Chapter 746: The Drifter
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
Rotthaus was the Chief Executive Officer of the TSG 1899 Hoffenheim club and the man who gave the club an injection of funds to determine the direction was the owner, Dietmar Hopp. But the man in charge of all the specific affairs was this middle-aged man.
He used to be the head of marketing at the Bundesliga elite squad, VfB Stuttgart. He resigned from Stuttgart in 2005 and accepted Hopp’s offer to move to a small team that was still in the 3. Liga tournament at the time. It actually took some courage to make such a choice. After all, Rotthaus did well in Stuttgart and had a satisfactory income. There did not seem to be a need to change places and start from scratch. He could get stuck in a quagmire going to a small team in 3. Liga if he was not careful. But after months of deliberation, he decided to come to Hoffenheim to make something out of it.
If it were to be compared to the Hoffenheim team when he first came, he had already succeeded.
They finished second in the Bundesliga in the first season they were promoted to Bundesliga and even cultivated two Germany national footballers and the best striker in the Bundesliga and Europe. Their results in the second season were not as good as the previous season but they were situated securely in the Bundesliga. At least they had no worries about relegation. Their original plan was to secure a place in the Bundesliga in two years’ time.
Neither Hopp nor he was in a hurry to forge Hoffenheim into a team that could win the title. Hopp had invested heavily to first build the new training base and stadium, as well as to look for young players. They did not buy the big-name star players.
From this point of view, they were equally a miracle maker, but they were a far cry from Nottingham Forest.
Last season, news of Rangnick’s impending dismissal from the club circulated so much that Hopp immediately instructed Rotthaus to offer Rangnick a new five-year contract. News of the manager’s contract renewal quickly appeared in the major news media, and the rumors were discredited.
Rotthaus was not disappointed with what happened to the team last season as it was within his expectations. The ones who were disappointed were only total strangers who had high Hopps for Hoffenheim.
Rotthaus had a big dream, probably bigger than that of his boss, Hopp. He wanted to make Hoffenheim a club that could survive without relying on Hopp’s investment and be kept afloat. Like the famous football clubs that already existed in the world, the investors could be changed many times over, but the team would always exist. He and Hopp would grow old and die one day. Hoffenheim could not fall to the seventh-tier tournament because of Hopp’s departure. They should have the ability to continue to stay in the Bundesliga. He must let the team gradually move away from Hopp’s investment and influence and become independent step by step.
Now there might be a chance to start the first step.
Just this morning, he received a fax from England.
Nottingham Forest had made an inquiry to him about whether the team’s striker, Vedad Ibišević was for sale. The miracle of England and the miracle of Germany finally had its first formal contact.
He received numerous faxes like this last summer. At that time, he rejected them all without asking Hopp for advice. No ambitious club would sell its leading striker in its own team. Not to mention Hoffenheim was not short of money and would be competing in next season’s Champions League. He did not think Ibišević would choose to leave.
There were much fewer such faxes this summer. The teams that were interested in “Super Ibi” had stated one by one that they would not sign the once-famous super striker. The teams that were still interested in Ibišević were only the second-rate teams in the top leagues, or second-tier leagues.
At the end of last season, the German press once quipped sarcastically, “Ibišević has always been a drifter mixing in in the lower level leagues in Europe. He has no problem adapting to that level of football. He may perhaps be successful starting from a different place again. To be honest, he’s not a striker who can play in the top leagues…”
These remarks might be harsh, but many people truly thought that in their minds and thought that Ibišević’s wild performance in Hoffenheim’s debut in Bundesliga was just an accidental breakout. He was actually better suited to play in the lower league tournaments. Was it not evident that he showed his true level for the second season?
In fact, there was also debate within Hoffenheim about Ibišević’s true level. Some people thought that he indeed had what it took to be the top striker, while others thought he was just lucky. It seemed reasonable on either side. The manager, Rangnick did not belong to either side, but he was also worried about Ibišević’s sudden erratic performance.
When he first joined Hoffenheim while Hoffenheim still played in 2. Bundesliga, he made thirty-one appearances, mostly as a substitute and scored only just five goals. This figure was simply terrible for a striker. At that time, the local media believed that Hoffenheim had bought the wrong player, and Ibišević’s experience from a long time had proved that he could not meet Hoffenheim’s requirements. Everyone was not clear why Hoffenheim would be interested in Ibišević, who had not shown any abilities while he was still at Alemannia Aachen.
If it was not for the Beijing Olympics, perhaps Ibišević would have continued to sit on Hoffenheim’s bench until his contract expired, or he would be dumped and sold by Hoffenheim to any club and be abandoned. But fate was often so wonderful, unpredictable, full of all kinds of changes and surprises.
