'Like Chess, Only without the Dice' German Football's Greatest Sayings

By David Gordon Smith

Part 2: It's a Game of Two Tautologies: 'The Ball is Round'

Sepp Herberger: He discovered the ball is round.

Sepp Herberger: He discovered the ball is round.

At first glance many football quotations seem little more than mere tautologies. But hours spent carefully pondering such phrases -- perhaps while stuck in goal during a slow match -- can reveal hidden depths of meaning.

- Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten. (The ball is round and the game lasts 90 minutes.)

Possibly the best-known of all German football sayings, these words of wisdom were uttered by Sepp Herberger, coach of the German national side that won the 1954 World Cup and the German equivalent of baseball legend Yogi Berra in terms of quantity and quality of sayings coined. The much-quoted short form of this saying, "the ball is round," has spawned a thousand references and inspired a radio show of the same name.

- Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel. (After the game is before the game.)

The sporting equivalent of "This too shall pass," this nugget of wisdom encourages humility in victory and offers comfort in defeat. This Sepp Herberger classic, inspired no doubt by the long-standing German interest in Eastern mysticism with a nod to Nietzsche's doctrine of eternal recurrence, has become a veritable idiom in German, in the form of "After the X is before the X." (SPIEGEL is no exception, asking "Is after the election once again before the election?" in an article about Barack Obama in its latest edition.)

- Das Runde muss ins Eckige. (The round thing has to go in the rectangular thing.)

Variously attributed to Sepp Herberger or to German national coach Jupp Derwall, this quotation, whose pithiness is hard to capture in English, sums up the essence of football in a mere five words and depicts the game as a thing of eternal Pythagorean beauty.

- Man kann jedes Spiel gewinnen, man kann auch jedes Spiel verlieren. (One can win each game, one can also lose each game.)

These words of wisdom from Franz Beckenbauer demonstrate that Sepp Herberger's Buddhist attitude of indifference to life's slings and arrows is still informing the modern German game.


All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with permission

Die Homepage wurde aktualisiert. Jetzt aufrufen.
Hinweis nicht mehr anzeigen.