Football Honour
And the ambassador is...

Awardee Miroslav Klose with Sigmar Gabriel and Roland Bischof
Awardee Miroslav Klose with Sigmar Gabriel and Roland Bischof | Photo: Deutscher Fußballbotschafter

Football seems so simple: kick the round thing into the rectangle. True, but it’s about so much more. People like Horst Kriete, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger demonstrate this to us on a regular basis, which is why they have been named the Football Ambassadors of the year 2017.

“Football’s exciting because nobody knows how the game’s going to end,” Sepp Herberger once said. And, of course, the same is true of award ceremonies. Like the one on Tuesday evening, but we now know how it ended. The winners were Horst Kriete, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Although not long in office, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel is naturally already accustomed to dealing with ambassadors. The ambassadors that the politician was now able to award at the Foreign Office were, however, something special. The goal of the Association of German Football Ambassadors is to honour the most dedicated among German coaches and footballers abroad. The Goethe-Institut is also a partner of the initiative.

The two other awardees may have more familiar names, but the biggest star of the evening was Horst Kriete. He is the German Football Ambassador. He was awarded the main prize. Actually, Kriete has been a German or, more precisely, a Lower Saxon football ambassador for more than 37 years. The North German idiom always slips through in a likeable way when Kriete speaks, for example about his activities for the South African Football Association. His six years in South Africa, it is immediately clear, were a particularly impressive phase in the life and career of the coach. That was from 1997 to 2002. It was a long time ago, but “the close ties with the South African Football Association led to close and trusting partnership to this day,” says Kriete. He especially remembers the enthusiasm and dedication he encountered there. Befittingly, Kriete received the nomination certificate for the German Football Ambassador in Pretoria.

Kriete began his international career in Nigeria, where he was responsible for the training work of the football association there for three years. He later crossed the globe, working in Africa, Asia and Central America. He worked as a coach, but also trained coaches and was an adviser wherever his advice was needed. From 2004 to 2009, Kriete was active for the Chinese Football Association, restructured the youth and trainer training and played a significant role in the sporting and cultural exchange between Germany and China.

His focus was not only on the success of his respective team, but also on efforts to foster social development in the host country through football. In South Africa, for example, Kriete supports the Youth Development through Football project. And it is precisely this commitment that the German Soccer Ambassadors Initiative, which has granted the award since 2013, is all about. It honours coaches as well as players who, through their presence abroad, contribute to the positive image of Germany in the world.

Take Miroslav Klose, for example. The record-breaking goalkeeper received the honorary prize this year. On the pitch, Klose always stood for fair play and respect; a sportsman in the truest sense of the word. The footballer was very popular not only with German fans and fellow players: through his involvement with Lazio Rome and in the national team, he also gained worldwide popularity and additionally conveyed a positive picture of Germany. An example: In a game by Lazio against SSC Naples, when the score was 0:0, Klose admitted to scoring a goal by hand, for him the “most regular thing in the world.”

Regular for him, especially for the German Football Ambassador jury. For them, such incidents were even more decisive than Klose’s exceptional athletic performance: four world championships, 137 international matches, 71 goals. That’s what they call a career. In the middle of 2016 Klose ended his playing career; today the 38-year-old is active as co-coach for the DFB.

The third awardee of the evening was determined not by the jury, but by the fans. Between 1 March and 25 April they could vote online. They could choose from eleven players, of course, and like in real football life, whoever is leading at halftime doesn’t always win. In early April Lukas Podolski was ahead, followed by Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger. In the end, however, Schweinsteiger won and completed the trio of the Football Ambassadors. Currently playing for the Chicago Fire, the player was unable to participate in the award ceremony, but sent a greeting from the United States. “Football reflects a sense of cohesion, both nationally and internationally,” he said. “Football knows only one language: Together in a team we are strong.”

Which takes us back to Sepp Herberger for one final quote: “The ball,” said the coaching legend “is our interpreter.”