Award Coach Gernot Rohr is the Football Ambassador

Award ceremony in Berlin
Award ceremony in Berlin | Photo: Deutscher Fußballbotschafter

Shortly before the European Cup in France, football was celebrated off the pitch in Berlin with the naming of the German Football Ambassadors. The awardees are a football legend, a coach who was very active abroad and a German-Turkish hope from Liverpool.

Football tempts people to invent catchphrases. As many of us – not just the commentators – know, not all of them are as nice as the ones invented by Sepp Herberger. But sometimes they are simply right, for example the one that says football is able to build bridges across almost all trenches. To be precise, it’s not the ball that builds them, but the people that are concerned with the ball: players, functionaries and, quite often, coaches. Honouring the most dedicated of them is the declared mission of the German Football Ambassadors association. The Goethe-Institut is also a partner of the initiative. Wednesday evening, only a few weeks before the European Cup starts in France, this year’s awardees were named by Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault.

In awarding the prize, the association has again tagged three absolute prime examples. First, for the main prize: The winner is German by birth, but has spent much of his life in France, adopted French citizenship (when he speaks German you may notice a bit of a French accent), and when asked whether he feels more like a German or a Frenchman, he answers, “like a European.” Gernot Rohr is the 2016 Football Ambassador.

Rohr was born in Mannheim in 1953. His first clubs were Neckarau, Bayern München and Kickers Offenbach but he mainly wrote football history as a player with Girondins Bordeaux, the club with which he won the French championship three times in the eighties. Since then, Rohr has worked primarily as a coach. After engagements with clubs in France, Austria, Switzerland and Tunisia, since 2010 he has coached several national teams in Africa, initially Gabon, then Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.

In December, he had to resign as national coach because of the difficult political situation in the country shortly after the team prevailed in the second World Cup qualifying round in two games against Benin. Burkina Faso therefore reached the group qualifying stage in Africa. With his prize money, Rohr will support the football school of the German-Burkinabe society in Ouagadougou, which was severely damaged after the turmoil of the revolution. In addition to Rohr, the coaches Burkhard Pape and Erich Rutemöller had been nominated for the main prize. “The award makes me proud, and I was especially delighted that it was handed to me by my former teammate Dieter Müller,” Rohr said in Berlin. And Foreign Minister Steinmeier said, “Hardly anyone knows better than Gernot Rohr how much football culture unites Germany and France. If two hearts beat in his chest for football, then one is German and one is French.”

This year, the jury of the German Football Ambassadors gave the Honorary Award to Karl-Heinz Schnellinger. There are not many German footballers who took part in four World Cups. It must rankle a player just a bit that two of them were the 1958 and 1970 tournaments, making him miss out on the two titles in 1954 and 1974. On the other hand, a football legend like Schnellinger, to whom this happened, is likely above such things.

In his day, Schnellinger was considered one of the world’s best defenders. His goal at the 1970 World Cup in the 1:1 overtime of the “Match of the Century” against Italy (final score 3:4) is the stuff of legend. He was one of the first German footballers to go abroad and celebrated great success with AC Milan. Another football legend, Uwe Seeler, held the laudatory speech for Schnellinger. They have known each other for a long time; after all, they were already together on the grass for the legendary 1966 World Cup final at Wembley.

The fans also have their say in the awarding of the German Football Ambassadors. This year, they chose the third awardee: Emre Can won the People’s Choice award over eleven nominees. The 22-year-old Frankfurt native is presently playing for FC Liverpool, which is why he was unable to appear at the award ceremony as he was on the pitch playing with Liverpool against Chelsea.

Can therefore addressed the audience at the Foreign Office in Berlin in a video message, saying, “It is a great honour for me to receive the People’s Choice award of the German Football Ambassadors. Of course, I work hard for it every day and give my all in the match and in training, so all I can say is ‘thank you.’” Awardees before Can were Sami Kheidira, André Schürrle and Mesut Özil. “Great footballers with great names have already received this award and to join them now is a thrill.”