Rooting for Germany is not as easy as you might think. Sure, you win a bunch of games but historically those wins have come ugly and /or on penalties, and you can’t help but pity the losing sides. Secretly, Germany always envied the Dutch of the Cruyff era and wanted to play like them – and to be loved like them. It has usually not been that pretty; however, there has generally been a badass striker to poach goals and the odd under-used midfield genius to feed them.
For example, in Germany ’88 we saw the early days of “Rudi” (Völler) and “Klinsi” (Jürgen Klinsmann) with“Lodda” (Lothar Matthäus) and “Litti” (Littbarski), both then in their prime, pulling the strings in midfield. This worked pretty well: we made it into the semis, only to lose to to a cool Marco van Basten finish in almost the last minute. Perhaps the desire to play better football and thus be better-liked has been influenced by the disrespectful victory dance by Dutch penalty taker Ronald Koeman, who pretended to wipe his ass with the jersey he swapped with Olaf Thon. This was presumably something he did only with the Germany shirt, and his smirk suggested it wasn’t the first time he’d carried out the routine:
Next was Euro ’92. We went to Sweden as reigning World Cup champions and, as a bonus, Germany had been re-united, allowing us to bring the stars from both East and West to the pitch. In the days before Octopus Paul the German oracle was called “Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer – never shy to supply his opinion, he predicted that “Germany will be now be undefeatable for the next decade”. That way of thinking emerged from fertile ground: West Germany were world champions, and the East Germans were also pretty good. Together we should have had an awesome team, right?
Well, unfortunately it did not really come together just then. We were experiencing the Gerrard/Lampard problem – good players who for some reason never played as well together as one would have thought. Big midfield boss “Lodda” was out due to ACL – I remember the TV crew interviewing him in his hospital bed in Vale, Colorado, USA – so there was a machtvakuum (hierarchical vacuum) in midfield that was supposed to be filled by Möller and Häßler. However, they did not get their act together and the team sucked big time. We should have lost to Russia in the opener but Häßler rescued Germany with a sweet direct free kick in the last minute (he scored another one in the semis). On reflection, he probably was the best/only national team player who could kick them like that while I was watching – you do not see free kicks (from around 1′ 30 in the video) like his in ’92 anymore …
We won against Scotland in an ugly, ugly game, then got humiliated by the Dutch (again), after which Möller was sacrificed for a more defensive player. These results had been just enough to put us through, and we followed them with a win against Sweden. The rest – the defeat by unfancied Denmark in the final – is history.
’96 suggested Beckenbauer’s prophecy might be coming true, but it remains Germany’s last title. “Motzki” Sammer got shifted from midfield to play the then modern Libero vor der Abwehr(sweeper in front of the centre-backs) and he was pretty good at it; the famous commentator’s line ”Kuntz tries to lob Seaman” was born; Möller and Häßler showed they could partner one another in midfield after all; and Bierhoff (whose name translates as ‘hope for beer’) became a hero by coming on in the final, equalizing and then scoring the first Golden Goal in European Championships history. While everybody was celebrating, maligned coach Berti Vogts noticed that the abundance of East and West players had made us complacent. Not enough was being done to train the young talents in Germany to be internationally competitive. He instigated a youth development scheme that was eventually implemented, and the rewards of which are being reaped pretty much now.
At least the “Golden Generation” of united East and West footballers won that one title in ’96, because what would lie ahead was the meanest, grimmest, darkest mess of incompetence and pain.
It hurts me to remember 2000. Finding exciting, young German footballers was hard and it got really desperate. Sebastian Deisler was a proper player but ended up seeing a psychiatrist more than the ball because he could not handle the pressure of being something akin to the last unicorn. The lack of talent that had been recognizable towards the end of the Vogts era led to the entry of 2nd – 3rd tier players into the team. Arguably, the poster boy of assimilated mediocrity was Paulo Rink, a Brazilian who just happened to play for the German team when we ran out of strikers. He might have had a half-German grandpa or his papers might have been ‘lost’: we can only be sure that he would have never made the Brazilian team. But it did not stop there. We unearthed “Lodda” and he wound back the time to play as a classical retro sweeper. The coach in charge was Erich Ribbeck, old-school and vain. We drew against Romania, then lost to England. Fortunately, a win against already-qualified Portugal still gave us a chance of going through. Portugal played with their reserves but we still contrived to lose 3-0.
“Lodda” was never allowed to coach a Bundesliga side due to “soft skill issues”. He is pretty busy working as a football ambassador for Germany by coaching in various countries; he has also got married several times, and contributed to making us appear a bit more likeable by doing things like this. Perhaps this footage explains how some Germans are occasionally mistaken as rude, when all they are doing is trying to emulate their childhood-through-adolescence role model.
Next up as coach was “Rudi”, one for the masses to sympathize with. He very surprisingly guided the team to the World Cup final in ’02 and a good performance in Portugal ’04 did not seem unlikely. A 1-1 draw with the Netherlands was followed up by a sobering 0-0 stalemate with Latvia. However, qualification would have still been possible if we had managed to beat yet another reserve team, this time the Czechs. The game was lost 1-2 despite us taking a 1-0 lead, and the inability of Bernd Schneider to score made me want to go home to throw up for the entire 90 minutes. Jens Nowotny and Didi Hamann are the only players who featured prominently at the ’00 and ’04 European Championships spankings – just a coincidence? Probably not.
That was the end for “Rudi” and his old strike partner “Klinsi” took over, cherry-picked the team for World Cup ’06 at home, then let his assistant “Jogi” pick up the pieces. Jogi remains in charge since then even though some of his habits are questionable.’08 started pretty badly as we quickly lost to Croatia, only to edge out Austria 1-0 in a classical war of attrition. Ballack’s free kick, especially the face, is worth seeing again, the inverse to Häßler’s elegance and a real captain’s goal. As the team had not made it past the group stages in the previous two tournaments, there was a lot of pressure on Ballack as he was supposed be the new “Lodda”, guiding his team through with his willpower. The team played free-flowing football in the following matches and relieved supporters by not playing as poorly as their recent predecessors. The next two games against Portugal and Turkey were both won 3-2. Defense was still the Achilles heel of the team, but with Klose and Podolski to hammer them home the games were at least fun to watch. However, the final saw us totally suffocated by Spain. I cannot remember a single chance for Germany, and we eventually got caught napping at the back.
So how about ’12? Changing the playing culture of the national team in order to become more watchable for the neutral has been slow, difficult and, at times, painful. We might just be getting there this time and everyone should look forward watching us play. The team is a promising mixture: the stem of the side who trashed England 4-0 to become European under-21 champions in 2009 (Özil, Khedira, Boateng, Neuer, Hummels, Höwedes) are assisted by experienced and proven greats (Klose, Podolski, Schweinsteiger, Mueller, Lahm) and supplemented by really exciting, even younger talents (Götze!!, Reus!!, Kroos!!). All in all there is a lot of talent now, and the team can play really well even if there is no surprise factor any more. For the first time since the 90’s a good finish is pretty much expected. There are a few worrying signs of arrogance and incompetence though. For example, “Jogi” does not like to rehearse corners and free kicks, so goals from dead ball situations will be rare for us and Germany will be vulnerable. There is a slight chance to take first prize, but overcoming Spain will eventually require us to win ugly. I’m not sure whether or not they still teach that at the fancy training institutions, or if “Jogi” knows how to do it. My prediction, then? The team will play well, make it out of the group of death and will dominate Spain only to lose 1-0 after a silly goal conceded from a dead ball bundled over the line with the hip…
Posted by SM