In this month’s Four Four Two (a good read tho not enough coverage given to Euro 2004 review I thought – then again I guess we don’t need yet more pages and pages devoted to THAT disallowed goal) magazine Jurgen Klinsmann re-affirms his status as TNT (Thoroughly Nice Teuton) of the highest order in an earnest if only mildly revealing interview (I particularly enjoyed the anecdote about Sheringham convincing JK to dive to celebrate his first goal for Spurs). But it was his comments regarding the alarming decline of German international footballing ability that got me thinking…
While Italy, Spain and France all provided their own puzzling questions regarding their poor performances (unlike England who played well enough but ooh that cursed luck of the draw again eh? hem hem), it’s generally recognised that Germany have sunk the lowest. What convinced me that England may be inching closer to winning SOMETHING ANYTHING (apart from the unexpected Lampard equaliser, showing a dogged tenacity that I thought went encouragingly beyond Lineker’s strike in Turin 14 years prior) is the fact that their failure in Portugal seemed to come down to a tactical stubborn-ness (though some of you may prefer to call it a naivety, understandably) in defending marginal leads against a) the defending champions in their opening game and b) the host nation in the interim make-or-break/no more room for error stage of the tournament. Against ANY other teams they may just have managed it, as Germany did two years before in South Korea (It is oh-so-convenient to ignore this because although it was deserved, it was always very difficult to believe we were watching a genuinely excellent team (perhaps the same is thought of Greece by some though their recent victory was just as deserved if not more so). Erikkson recognised that the way to win was to mimic the Germans whilst hopefully using England’s natural strengths to provide that extra punch. Perhaps it didn’t work because Sven himself is not German – a schoolboy error wrt to executing his masterplan? Or perhaps it did just come down to who the opposition were and what was at stake in both cases.
Klinsmann cited the problem as there being too much for young people in Germany to do now. Sports have taken a backseat to the obsession with technology and gadgets (phones, Internet and other burdgeoning entertainment markets based on hi-tec developments that have exploded in the time since an arrogant but grateful Andreas Moller lifted the European Championship at Wembley eight years ago). Another difference may be the nature of England and Germany’s domestic leagues – the Premiership as bloated and affluent as ever, fuelling the fire in the belly of kids tantalised by big glory and even bigger wages. The Bundesliga remains a beautiful machine by design but with even Bayern Munich floundering in Europe and domestically in recent times the league has trouble attracting big names and does not seem to command the same fervour as the Premiership or La Liga home or away. English hyperbole tends to revolve around the arguments of ‘having the best league in the world’ and ‘having the quality, but not the team/direction/sufficient management’, oh and they all get paid too much so are less hungry. These are valid points but they don’t really apply to Germany whose sole basis for believing success is something to be expected comes down to just the belief that having done it before they must do it again. But I’m thinking ‘why should any of this be deemed a mystery now?’ Why is success for such nations often deemed a right as some sort of echo of past imperial magnitude? But England will have another chance. Germany will surely produce classic players again in time – they would perhaps be wise to take advantage of the massive immigrant population as France did. And it will be interesting to see if/how they turn themselves around for 2006.