His rise was not due to the fact that Rangnick had the foresight to recognize talent, but purely a coincidence. You know, just before the 08-09 season, he was only a substitute striker in the manager’s mind. But the team’s main striker, Obasi, would miss most of the team’s preparations and the first few rounds of the season as he had to participate in the Beijing Olympics.
Ibišević was then able to make his mark in the first round of the league tournament.
It was Hoffenheim’s debut in Bundesliga against Cottbus that became a legendary beginning. Never been thought highly of, acknowledged and noticed by others, the nobody, Vedad Ibišević scored twice in the game! He helped the team scored a major victory of 3:0 over Cottbus. Then he scored in every game and even scored twice in many games. Even if Obasi returned to the squad after he ended his run in the Olympics, Rangnick found that he could not let Ibišević who was in excellent form, play as a substitute at that time. But Obasi was also a very capable striker, he also could not bear to let the striker be on the bench. So, he simply modified his tactics and allowed Obasi, Wellington and Ibišević to play at the same time, using the more aggressive 4-3-3 formation! It produced a wonderous effect as a result and for a time, they were unstoppable in Bundesliga.
Ibišević became the best striker and Rangnick even added, “To me, he’s like a player we’ve just brought in this season.”
In the second season, Ibišević was bizarrely in a state of doldrums and Rangnick said again, “To me, he’s like a player we’ve just brought in this season…”
The Bundesliga manager was also at a loss with regards to Ibišević.
Perhaps he should sell him?
The idea flashed through Rotthaus’ mind.
But still he rebuffed Nottingham Forest and said they would not sell Ibišević for he was a big part of their team.
He did not receive Nottingham Forest’s second fax. He thought the team must have given up. Perhaps they just asked casually…
He did not expect to receive the Nottingham Forest manager, Tony Twain and his German translator.
“Hoffenheim is really a tranquil little village. I like it here… I would choose this kind of place to live.” Dressed like a tourist in a pair of sunglasses, Tony Twain and his German translator stood on the sidelines of the training ground and watched a person trained alone on the pitch across a barbed wire fence.
The time for normal training was over. The fans who had surrounded earlier had long since dispersed. Not many people stayed behind.
They were all fans of the man on the pitch.
Vedad Ibišević was giving himself extra shooting drill on the training ground. It was a rigidly adhered procedure—half an hour extra practice after training every day. He was a striker and there was nothing more important than shooting.
Twain looked on from the sidelines. His shooting skill was very good. Perhaps it was due to his long-term persistence in training.
Half an hour passed quickly. Instead of going straight to the locker room, Ibišević came over to sign autographs for the fans waiting outside.
With a height of 1.89 meters tall and a weight of eighty kilograms, he was sturdy but not heavy. He stood behind the barbed wire fence and signed autographs for the fans. Then he walked up to Tony Twain.
Twain passed the blue Hoffenheim jersey with Ibišević’s name and number that he had just bought in the souvenir shop outside through the fence, along with a marker pen as well as a business card.
No fans would hand over their business cards when they asked him for autographs. Ibišević looked up somewhat strangely at the middle-aged man in sunglasses.
“Tony Twain. It’s very nice to meet you, Ibišević.” The man outside made the first move to introduce himself.
The name sounds familiar… Wait a minute!
Ibišević widened his eyes and asked directly in English, “Are you the Nottingham Forest manager? What are you doing here?”
“Because Nottingham Forest is interested in you.” Twain grinned.
Three days had passed since he received the call from his agent’s company. He had not yet given a reply to his agent’s company. Because he did not know whether he should leave here and whether he should go to Nottingham Forest. There was more than one team interested in him besides Nottingham Forest.
“I had watched the videos of you playing football. But I thought it was better to see it with my own eyes when it came to matters such as this, so I’m here. Do you have extra practice every time you finish training?”
“No wonder your success was no accident. So, what do you think? Do you want to go to England with me? I’ll help you find your form again and get it back in the Champions League.” Twain laughed like a demon who was seducing the mortals.
Ibišević was silent for a moment and then shrugged, “I don’t know how to answer you, Mr. Twain. Maybe a change of place will bring new experiences, but I still have a contract with the club. If the club doesn’t let me go, then it’s no use saying anything.”
“Well, you just have to show the club that you’re thinking of changing to a different environment and leave the rest to us.” Twain patted his chest.
“I know Nottingham Forest is a team that is going to play in the Champions League the new season, but I don’t understand why you come to me.” There was another question that Ibišević did not understand. In his view, a team that was capable to compete for the title should go after those well-known star players. Anyway, the financial crisis was still in progress, those big-name star players were not expensive.
