The Golden Generation of German football


There has been millions of words written about the most remarkable game in the history of the World Cup Finals.  The six or so first half minutes when Germany scored four goals in Belo Horizonte stunned 60,000 fans in the Estadio Mineirao, the 200 million Brazilians watching on TV and hundreds of millions more around the world.  The Germans showed little mercy for some appalling defensive play, yet they came into the tournament not even favourites to win Group G, let alone progress to the latter stages.  Their opening game thrashing of Portugal made people sit up but nobody expected the utter domination of the Brazilians.  Irrespective of if they go on and beat Argentina today in the World Cup Final, that one game has re-defined the notion of Brazil as one of the best teams in the world.

The records came tumbling down in just an hour and a half of football.  Brazil’s first competitive defeat at home for 39 years, their biggest ever defeat, the biggest margin of victory in a World Cup Semi-Final, Germany’s biggest away win outside Europe and so on.  Is our shock at the result due to the strength and ruthlessness of the German side or the lack-lustre performance of the Brazilians?  A bit of both I’d say, although the home nations weak performance in the 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands four days later would suggest that they were rabbits caught in the headlights of 200 million fans.  The Brazilian media have naturally focused on the weaknesses of their squad and team management rather than the German performance.  Is thatSAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA fair?  Perhaps not.

Ten years ago the English media waxed lyrically about our “Golden Generation”, the core of players who would go on to dominate world football.  Beckham, Ferdinand, Lampard, Owen and Rooney. We went into the 2004 European Championships in Portugal full of hope that this time we would get it right, finally delivering some glory after nearly forty years of wasted effort.  Unfortunately injuries once again were our undoing (as well as penalties) as we crashed out in the Quarter-Finals to the host nation on penalties after Rooney, the 19 year old talisman of the England team, was injured early in the game.  Two years later in Germany it was déjà vu as Rooney was sent off in the repeat performance against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen and England crashed out on penalties once again.  The Golden generation slowly faded as age caught up with them and off the field issues became distractions.

So who would replace these potential world class stars?  In theory they should have been already moving up through the ranks, gaining experience in the England Under 18’s, 20’s and finally Under 21’s.  Stuart Pearce was working very closely with Fabio Capello in nurturing the young talent.  In June 2009 Pearce took his young squad to Sweden for the UEFA European Championships, full of confidence that they would come home with the title.

Two wins and a draw from the group stages took England into the Semi-Finals where they raced into a 3-0 first-half lead against the host nation.  The English media in the stadium couldn’t dream up enough superlatives for the team, already pencilling a number in for Capello’s World Cup squad the following year in South Africa.  In an all too familiar story, England then conceded three second half goals and had to rely on penalties, winning for once, to progress to the final where Germany would be waiting.  The only black mark was that keeper Joe Hart would miss the final having picked up a second tournament booking needlessly in the penalty shoot-out.

Hart’s absence would be crucial.  On the 29th June in the impressive Swedbank Arena in Malmö, nearly 19,000 fans saw the unfancied Germans destroy England.  The final score was 4-0 but it could have easily been double that, mustering 17 shots to England’s 6.  The star of the game was a small midfielder of Turkish descent, Mezut Özil.

Fast forward five years and six of the starting line-up from that game in Malmötook the field in Belo Horizonte.  A seventh, Thomas Müller, scorer of four World Cup goals already in Brazil wasn’t deemed good enough to make the squad back in 2009.  From that same Swedish night, only James Milner had made the squad for England’s squad in Brazil.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAWhilst the likes of Martin Cranie, Nedum Onuoha, Mark Noble and Michael Mancienne have failed to progress further than the Under 21’s, the Germans have continued to produce young talent, constantly pushing them into the national team if they are deemed good enough.  In the squad that got on the plane for Brazil, nine were aged 24 or less.  Some players, such as the Bayern Munich trio of Müller, Kroos and Götze with an average age of 22 have over 30 caps.

So why have the Germans got it so right?  The whole issue of the number of coaches has been discussed before, with Germany having over 30,000 qualified coaches to England’s less than 5,000.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  We have some decent young players in England.  The issue is that they simply do not get enough game time to progress and develop.

Many Premier League teams have simply abandoned the principals and process of bringing young players through their Academies.  The chances of ever seeing anything like the Class of ’92 at Old Trafford is about as likely as Arjen Robben staying on his feet for more than five minutes.  Today, Premier League clubs seem more likely to invest in overseas players rather than investing in the development of their home-grown youth players.  Consequently promising youngsters often ending up with a career moving from club to club on loan.  Look at the example of Michael Mancienne, still a Chelsea player when he took the field as a second half substitute in the Under 21’s final back in 2009.  He went on to play just four times for the Blues, including two cup games where they fielded weakened teams.  He was forced to go on loan into the Championship to get game time, finally leaving Chelsea in the summer of 2011 for a fee of £1.7 million to Hamburg.  Since then he has played 40 times in the Bundesliga, but is nowhere near an England call up.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERACompare that to the likes of Kroos and midfield anchor man Bastian Schweinsteiger.  They have Bundesliga and Champions League medals to their names despite their relatively young age.  The German model of building their teams around young home developed talent is now reaping rewards for the national side.  Seven of the squad have been regulars for champions Bayern Munich over the past two seasons, with an eight, Marcus Reus only denied a place through injury.  Just over a year ago Germany’s two biggest clubs faced each other at Wembley in the Champions League Final.  Seven of the German squad played in that game.

The introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) is supposed to ensure that the best young players have access to the best facilities, although many see it another way for the big clubs to simply hoover up the best young talent at an early age, stockpiling them to stop anyone else getting them.

We have a number of promising youngsters playing at the top level, with the likes of Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxley-Chamberlain playing regularly at the highest level of the Premier League.  If English clubs can realise the error of their ways then there is hope for us yet.  Could the next “Golden Generation” be waiting in the Premier League wings already?

Five things from….France 0 Germany 1


We had a bet at home that the 1982 Battiston incident would be mentioned within 30 seconds of the TV coverage. We were wrong – it was 45 seconds and then it seemed every 10 minutes under Jonathan Pearce’s commentary. He did tell us though that Germany have never won the World Cup wearing anything but black shorts.  Thanks JP.

In terms of intrigue, this game promised a lot. Neither team were particularly fancied in the run up to the tournament. Both teams themselves would have played down their chances, claiming their young squads needed a tournament more under their belts for experience.  Whilst France comfortably brushed aside Nigeria in the Second Round, Germany were taken to extra time by an impressive Algeria, whose never-say-die spirit would have sapped the Germans energy.  Couple that with a Lasagne-gate style illness in the camp and you would have to say France came into the game as favourites.

1. Ridiculous ceremony – Why subject the players to all of this ceremony and public displays of unity on important areas of racism and homophobia when if someone is found guilty they will get a risible fine and a pathetic slap on the wrist.  How do you stamp it out of the game?  By throwing the book at offenders. Making players stand behind a sign has what effect exactly?

photo 4 (5)2. Camera angels – I am in love with that camera that zooms across the pitch at grass level as the teams walk out…I want to see more of those camera angles during the game, tracking the runs of the players.  Apart from the annoying super slow motion replays I think the camera work in the tournament has been outstanding.  Loved the little interlude of the shot of the stadium and Christ the Redeemer as well.

3. Jaunty yellow boots – The French and their fashion style.  Just seven of the starting line up sported the bright yellow boots, and three had the dual colour ones made by…..oh yes, Nike.  At least they haven’t decided to both play in their away kits tonight.

4. Official top stats – David Luiz is the top player of the World Cup, according to FIFA stats.  What tournament have they been watching? Betting sites do not even have him in the top ten – in fact Jozy Altidore at 500/1 is ahead of him.  He has been his usual inconsistent self in the middle of an inconsistent defence.

5. Girl cam – The TV producer must have been snoozing for this game because it took them a full 26 minutes before we had the gratuitous shot of the pretty girl in the crowd.  This time, it was a French lass, looking very pensive who, when she saw she was on TV, gave a nonchalant flick of her hair.

The Beer World Cup

No content here – a fridge-full of German beer with one of the little “stubbies” of Saint Omer beer.  Stick to chocolate, wine and cheese.  The better team won on and off the pitch. Even armed with a Becks Vier this was a walk over.

Germany 4 France 0

 

Five things from….Germany 2 Algeria 1


“It was the best of times, it was one of the worst of footballing crimes.”  Paul Doyle’s opening line in the Guardian two weeks ago took us back to darker World Cup days when skullduggary was all the rage and no-one ever mentioned the “M” world (Matchfixing).  The Germans back then obviously had a “West” as company in the 1982 World Cup but no one was prepared for their defeat to the Algerians.

Fast forward thirty two years and eight World Cups and the Africans would have an opportunity for revenge.  The German machine had simply re-invented itself every few years and whilst they were quietly confident coming into the tournament, few would have backed them to go all the way, especially as they are in the top half of the drawer, putting them on a collision course with the hosts in the semi-final.

I had a feeling this would be the game of the round, so I invested heavily in the Früh Kolsch and sat back, preparing to be entertained.

1. Why do goal keepers always seem to stand next to the captain? – I only noticed this on Saturday but since then almost every keeper when lining up for the national anthems has stood next to the captain.

BrZ6C9lIEAA0BPS2. Photographer with the hat – 16 minutes in and Algeria attack again.  What a cross from El Arabi Soudani, Islam Slimani gets ahead of Jerome Boateng to fire in a low header in off the post.  Alas he is offside and we get a close up of the linesman raising his flag.  But hang on. The photographer behind him is wearing a Mexican hat.  A bloomin’ big green wide brimmed Mexican hat.  Arriba, arriba, andale, arriba! (thanks to Dan Campbell for sending me a screen shot).

