I’ve jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, road marched for 30 kilometers with 80 lbs of combat gear on my back, been exposed to hostile gunfire and explosions, and played against the likes of national college powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina and Notre Dame. Last week, I told myself that if I can confront obstacles such as those, then surely an interview with German international and Toronto FC “Mittelfeldspieler,“ Torsten Frings, would be a walk in the park. A week ago, you may have read my piece (Sporting KC’s Jon Kempin – The Next King Kahn) on Jon Kempin of Sporting KC, a promising, young USMNT U-20 GK. Jon is currently on USMNT duty with the U-18 squad in Northern Ireland and competing in the Milk Cup. Since joining the BL-Fanatic crew, Jon was my very first interview, and great practice for this rookie on the football (proper) beat. However, there were three subtle differences between the Kempin and Frings interviews. First, although the name Kempin originates from Germany, the interview was conducted in my native tongue, English. Second, while Kempin is a Sporting KC Reserve player, Torsten Frings is a household name with eighty international caps and ten goals for Die Mannschaft, and a legend at Werder Bremen. Lastly, unlike Kempin, I would conduct the Frings interview in German “auf Deutsch.”
Why in German some might ask? Well, after seeing Frings conduct two interviews on the news in German, I assumed he felt most comfortable speaking to the media in his native language. So, I say, why not in German? After all, this is the language of mein Großvaterland, and to hear it spoken here in the USA was music to my ears. So, with due German diligence, I prepared my interview in German, had the grammar corrected by one of my former TSG Rohrbach teammates, a good friend from Heidelberg, and I rehearsed the interview at least ten times before game day at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City. I was confident – comes from my German heritage – of the German I learned in college twenty-plus years ago, coupled with the practical experience of applying the language over the past four years in Germany, that I would do fine.
Now when you say the name Frings here in the USA, provided you’re talking to the one tenth of the population that follows, let alone understands football, you are likely to get an evil eye. But for the purpose of this, there is no reason to dwell on the past because it adds zero value to the article. Now, Torsten Frings is a household name in German and international football. He played a central role for Die Mannschaft in the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cup, the 2008 EUFA European Football Championship squad in 2008, and has eighty international caps and ten goals to his name. Prior to signing with Toronto in June, Frings was a force to be reckoned with in the Bundesliga, making his mark in the heart of the Werder Bremen midfield, as well as Die Bayern and Dortmund. Last year, Bremen had a season they would like to forget, and the loss of the former Werder captain should not go underestimated. Although he lost some pace, he was still an integral part of keeping Bremen from falling further than where they finished in 14th position – inconceivable by Bremen standards.
Pre-game Jitters are Only for Players, Right? Wrong!
Everything was about to change on Saturday when I arrived well in advance of the first kick at LIVESTRONG and made my way to pick up press credentials. The reality began to set in. I was only three hours away from interviewing one of the most prominent German international players of the past decade, Torsten Frings. I was greeted by the professional Sporting KC public relations team and escorted upstairs to the media booth where Kurt Austin greeted me. The media accommodations, the hospitality and courtesy of the public relations team, was second to none. As the saying goes, “first impressions are lasting impressions.” The Sporting KC public relations team was first class. Once I got settled, Kurt introduced me to Mike Masaro of Toronto FC, and we chatted about the international flavor of Toronto, the TFC season and how Frings was settling in. Afterwards, I took my seat, looked down on the impressive and lively LIVESTRONG Sporting Park pitch, and the butterflies began jumping from my stomach much like I used to jump from an aircraft flying 800 feet above the ground.
TFC came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, and in the middle of it all was none other than Torsten Frings. Frings became involved earlier with pinpoint distributions from his central midfield role; leading a frontal assault on the Sporting KC goal for the first fifteen minutes of the match. Frings looked like the midfield general he had become renowned for during his time with Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. He was a machine in the TFC midfield winning 100% of the balls coming his way, and completed 86% of his passes. German engineering, Ja! No. This my friends was German art, the re-emergence of the German Renaissance. Not the Renaissance from the 16th century, but the Renaissance of those German players who dared cross the Big Pond in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Frings was just learning how to run, let alone kick a ball in his Würselen, Germany home as a kinder. As the game wore on, the 100 degree KC temperature seemed to take its toll on Frings and his new teammates while Sporting KC turned on the fire house and began spraying the TFC goal. When the final whistle blew, SKC came out the victor by a score of 4-2. Using the German magazine, Kicker player rating model as a reference ( 1 being excellent, and 6 being poor), I would rate Frings’ performance on the night – NOTE: 3. I might be a huge Bundesliga fan, but the quarter German in me says, “no freebies from this Yank.”
Now, the time came to interview Herr Frings. A member of the professional Sporting KC staff escorted me downstairs to the Press Conference room and locker rooms. I was shaking like a Toronto Maple Leaf. Mike from TFC greeted me at the TFC locker room and tracked down Herr Frings, and pointed me towards the hallway. As I turned the corner, there Frings was, waiting calmly, to answer my questions. I introduced myself, greeted him with a handshake and said, “Herzlich Willkomen in den USA and KC” -stumbling through a common German greeting that I must have said over 100 times before. I turned on my audio-digital recorder and began my interview.
Question: On Torstenfrings.com on, you have a saying: “I don’t step back. I’ll keep fighting back.” Do you plan to live this Motto during your time in Toronto, as you did with Werder, Dortmund and Bayern?
Frings: Well, I said it back in the days when I left the national team. But, having said that, I have to say that I really feel good in Toronto, and I still have fun playing football. We are currently not having a good run, but I hope that we can turn this around.
Question: Was it difficult to make this transfer, considering that your children grew up in Germany, and are still there?
Frings: My kids visit me frequently, but it is of course difficult for me that they are being in Germany some of the time. I still think that it was a good move though, I do like it here a lot.
Question: So far, what do you think of the MLS? What are the differences between the MLS and the Bundesliga?
Frings: The MLS is an up and coming league, and many talented players are currently playing in the league. Of course, the quality of the German league and the best leagues in Europe is higher, but I really do think that the league is taking strides in the right direction at the moment.
Question: Why have you chosen Toronto and the MLS over other offers and did Mr. Klinsmann play any part in your decision?
Frings: Well, he called me, and he convinced me to take this step. I think it is a good thing that I made this move.
Question: Who was your preferred German soccer player in the old NASL in 1980?
Frings: Beckenbauer. He was here after all, wasn’t he?
Thank you for your time and good luck with Toronto and the MLS.
The Frings/Espinoza photo is courtesy of Taylor Allan.
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