Dear football fans,
It is now three days since the end of Euro 2016. From a personal perspective, it was the first time since 2002 that I have been able to watch a major tournament as a fan, meaning I could just relax and enjoy cheering on my native Germany rather than deal with the pressures that come with playing for the national team.
That sense of relative detachment, the feeling of being an outsider once again, reminded me of one basic but fundamental truth: football is a game. And as [legendary 1954 World Cup-winning West Germany coach] Sepp Herberger once said, "People go to watch football because they don't know how it will end."
It is this unpredictability that keeps football exciting and makes every single game feel like a new experience. In addition, European Championships and World Cups have now become huge communal events. You meet with your friends, be it at home, in a pub or the beer garden, and you eat, drink and watch the game together.
Whether it is by wearing shirts, waving flags, singing songs or betting on matches, everyone makes a connection with their team. It is all a form of investing in your squad, nailing your colours to the mast and raising the stakes. It heightens the tension, meaning you will either experience great joy or bitter disappointment. They are both integral parts of the experience. Thus, you have winners and losers - even within the groups of spectators.
So, to experience this way of identifying with a team, after so many years living right in the middle of one, was truly lovely. It even brought me back to my days playing in youth teams. You'd still be replaying your last game in your own mind when you'd go to the club house to watch the professionals play on TV.
The beauty of such games, and such tournaments, is that the margins are so fine. The outcome of every situation is undecided. You see what the players are seeing. You form your own solutions in your head. Then you watch as they execute theirs. This way, you are involved for 90 minutes - and beyond; utterly engrossed with what you've witnessed.
At this Euros, nations such as Wales, Northern Ireland and Iceland both thrilled and invigorated me - not because they played outstanding football but because they played with courage and unity against more favoured teams, impressing with their own footballing philosophies despite being faced with more traditionally powerful foes. They stood up to the game's biggest stars and the countries with more pedigree and superior sporting infrastructures.
It was great fun to watch. Football needs this kind of passion. This type of heart enables smaller teams to become greater than the sum of their parts and to overcome supposedly superior sides.
Of course, luck plays its part. Iceland had some fortune against England but they deserved their win. It was a similar story with France and Germany. Football is unpredictable. It is a game. Fortune is always a factor. And that is a good thing because it means that one can never predict the outcome of any match or tournament with great certainty.
The lucky winner of 2016 was Portugal, meaning the European Championship trophy now belongs to a country that has long produced great footballers. These young talents have not just travelled together to the top of international football by coincidence or riding their luck, though. They have realised their dream through talent, hard work and discipline, with Renato Sanches a perfect case in point.
Of course, even the best players are often rendered powerless by the vicissitudes of fate. It is not the hardest-working team that wins but the luckiest. And I like that.
It makes success feel even more precious and the moment of victory utterly indescribable. Believe me, I know. I experienced it when I lifted the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. At that stage, it is no longer about the long and arduous journey that you have endured but savouring the moment and enjoying your good fortune.
Therefore, I would like to offer my sincerest congratulations to the 2016 European champions, Portugal.