“I only buy players who meet my requirements and never care if they are famous or not, whether they are big names or not. You’re the one I need, Ibi. Come to my team and I’ll give you a bigger stage.”
Ibišević was silent for a moment and then nodded, “Okay, Mr. Twain. If you can convince my club, I will give priority to the Forest team for the signing of a contract.”
With that, he was going to leave but he did not expect Twain to stop him and said, “An autograph.” He pointed to the jersey still in Ibišević’s hand, “I’m your fan. Give me an autograph.”
Ibišević signed his jersey somewhat reluctantly and handed it back. But he kept the business card.
He felt that it was indeed time to change places. Anyway, he was always changing teams, from America to France, from France to Germany, and now it would just be from Germany to England. It was no big deal. He changed teams almost every year. Hoffenheim was the team he had ever been with the longest. What did the European media call him?
On the same afternoon, Twain brought his German translator and met with the Hoffenheim club’s Chief Executive Officer, Rotthaus.
The two sides held a secret meeting.
No one knew what they discussed. The outside world did not even know about Tony Twain’s sudden trip to this small village, south of Frankfurt, Germany, to meet Rotthaus.
A day later, Nottingham Forest and the Hoffenheim club officials announced at the same time that the former European Golden Shoe winner, Vedad Ibišević would transfer to Nottingham Forest for a transfer fee of ten million euros plus an exchange of players. The two parties signed a four-year contract with an undisclosed annual salary.
The German media only met Tony Twain returning to Nottingham with Ibišević at the airport in Frankfurt.
“He’s the player I need.” After being surrounded by the reporters at the airport, Twain did not care about the doubtful voices. “I’m not concerned about what you think of him. I bought him for me, not for you. Inferior foreign imports? If you are so sure of a player’s future development, why don’t you quit to become an agent? I promise you’ll have more money prospects than wracking your brains to make up stories in the papers!”
“What are you unhappy about? From now on, Ibi is my man and a Nottingham Forest player. He’s someone who is going to be a registered player in the English Premier League. The German media has no say in it.”
“I believe in his ability, and I’d like to give him a chance to prove himself again…I have a problem with my judgment, you say? Sure, but for me to be able win the championship titles, it’s precisely because of those ‘foreign imports’ that I had chosen.”
“Am I wasting the club’s money? It’s my prerogative. Why do you care?”
Amid the noise and doubts, Ibišević was pulled by Twain on a flight from Germany to the United Kingdom.
Eleven years ago, at the age of fifteen, Ibišević left his war-torn homeland and briefly stayed in Switzerland. Because he did not have legal residency due to visa problems, he moved again and traveled across the ocean to St. Louis in America to rely on help from his relatives. He stuck to his professional football dream in the United States, a country that was a barren land for football. He relied on his outstanding performances in the local team for the manager of the France Ligue 1 powerhouse club, Paris Saint-Germain to take an interest in him. Following which, he returned to Europe again. He was only nineteen at that time. He was then loaned out to the small Ligue 2 team, Dijon FCO. He grew up quickly there, received chances to play, even scored some goals and learnt a lot of new experiences. Then he was released by Paris Saint-Germain from his contract. He faced a situation like that of a young man without any prospects. Fortunately, his last two games in Dijon were watched by a German agent who recommended him to two German teams. He chose to join Alemannia Aachen, which was still in the Bundesliga at the time. He only played for Aachen for a year when Aachen was unfortunately relegated. Wearing the number 9 jersey, he did not make any great contribution to the team. This time he chose to leave Aachen and moved to another German team, Hoffenheim in 2. Bundesliga.
He made thirty-one appearances in his first season and scored only five goals. In the second season, he was Bundesliga’s top striker and the European Golden Shoe winner. During his third season, he was said to have “scored all the goals in his lifetime in one season.” Just like a shooting star, he rose rapidly from the horizon, and quickly vanished in the vast sky.
He had been unknown before and had been red-hot popular. He had succeeded before and failed as well. He had experienced big things and had also once persist in his ideals in a plight that others could not imagine. He believed that one day he would succeed. Eleven years on, he was no longer the kid who had fled with his parents. He became a professional footballer, lived in a spacious house, had his own car and enjoyed the cheers of the fans. He had changed a lot.
But one thing had never changed—he was always drifting, from one place to another.
This time, the drifter, Ibi embarked on an entirely new journey.
He might continue to drift and live out the label of “The Drifter.” Perhaps he would stop his wandering and choose a place as his last stop.
Would it be the forest that the heroic robber, Robin Hood once settled his debts of gratitude and hatred?