Football in Germany A Love Story

I love football.
I love football. | Photo (detail): © maconga - Fotolia.com

The Germans love nothing so much as football. The whole country is proud that its national team now plays beautiful football. The stakes at the World Cup in Brazil are Germany’s fourth championship title. Facets of a love story.

The coach of the German national football team is called Joachim Löw. Surveys have found that more people in Germany know the name of the national coach than they do that of the Federal President. The office is so important that recently a few co-coaches have come to Löw’s aid. Because when a big tournament is coming up, as now in the World Cup in Brazil, 80 million Germans all turn into national coaches.

These 80 million national coaches are largely in agreement: they must have the World Cup trophy. First of all, it’s time again, for the German team won the last of its three World Cup titles in 1990. And secondly, the present team has what it takes to end this losing streak. If, that is, the Spaniards, who won last time everything there was to win, don’t come between the Germans and the trophy again; or the Brazilians, who this time have the home advantage; or possibly also the Argentines, who have the world’s best footballer, Lionel Messi; and then there are the dark horses, Belgium and of course the German nemesis, Italy.

In Germany no natural or cultural event, no event of any description, no TV crime series even remotely approaches the popularity of football. In comparison, all other kinds of sport are merely marginal, and certainly cricket (otherwise known even in India) or hockey. Even though the German national hockey team is the reigning Olympic champion.

Full stadiums, good business

Football dominates everything in Germany: the stadiums are full, the Bundesliga is the football league with the world’s highest average viewing figure. The clubs are commercial enterprises, the largest among them, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 turn over 400 million euros annually. The first ten places for the most successful telecasts of all time since 1992, the first year when reliable ratings figures were compiled, are occupied exclusively by football broadcasts. And since the 2006 World Cup, which took place in Germany, a vibrant public viewing culture has developed: for important games, fans gather together in pubs to celebrate victories or drown their frustration. Games are transmitted on big screens in so-called “fan zones” to tens of thousands cheering on their heroes. Even debates on social issues such as homophobia and racism use football as a projection surface. When the former national goalkeeper, Robert Enke, committed suicide in 2009, this broached a broad public discussion on burnout and depressions.

Creative football addicts dominate the field

The Germans love football, but incline to scepticism. For in recent years German football, under Löw, but already initiated by his predecessor Jürgen Klinsmann, has undergone an astonishing change of style. The German national team, once the classic example of efficiency, has suddenly begun playing “beautiful” football. This has delighted their fans, but it seems that the team has thereby sometimes forgot to win. The Germans, formerly notorious and feared as ruthless fighters and cool tacticians, suddenly began playing exciting, technically refined, high-speed football. Before, their game was shaped by rock-hard defenders; today by creative football addicts. If before it was about stopping as many goals as possible, today it is mainly about scoring some.

At the last World Cup in 2010, in South Africa, this led to the German national team’s playing the most spectacular football. Above all the victories in the second round against England (4:1) and in the quarter-final against Argentina (4:0) impressed both international experts and viewers. In the semi-finals the team came to grief against the eventual champion Spain, which won all its four K.O. games with that most sober of results – 1:0.

Cultural revolution in South Africa

The World Cup in South Africa was a cultural revolution. The German team no longer stumbled to cynical victories, but lost with intoxicating beauty. This transformation made German football fans very proud. And the world took note: the clichés were obsolete. Once upon a time not only the British press greeted the German team as panzer tanks that bulldozed everything before them. Now the world looks appreciatively at the multiplicity of talented young players produced by the German training system.

Since the early 2000s, the German Football Association, which boasts the largest membership of any individual sports association in the world, obligates every club of its first and second Bundesliga to run a training centre for young players; otherwise they are refused a license. These schools provide steady training under professional conditions for 5,000 football talents. The result of this policy: never before in its history has German football been able to rejoice in such a wave of technically and tactically well-trained young players. More and more of them are moving up to the professional teams, where now an appreciable number of players are taking the field who are even below voting age. For instance, Julian Draxler, who made his debut for Schalke 04 at the age of 17 and in May 2014 wore the captain’s armband in a friendly match with the national team – at the age of 20.

Draxler will also be present at the World Cup. He may even turn out to be one of the stars of the tournament in Brazil. He has not yet, however, secured a regular placing. The competition is too great. But some of the 80 million national coaches would be only too happy to send him in.