As part of a new series, Back Page Football will be taking a look at the careers of some of football’s most talented individuals who, for one reason or another, have failed to fulfill their initial hype and expectations. First up is one time German playmaker Sebastian Deisler.
If you happen to find yourself in the south-western region of Germany any time soon and you fancy yourself as a bit of a football anorak, then you might want to pay a visit to the city of Freiburg. You may take your time to read up on SC Freisburg, a team so revered for their footballing philosophy that they have earned the nickname Breisgau-Brasilianer – that is, the Bresigau Brazilians. You may also discover that SC Freisburg hold a place in the record books, as former manager Volker Finke remains the longest serving manager in the history of German professional football. What you’ll also find is that SC Freisburg are a team of potential, having recently secured 14th place in the Bundesliga following their promotion. So it is perhaps appropriate that – in the city of potential – if you happen to wander into the specialist Nepalese and Himalayan store on Gerberau 44, you may just find yourself being served by a man who was once proclaimed to be the future of German football.
When you strip it down it’s very core, football is a relatively simple game to comprehend. Two teams will try to outscore one another, and will use any means necessary within the rules of the game to achieve such a goal. But in an age where every corner of the world has it’s own website, it’s own blog or it’s own ex-professional pundit, our sport has never been so scrutinised as it is today. Each game is over-analysed and over-publicised. Inevitably, these critical assessments will focus on individuals, and while the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham and Ronaldinho may thrive on the celebrity they have carefully carved with the help of their PR team, there are those who buckle under such public pressure. Given this, the beginning of Sebastian Deisler’s meteoric rise to stardom may also just have been the beginning of his eventual downfall, for it is with the heaviest of burdens in Germany that a player is labelled the next Franz Beckenbauer.
Having began his football career at the age of 6, Deisler represented both FV Turmringen and Borussia Mönchengladbach at underage level, before signing professional terms with the latter. German football needed a shot of invigoration at the turn of the 21st century. Michael Ballack was seen as a sure thing, playing a pivotal role in a strong Leverkusen side that was challenging both domestically and on the continent. Bastian Schweinsteiger was still forging an impressive youth career, and Miroslav Klose was still a few years shy of his late coming of age. The media couldn’t help but turn to Deisler, who had raised eyebrows in his debut season for which Mönchengladbach were doomed to relegation. It was then coach Friedel Rausch who predicted that the creative midfielder’s name would one day be heralded among the likes of Der Keiser himself, Beckenbauer.
Following Mönchengladbach’s relegation, Hertha Berlin came calling, offering Deisler the chance to hone his skills in the Champions League at 19 years of age. However, his time at Berlin was plagued by injuries. A ruptured cruciate ligament and a torn synovial membrane restricted Deisler to just over 70 appearances in his 3 seasons at the club.
“The need for great German talents was so strong that all eyes were on me.” – Sebastian Deisler
However, this didn’t stop Bayern Munich securing Deisler for just over €9 million above the reported interests of over 25 other clubs around Europe. Deisler was attacked by both the media and his former fans for not having disclosed to them earlier the signing on fee of just under €10 million he received from Munich (DEM 20 million at the time) while injured during his final season at Hertha.
Sadly, “Supertalent” (as he had come to be affectionately known) continued to be ravaged by injuries that saw him make just 86 appearances in his 5 seasons at Munich. Michael Ballack’s departure for pastures new at Chelsea signalled a new hope for Deisler’s future at Munich, and many saw him as the German captain’s successor. However, a reoccurence of the knee injury he suffered in Berlin dashed any hopes Deisler had of not only becoming Munich’s talisman, but also of representing his country at their World Cup on home soil.
“Deisler is so important for our future, not just for this summer but for the World Cup in 2006.” – Rudi Voller (former German coach)
Combined with Deisler’s injury problems were concerns over his ability to cope with the pressure of the hype and expectation he had crafted. He was diagnosed with depression in 2003, just a year after arriving at Munich, and missed several months to receive treatment. Deisler suffered a relapse of his condition again in 2004. Munich president Beckenbauer admitted the club had concerns over Deisler’s personality, but never expected it to be such a problem.
“Deisler came to our club as an extremely introverted person.” he said. “But nobody could have predicted that the situation would turn out to be a psychological problem.” In his autobiography, Deisler points to the pressure he was under at Munich as one of the main factors in his depression. “I always repressed things and thought ‘the club needs me to perform. It could not continue like this.”
A brave 2 year battle to reignite his career proved futile, and Sebastian Deisler retired from football in January 2007. “All the fun and joy has gone out of my game. I dont want this torture anymore.” he told reporters. His reasons for retirement seem to echo the sentiments one would expect from a player in his late 30’s, made all the more disheartening by the fact Deisler was only 27 years old when he hung up his boots. “In the end I was empty. I was old and I was tired. I went as far as my legs could carry me, and I could not go any further.”
Perhaps the most upsetting conclusion that can be drawn for Sebastian Deisler’s tale is that the media has simply not learned it’s lesson. While the fact that Deisler surrendered a large chunk of his playing career (as well as three major international tournaments) to injuries is obvious, he has himself pointed to the pressure he felt as a young player as the final straw. And while content to live the rest of his life with what he values most of all – his family and friends – Deisler’s story should serve as a warning to all of those who are too quick to label a player as the next Beckenbauer, Pelé, Maradona et al.
You can read more of Kevyn’s posts on his blog, Nothing More Than A Consolation Goal.