily the best move you have ever made” he told himself upon his first Ruhr derby following the controversial transfer.
The book is definitely worth a read. Lehmann is an individual who is multi-layered, intelligent and articulate. It picks up on every significant aspect of his career and explains to the reader in a way, like all good books, to make the them keep turning for just one more page, then another, then another…
The Madness is on the Pitch by Jens Lehmann is available on Amazon HERE and from all good book stores.