Germany, 2006: When love becomes obsession

At fourteen, you’re ready for your first true love. But I had already met her eight years prior. Now, as a teenager, I was willing to give up everything for her – all my dreams and ambitions. I became more than just infatuated with the World Cup. I became obsessed.

At the start of the tournament, I grabbed a notebook meant for my math classes, and wrote on the front cover: ‘WK 2006 in Duitsland’[i] (‘World Cup 2006 in Germany’). On the first page, I told my audience (nobody) who I thought were title favorites: Brazil, Argentina, and Italy. Wild cards would be the Netherlands (we’re back!), England, Czech Republic, France, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Ivory Coast, and Portugal. Below this list I started with my match report of the opening game between Germany and Costa Rica (4-2).

This was the first time I wrote about football, and I couldn’t stop. I covered each game in about one page, complete with the result, goal scorers and a Man of the Match I picked myself. Halfway through the tournament I decided that I needed detailed information about every squad in the back of my notebook, so I made an overview containing all player names, their kit numbers, age, clubs they played for and a rating I gave them for their performance during the entire World Cup. I even included the page numbers where each player was mentioned. When the final drew near and it turned out I had no blank pages left, I carefully took out the staples in the middle, took some pages from a different notebook, and put them into my World Cup book.

Brazil were favorites by a country mile. By now, Ronaldinho was The Best Football Player In The World. Kaká, an unused substitute in 2002, was a megastar. And striker Adriano was so talented that he often got picked instead of the aging Ronaldo.

Still, my report of Brazil’s first match, against Croatia (they won 1-0), started like this: “This game should have been the first time when the Brazilians would show their class and supremacy. But that didn’t happen.” Later, it read: “It seemed like Ronaldinho didn’t feel like it today, and Zé Roberto was invisible too.” This was emblematic of the Seleção in 2006: on paper the best international squad I ever saw, but in practice they were unimpressive. They were defeated in the quarter final by France, captained by, again, Zinédine Zidane.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful football and individual skill in 1998 and 2002, I can’t remember really enjoying Zidane’s genius in 2006. Or the nice style of play of, surprisingly, Germany. Or the passion of the Italians. In my memory, I can clearly picture the celebrations of Fabio Grosso, or the unimportant group match between Argentina and Mexico where I was hugely impressed by the 19-year-old… Andrés Guardado. I vividly remember the confusion when Josip Simunic was shown his third yellow card in the battle between his Croatia and Australia. And I’ll probably never forget how the round of 16 game between the Netherlands and Portugal escalated entirely (after which I no longer dared to openly profess my admiration of Luis Figo). Still, I enjoyed all of this less than previous tournaments – even though I can’t remember those tournaments as clearly.

I was no longer in love, I was obsessed. Even during matches, my mind was forming sentences and paragraphs to include in my match report. As soon as the final whistle sounded, I went upstairs to my bedroom to write down my summary. Enjoyment was no longer important. My goal was to record, describe, organize, and label. I was no longer a fan of football; I was a reporter.

Still, one moment pierced right through my detached attitude. Not a moment of genius, but one of madness. Zidane’s headbutt onto Marco Materazzi’s chest. It was a fitting ending to the tournament of Simunic and Portugal-The Netherlands, but it was a tragic goodbye to a legend of the game. While Ronaldo had left the World Cup stage in silence, Zidane set fire to the entire theatre. In the ashes of his destruction, we found France beaten and the Italians as World Champions. Zidane’s headbutt was the only moment of the 2006 World Cup when I truly felt something. And, in hindsight, this is also when I saw the darker side of my great love, my obsession, for the first time. As if football had lost its innocence.           

But this World Cup didn’t end at the final. When I finished my report of Italy-France, I added (a bit pretentious, maybe) an epilogue, concluding: “It’s over, we’ll have to do without our World Cup again. We’ll get her back in four years, in South Africa.” I put my signature underneath (very pretentious, certainly). But even after that, I wasn’t done. My squads in the back of the notebook weren’t completed yet: not all players had a rating, not all their page numbers had been referred to. I also added facts and statistics about the total number of yellow and red cards, the number of goals and “the number of dives in one World Cup: infinite”. Then I wrote half a page about each countries’ memorable moments, their number of goals scored, I drew their national flag and colored it in, and added all of the page numbers where the country was mentioned.

This way, I prolonged my World Cup experience until long after the tournament had ended. My obsession was never greater. But could I still call this love? That’s a good question.

[i] Bakker, E. (2014, May 2-June 6). Enzio’s verloren WK-boek uit 2006. [Article series]. From Buitenkant Voet:

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