Remember René Schnitzler? The striker who Michael Skibbe back in his under 21 German national team days said to be twice the striker Mario Gomez was? No? Considering that Schnitzler’s biggest achievement in his playing career so far are 33 matches for the 2. Bundesliga club FC St. Pauli, only scoring 7 goals, hardly a good a return for a striker, it is maybe not that strange that you’d never have heard of him or that he slipped your mind. However, Schnitzler’s life and wasted talent is the theme of the book ”René Schnitzler Zockerliga – Ein Fussballprofi packt aus”.
While Schnitzler had the talent it took to become a great player, he had a demon hanging over him he couldn’t get rid off. German journalists Wigbert Löer and Rainer Schäfer have chronicled Schnitzler’s life. In a very blunt and honest way Schnitzler himself has chosen to tell the two journalists all about his gambling habit and how it ruined his career. The loosing streaks where the striker could lose his entire wage bag and more within a few hours, the dodgy joints he after a while chose to frequent, the money sharks he had to lend money from in order to keep his gambling habit going. The fast cars, the life style that changed with his winnings and earnings. All of it is there, well written and easily digestible for the reader. Löer and Schäfer have also given enough room to the people in Schnitzler’s life, his long time girlfriend and his parents, given them a voice that let’s them explain how Schnitzler’s gambling has effected their life.
Schnitzler is currently suspended from all football until september 30th 2013, because of his involvement in the German match fixing scandal. The former Gladbach, Leverkusen and St. Pauli has admitted that he took 100.000 euros of Dutch Paul Rooij, who according to several witnesses has made efforts to fix matches in the 2. Bundesliga. Schnitzler has said that two of St. Pauli’s matches against Mainz, and the matches against Augsburg, Duisburg and Rostock.
The reaction to the book
The mainstream of the German media happily re-printed Schnitzler’s personal tragedy and the details of it. Furthermore, this book has a few revelations the Bild Zeitung in particular seemed to enjoy. The ”locker room phone” the Gladbach players had in order to keep their girlfriends unaware of the other company they chose to meet. The mattress Schnitzler never used while being Leverkusen, but which was frequented by other Leverkusen players who needed a place to be alone from their family, but not entirely alone. One St. Pauli player who was quoted in the book saying ”I don’t want to know how many children grow up being produced as a result of footballers having an away match” could find this quote spread out all over the German media(good for him that his name wasn’t revealed in the book).
However, while all of those details seem juicy and might destroy the image of footballers as family friendly men who won’t do anything morally objectionable, it is entirely missing the point. This book is about gambling and the way footballers in Germany seem to be drawn to it. As VfL Bochum’s sport psychologist Dr. Thomas Graw points out in the book: ”Footballers are used to a high level of adrenalin, they don’t accept defeat. They are wired to get back out there and seek revenge for their defeats.” Graw says in essence that footballers are more prawn to fall victim to an addiction to gambling than other groups in society.
Question never being asked
Graw points out what the mainstream media in Germany and elsewhere neglects to mention, to the great delight of the German FA(DFB). These days president Theo Zwanziger is keen to ensure that gambling providers return as sponsors to the league, giving the Bundesliga more money than state-owned provider Oddset pays the league each year(the tiny amount of 200.000 euros). (And they will from 2012). Zwanziger wants millions and millions of euros flooding into football, and stories about the industry Zwanziger wants to sleep with ruining footballers lives aren’t what he needs. The club’s in the league have done their best to help Zwanziger, even St. Pauli done their best to depict Schnitzler has a sad case of one footballer acting on his own rather than the result of a culture that hasn’t done enough to protect players like Schnitzler from their demons.
The book reveals that four players of the national team had accounts at online gambling pages, and that three of them used them during the world cup in South Africa. Oliver Neuville is revealed to have frequented some of the same joints as Schnitzler. Former coaches and players come forward in the book confirming Marcel Schoun’s earlier quote(another player convicted for match fixing) that every team has four to five players who gamble heavily. Facts that the public shouldn’t be kept aware of in Zwanziger’s mind, considering how bad it would seem to take the money of the industry that ruins players life.
The book paints a picture of a football culture where gambling and not knowing how to handle the huge sums of money some of the players earn is common. The fans and the money they are spending on their favorite ultimately pay the wages of these players, however the DFB doesn’t seem to think that the fans need to be kept in the loop of how this money is ultimately spent in a culture that can’t protect some of its weakest members. Why papers like Bild, MoPo and kicker don’t seem to be interested in shedding some light on this fact is beyond me.
This book has done much in the way of enlightening the average football fan of the culture behind closed doors and in Bundesliga locker rooms. It is an absolute must-read in my opinion. It’ll hopefully be translated into English soon.
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