In the second part of his interview, German football expert Raphael Honigstein talks about the growth of the Germany national side and their chances of winning a trophy with a talented group of youngsters at their core. We also discuss the future of divisive national captain Michael Ballack and evaluate whether Joachim Loew will be able to build a legacy with players like Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos at the heart, thereby changing the way German sides have been stereotypically viewed the world over.
Most importantly, Raphael dishes on the joker amongst his Guardian colleagues, give some advice to up and coming journalists and finally reveals which team he actually supports.
Bundesliga Fanatic (BF): First up Raphael, the big one. German football is increasingly visible on the map once again and there is a real belief that either Euro 2012 or the World Cup 2014 presents the best chance for Joachim Loew’s men to lift their first title since Euro 96. Do you believe this might realistically be possible?
Raphael Honigstein (RH): It’s certainly possible. There are one or two areas of concern – there’s not much cover in central defence, for example – but on the whole, I don’t see that many other teams that are necessarily stronger.
BF: And while we are on the topic of Joachim Loew, the Swabian seems to be building quite the dynasty with the Germany team. How highly do you rate Loew as a coach and do you think in the long run, he can create a legacy for himself as one of the premier national team coaches in the world, or in Germany?
RH: I think he has got the perfect job for his way of working and he could well turn out the Arsene Wenger of international football. His work must be rated very highly. What’s more: it should, in theory, become easier because the pool of quality players is rapidly growing.
BF: On to Michael Ballack. As always he seems to be dividing the opinion of the nation. Can he still be a factor for the national side or do you think his race is well and truly run?
RH: I can’t see a way back for him at this stage. It’s a shame really, he deserved a better end to his international career. But there are just too many players ahead of him right now. Bar a major injury crisis, I’m afraid that’s it. I should add that I can’t see him turning into a David Beckham-type mascot either.
BF: Mario Goetze, Lewis Holtby and Mats Hummels, the future of the Germany squad looks bright as all these players picked up their first international caps last year. Who do you think is the most talented amongst the new bunch and whom do you think will make most of an impact in the years to come?
RH: All three look very promising, and I would also include Marko Marin, who is yet to fulfil his true potential. In terms of impact, the established players like Müller and Özil are still so young that they’ll might have to wait a bit to
grow into truly important roles.
BF: But even with all these young talents coming through, there seems to be a lack of pure strikers in the Germany system. Miroslav Klose is still the deadliest forward for the national side and Gomez seems not yet able to click in Loew’s system. Who do you think can pick up the mantle once Klose hangs up his boots?
RH: Well, Gomez seems to have woken up from his slumber, so he’ll get the first bite at it. Now that Germany play with only one striker, the dearth of Number 9s is less of a problem. Patrick Helmes might well come back into the fold and there are possibilities for Stefan Kiessling as well as Andre Schürrle by the time the Euros come along.
BF: You write for a number of foreign publications, so perhaps you are the best person to answer this. German football has often been stereotypically dismissed or underwritten as being ‘boring’ or without character. Do you feel these old stereotypes still persist or are times changing? Are people becoming aware of the ‘new’ philosophy of German football, its clubs and players?
RH: I think what has happened in the past was that people outside Germany used to conflate the German national team with the Bundesliga and thought it’s all the same. There’s also the traditional problem that Germany as a country has looked less exotic or current than Italy or England. But I’d say perceptions have really changed since 2006. 2010 was a great year with Germany playing good stuff and Bayern reaching the Champions League final. There’s much more attention on it now. And with attention comes knowledge and a better understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.
BF: Mesut Ozil has emerged as the best German player at the moment, although for a long time the talents
of Toni Kroos overshadowed him. Their careers now seem to have gone in conflicting directions, for while Ozil has gone from strength to strength Kroos has gone slightly off the boil. What do you think the future holds for these two players?
RH: I’m not sure it’s right to say that Kroos started out the bigger prospect. Özil is a year older and had his breakthrough domestically much earlier while Kroos was given little playing time at Bayern and turned into a different player on loan at Leverkusen. Özil will hopefully continue to develop off and on the pitch. As for Kroos, I think he might benefit from Bastian Schweinsteiger’s experiences and turn into a proper central midfielder. The two of them combined well together at the end of year, before Kroos picked up an injury.
Now on to lighter stuff….
BF: The Guardian is perhaps the best resource for football news in the world. So many great writers, sometimes you are spoilt for choice. So of all other things, who is the joker in the pack? It’s Sid Lowe isn’t it?
RH: They’re all pretty funny guys, it has to be said. I think James Richardson is the funniest, personally. Sid’s the best writer though.
BF: Is there anything better than being able to make your passion your job. Assuming of course football is your passion.
RH: Of course it is my passion! And the answer to question is no. I feel very blessed.
BF: Any advice for up and coming journalists?
RH: 1. Find a niche and fill it and 2. Be very clear about the kind of money you can earn in the medium term and decide whether that’s enough for the lifestyle you want.
Your favourite player of all time: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge
Your favourite currently active player: Lionel Messi
Most underrated Bundesliga player: Arturo Vidal
Most overrated Bundesliga player: Marko Arnautovic
Magath, Tuchel or Klopp? Klopp
BF: Last but definitely not the least. Who do you support? (tongue firmly in cheek!)
For English language followers of the Bundesliga, Raphael Honigstein is basically the one-stop solution for all German football needs. The Bavarian native is a regular columnist for the UK-based Guardian writing mostly on affairs in the Bundesliga. He also contributes on the same to the US-based Sports Illustrated and is often heard regaling listeners with his dry humour on the Guardian’s brilliant Football Weekly and the UK radio show talkSPORT. Back home, he writes for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, mostly on issues of English football. Predictably then, he is the author of the fascinating book Englischer Fussball, which you might have seen by its alternate title of Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.
If you aren’t already, follow Raphael Honigstein on Twitter @honigstein
The interviewer can be followed on Twitter @nondeplume
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