“The DFB has bound every professional club to run a youth academy.”
“Else, we wouldn’t even stand a chance against the English with all their money.”
“And against the Spanish, they run that on the basis of debt.”
“The Italians carried out their cup finale in China.”
“Who cut Dustin’s hair?”
“We had it cut that short so it would last until school starts again.”
“I don’t know, somehow the haircut looks good on Dustin, somehow it doesn’t.”
“Did you get the Email from the coach? Because I didn’t.”
“I did. Maybe it landed in your spam folder?”“
“You must delete spam.”
“But, one of my Emails once landed in the spam folder.”
“Check and delete, that’s the only way.”
“Sometimes spam mail blocks the computer.”
“When you can’t open anything, that’s a sign for me.”
“Then you must call the police.”
After the half-time whistle, a little boy runs onto the field, beaming, in order to hand the U-16 player with the number 21 from Hoffenheim – who is obviously his big brother– a water bottle. Irritated, his brother shoos him away. Gosh, it’s embarrassing to have a little brother, and now he has to run onto the field in front of all these people! At 14, everything is embarrassing.
To Mayor Steinbrenner, having the Hoffenheimer football pros here is “like hitting the jackpot.” Although they already had a much better football club than TSG 1899 in their village. The FC Zuzenhausen always played “one or two leagues above Hoffenheim,” Steinbrenner tells me. That was before SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp started investing in his home club and Hoffenheim moved up from the Kreisliga (district league) into the Bundesliga. However, Hopp, when he was a U-19 player, changed clubs as a young football amateur from TSG 1899 to FC Zuzenhausen, because they had the better team.
That just as a footnote.
When Hoffenheim ascended into the Bundesliga in 2008, the club was still looking for an adequate training and administration center. The district town Sinsheim, where also the stadium was built, was under discussion, Hoffenheim itself, of course, Heidelberg, and even moving to Mannheim and a subsequent name change were considered. Mayor Steinbrenner wanted to convince Dietmar Hopp of Schloss Agnestal, a mansion in need of restoration. Schloss Agnestal, which is located a little outside of Zuzenhausen and which was erected in the Baroque style in the 18th century by the noble family von Venningen, last served as a discotheque named Schlössle.
“At a late hour, when there was nothing else going on, one went to the Schlössle. There was always something going on there,” the mayor says, who, of course, also frequented the disco Schlössle. “We of Zuzenhausen felt it was our obligation: no matter how late it was at night, one had to swing by for a nightcap.” But discotheques rarely survive several generations because the kids have to distance themselves from their parents by going to different clubs. Around 2005, the Schlössle shut down. Only the window panes were still frequented at night; as targets for the young people who, out of boredom, threw rocks at the glass. Dietmar Hopp thankfully declined the mansion as a location for his Bundesliga club. “But then we got help from Ralf Rangnick,” Steinbrenner says.
The coach, who had been responsible for the ascent of TSG 1899 into the Bundesliga, wanted a training center far away from any excitement. Rangnick saw the mansion, the willows, the village road and pushed through that TSG 1899 came to Zuzenhausen.
I leave the village going south, past single-family homes, up a hill and there it is, before me, in a beautiful suddenness, as if it had been uprooted from a big city and planted right here in the meadows: the training and administration center. Grass fields as far as the eye can reach, modern structures of glass and chrome seamlessly attach to the mansion, which underwent extensive renovation, a gigantic high-tech football machine named Footbonaut for technique training. The training center forms a nice contrast to the rural setting: it makes it very apparent why it’s so quaint that this place, a village, belongs to the football Bundesliga.
The ascent of TSG Hoffenheim into the Bundesliga didn’t happen without hue and cry: people were outraged, a millionaire who with his money bought a random club into the Bundesliga, what a test tube project. A club full of moneybags, without the heartbeats of a thousand fans, that was the beginning of the end of real football.
Those reflexes were to be expected.
Because the football love of real fans doesn’t come without hate.
On the other hand, it was astonishing that Hoffenheim wasn’t viewed in a more differentiated way. As Dietmar Hopp had basically just made the daydream of every amateur football player come true: to possess so much money that nothing else mattered and that one could bring one’s own little village club, Germania Schwanheim, TSG Sprockhövel, FC Alte Haide, into the Bundesliga.
Seven years down the road, TSG Hoffenheim no longer causes such a flurry. Even now, when the club is in danger of relegation, the rest of the country rarely feels malice but indifference. People have gotten used to TSG Hoffenheim. However, out on the sports field I still feel this is an unusual place for football: the absence of noise, of masses of people, instead a view over green hills. The modes of behavior are still those of any other professional club: the players of the second league must park in front of the security gate, outside the training center. The professional players get to drive all the way to the door.
Kevin Volland, Hoffenheim’s team captain and model forward, is already wearing shorts and a jersey when we sit down for our interview. Training starts in one hour. Volland isn’t sure if there’s even a player who lives in Zuzenhausen; he believes not, but he will check with the spokesman. No, currently not. Volland himself first lived in Rauenberg for several years, on the other side of the A6 (autobahn). Last summer, he moved to Heidelberg, like most of the players of TSG Hoffenheim.
“In Heidelberg, I can walk to a café. But in Rauenberg there was only the supermarket. And the gas station.”
The departure of goalkeeper Tom Starke was much to his regret, says Mayor Steinbrenner. Starke moved from TSG Hoffenheim to FC Bayern München. As their third goalkeeper. In Zuzenhausen, he was Hoffenheim’s only player who lived there. He was involved in the elementary school’s parents’ council and helped out at kindergarten festivities.
Sometimes, the inhabitants of Zuzenhausen can see the football professionals jogging along the little river. Occasionally, a few players go out for lunch at a local inn called Brauerei-Gasthof, and at the Christmas market, players from the Bosnian national team will sell sausages in the booth of the countrywomen. The points of contact between the village and its club are brief. But, the fact that one rarely catches a glimpse of the football pros in town only heightens the feeling of enchantment when strolling through Zuzenhausen:
The idea that, any minute, a national player might pop up at this gas station to grab a coffee is nicer and much more peculiar than watching him refuel and quickly drive on.
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Translation by Kate Weyerer