By Rich Jolly
The revival in English football involves Germany. Indirectly, anyway. Without the epic 1990 World Cup semi-final, without Paul Gascoigne’s tears and Gary Lineker’s look, without Stuart Pearce’s pain and Chris Waddle’s heartbreak, the beautiful game might not have acquired such popularity. The Premier League may not have been formed, let alone assumed such a prominent position in first Britain and then across the globe.
Of course, had events in Turin gone slightly differently, England might have drawn level with West Germany on two World Cup triumphs. Instead, the tally now equals the 2010 score in Bloemfontein: Germany 4 England 1.
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There is the mentality that has taken Germany to the last eight of 16 consecutive World Cups. The numbers are simply staggering. England have only ever reached one World Cup final. Germany have played in at least one in each of the past seven decades. Come 2022 or 2026, that run may be extended, even if a 48-year-old Miroslav Klose might not feature in the latter tournament. But Germany probably will: they have played in at least the semi-finals of the last five major tournaments. There is irrefutable proof of progress.
German football, once deeply unfashionable, has become trendy over the past decade. England are always advised to imitate the vogue team; if we did, the English game would either be a seductive blend of Brazilian, Argentinian, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Dutch styles or a complete mess fashioned by conflicting theories and lacking coherent thinking. The latter, of course, is nearer the truth.
The point is not to slavishly, witlessly copy everything, but to say that Germany remain the best role models. Not just for England, but for everyone. They have first-world resources, a large population and a willingness to learn but none of that is explanation enough for Germany’s never-ending excellence.
The technical expertise, implemented from an early age, helps account for a younger generation’s assurance in possession. A winning attitude is an age-old asset. This team revolves around its midfielders. Every German side benefits from its mindset. It is often epitomised by their prowess from the penalty spot.
There was something suitable in a substitute, Mario Gotze, getting the winner. Die Mannschaft is never just about one man. English football has a superstar complex, the German game a team ethos. It is one of their great merits that they never seem to get caught up in the cult of the individual.
The achievements of Klose, the big-game mentality of Thomas Muller, the capacity of Philipp Lahm to be world class in three positions, the prodigious passing of Toni Kroos, the sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer’s supreme reliability: each, were he English, would have seen him placed on a pedestal, been overhyped and, in all probability, then underachieved. In a German context, they seem high-calibre cogs in a well-oiled wheel.
There are lessons to be learned from the driver, too. Joachim Low was unearthed by Jurgen Klinsmann, who was looking for an assistant, and promoted to the top job in 2006. He does not have an outstanding record at club level but his talents have been well deployed in the international game. The FA, who threw money at Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello only to discover they were better suited to Serie A than World Cups, ought to consider that, after the many lows, England could do with a Low.
It is not merely the results. Low has helped rebrand German football. An ethos underpins this team. England have a Phil Jagielka, but no philosophy.
Germany have acquired passing principles to accompany their mental and physical strength. They have cheap tickets and packed stadia, often capable of accommodating huge numbers and usually spared the nastier undercurrent that lingered among some English clubs’ support. Football without the malice and the exorbitant cost and with a consistently high goals-to-game ratio: what’s not to like? Factor in the prowess of the national team and the production line of young talent and it is entirely admirable.
German football isn’t perfect. Bayern Munich’s financial and footballing dominance in the Bundesliga contrasts with a more competitive Premier League. The division lacks the strength in depth – although the upside is that mid-ranking clubs know a fourth-placed finish and Champions League qualification is not an impossible dream – and it certainly doesn’t have the same worldwide appeal as its overbearing English rival.
But when Gotze, the seventh Bayern player on the pitch, volleyed an exquisite winner, it was hard to find fault. Deutschland are uber alles once again. It is no coincidence.