On the eve of one of German football’s biggest nights in recent memory, I, an Englishman, must make a shocking admission. I love German football, and more shockingly, the German national team. While most other neutrals, including a large majority of the English football followers will be craving a romantic win for the Brazilian hosts, I will be cheering on Die Mannschaft.
But let me backtrack a little and explain to you that this has not always been the case. As a young and easily influenced English boy very much into his football, I was under the impression that it was near enough treason to show any admiration or liking for the German national team, and so I followed what seemed to me a very normal approach in revelling in German football failures. Indeed one of my greatest footballing memories involves a hideous night for German football.
The date of September 1st 2001 would not be much of a trigger to most. If one was to then expand by saying, England in the Olympic stadium in Munich, I am near enough certain that any football fan of a relative knowledge would immediately figure out that it was on this night that England dealt a 5-1 hammering to their old rivals Germany, on their own turf. Such was the awfulness of this occasion for Germany that even Emile Heskey got in on the act. My disliking for the German national side was almost certainly influenced by my opinions on Oliver Kahn, who I still perceive to be one of the most overrated goalkeepers of my lifetime (21 years and five months at the time of writing).
Since my juvenile years, my views have (hopefully) matured, and while I still retain the same opinion on Oliver Kahn, I do not share anything like the same sentiments on German football. Much of my new love for Die Mannschaft stems from my growing interest in the Bundelsiga. While it seems fashionable these days for an English football fan to adopt La Liga as his or her second favourite league in football, I have taken a different path and followed Germany’s premier division. The quality and standard of football is excellent, with the pace of La Liga being matched, while having a very English flavour to it in terms of physicality and tough tackles. While currently the league is being dominated by Bayern Munich, a team who have the finances to poach rivals’ best players, over the last 15 or so years there has arguably been an increase in the standard of competition. Indeed, since that famous night in September 2001, five different teams (Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg) have secured the Bundesliga title. In comparison, during the same time period, four different teams have won the Premier League, four have won La Liga and three have secured the title in Serie A. Of the top European leagues, only Ligue Un in France has seen more diversity in its winners during the same time period, with six sides tasting glory.
This is illustrative of the competitive nature of German football, something which is further displayed when the unpredictable nature of the Bundesliga is considered. A good example would be in looking at Wolfsburg who finished eighth the season after securing their title. The German football model also appeals to me as a result of the respect it shows its fans. Ticket prices are ludicrously cheap when compared to other European leagues and the quality of the games makes it very difficult to argue that you are not receiving value for money.
I am perhaps a late comer in basking in the glory of German football with my interest really picking up a couple of season ago in tandem with Borussia Dortmund’s run to the Champions League final. Having been encapsulated by Jurgen Klopp and his side’s exploits in Europe I began watching more domestic games and was wonderfully entertained.
My admiration, and liking for German football has since extended to the national side. This is a team with wonderful talent, an excellent ethos and with such variation in its style of play that it is difficult to imagine that there is anyone who does not enjoy at least one aspect of Die Mannschaft. The German team can turn on the style and play with flair and grace as was shown in their demolition of Portugal in the opening group game of this World Cup. Similarly they can please with their ruthless efficiency that wad displayed in the 1-0 over France in the Quarter Final.
In Manuel Neuer they have without doubt the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment. In this, an article littered with shocking revelations, here is another. I was not convinced by Neuer at first. I watched with careful attention the man already being labelled at a tender age the best in his position and found myself frightened by his willingness to come racing off his line alongside other habits which would not fill me with confidence. I worried he may be another Oliver Kahn.
But I have since realised how foolish I was. Neuer is not just a fantastic goalkeeper, but a fantastic footballer. Whether it is his ability to cover for a slow centre back by racing off his line to execute a perfect tackle, or by reaching the halfway line with a one-handed save, Neuer is constantly impressing. While there have been doubts aired about the capabilities of the defence in front of him, in Mats Hummels there is no question that Germany have one of the best centre backs in football at the moment. Hummels can mix physicality with speed and provides a threat at all times when attacking the opposition. Captain Philipp Lahm, who in my opinion should be playing alongside him at all times as a full back, can also claim to be one of the best in the world in his position (whichever one you consider that to be). What is all the more impressive is that Lahm has been at the top of his game for nearly a decade now, with only Ashley Cole being able to boast the same longevity as a full back.
While any questions about the defence may be understandable, there can be few lingering doubts over the ability of the midfield in front of it. Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Julian Draxler, Christoph Kramer, Mesut Özil , André Schürrle, Mario Götze. England fans, dwell on that list of players for a short while. There is no squad at the World Cup with a better selection of players to choose from in the midfield area. Selecting five or even six of them for each game is an enviable headache to have for Joachim Löw. And then there is Thomas Müller. In truth, if I had to answer why I have developed such a liking for the German national team in particular, in two words, the answer would be Thomas Müller. From his compulsory national anthem wink, to the low length of his socks, Müller is brilliant. That he is a fantastic footballer also helps. Müller is not the most natural of footballers though. He does not have the creativity or flair of a number ten, nor the willingness to just stand in the box of an out and out centre forward. Müller once described himself as a ‘Raumdeuter’ which literally translates as a space investigator, and when you watch him play it is difficult to argue with his description. Müller is never going to gain the craze and plaudits of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but in his own right the 24-year-old is a phenomenal talent.
With England yet again frustrating on an international stage, it has been a luxury to be able to adopt another nation that has made it deep into the World Cup (yet again!) No single feature can be defined as the reason behind my desire to see Germany win the World Cup. It is not the attraction of the Bundesliga, the respect German football shows its fans or Thomas Müller as an individual that have gained my respect and liking, but rather an amalgamation of them all, along with several other factors. Many neutrals will want to see the Brazilian fairytale continue. Poopoo to that idea. Come on Die Mannschaft!
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