3. The problem of sock tape – Stupid rule number 1332 from FIFA was the one about the tape that players use to keep their socks up has to be the same colour as the socks themselves. So can you use red tape on white socks if there is a red bit at the top of the socks, like Germany’s? What if you want two bits of tape, one at top and one at bottom?  Do you need two different coloured tapes?  And what about tape used around fingers for rings?  Shouldn’t that be skin-coloured?  FIFA once again not thinking through the really important aspects of these law changes (that was irony for the benefit of my German followers).

4. The cavity search – Mustafi falls awkwardly and lays face down as the German medical appear to be checking all his cavities. The TV cameras focus on his wincing face and then the physio’s gloved hand going up his shorts. Grown men around the world looked away in agony.

5. Neuer centre-back – Time after time the German keeper came off his line and out of his box to act as the last defender. His timing was impeccable, risking not only a goal if he missed a challenge but also a certain red if he took out the player. A sure sign of problems at the back for the Germans. Would a better side have taken advantage? Who knows…

The Beer World Cup

Like the earlier tie, there was never going to be any competition in this game.  I could have chosen one of two hundred German beers (not that I have 200 different ones in my beer fridge, but you get the idea) whilst I have never seen an Algerian beer, let alone try to buy one.  I went with a cheeky Kölsch option for tonight – light, smooth and less likely to give me a hangover than a Paulaner.

Germany 7 Algeria 0

Five things from….Germany 1 USA 0


Back for a third time, our resident Team USA expert, Andy Mack, tucks into the German beers in Manhattan and gauges the mood of the nation as they aim to reach the second round from the Group of Death.

1. Win or draw… or loss? – The US were in a solid position entering the day, knowing that any win or draw against a strong German side would be enough to advance.  There were also scenarios in which the US could lose a close match and still advance on goal differential.  Coming into the match, conservative analysis put the US’ chances of advancing at about 75%

2. German Possession – As expected, Germany controlled virtually all of the possession in the first few minutes. The meticulous probing by the German midfield had the back line of the US on their heels for the majority of the first half.  It felt as though it was only a matter of time before they would get their breakthrough goal, and Thomas Mueller provided it on a beautiful strike in the 55th minute from just outside the box.  The goal — and lead — was well-deserved.

14327452612_fda668a0aa_b3. Michael Bradley is not himself – Michael Bradley came into this tournament as one of three anchors of this US squad (Dempsey and Howard the others).  With successful spells in Europe and great form in qualifying, many expected Bradley to be a rock in the central midfield.  That has not been the case.  Bradley will need to show some signs of life early in the match against Belgium for Klinsmann to keep him in the match and not make a change.

4. Ronaldo – All eyes were watching the score in Brasilia, as Ghana tied up the match with Portugal right as the US conceded.  This meant that, with another Ghana goal, the US could be eliminated from the tournament. After providing the cross that crushed the US in their previous match, Cristiano Ronaldo was able to put in the winning goal for Portugal with about 10 minutes left in the match. That goal gave the US a several-goal cushion to work with, and the US knew that they could be through with a 1-0 defeat. The pace of play slowed down between the US and Germany, both knowing that they would both be through.

5. Belgium on deck – The only negative about the 1-0 German victory for the US was that they would be facing the Group H winner instead of the runner-up.  Belgium is up next for the US, with Germany facing Algeria. The Belgians could be one of the more talented teams in the entire tournament, but have yet to put together a convincing win in this tournament. Expect an even match with potential for an upset.

The Beer World Cup

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier truly outclasses the cheaper imitation Blue Moon with a dominating performance of elegance and flavor.

Germany 3 US 0

Five things from….Germany 2 Ghana 2


So 27 hours 23 minutes after I left Melbourne I finally arrived back at TBIR Towers.  The Fuller family were all there to welcome me home and on hindsight I might have appeared a tad rude when I ignored their smiles and embraces and inquired why nobody had the Germany v Ghana game on the TV. “Welcome home, Stu…We’ve missed you” was the response from The Current Mrs Fuller, which more than a sarcastic hint in her voice.  But she still has World Cup fever like the rest of us and any annoyance she held about my arrival was soon filed away, ready to be brought back out in 90 minutes time.

Before the tournament many would have expect this to be a game that Germany had to win to stay in the competition.  Heck, even a few German friends of mine suggested that a draw here could see them on the verge of leaving Brazil early, whilst Ghana would be riding into the Estadio Castelao with a comfortable win versus the US under their belt.  But football has a habit of always surprising us (such as Glen Johnson still being picked for England as a defender) and Germany’s routing of Portugal and Ghana’s defeat by the US had meant it was the Africans who needed the win from this encounter.

1. “Don’t close your eyes!” – I can still remember my first football coach chucking cold water over us if we closed our eyes when he went to head the ball, trying to instill Pavlovian fear into us so that we would literally keep our eye on the ball.  It was therefore amusing to see £30 million Bayern Munich midfielder Mario Götze close his eyes as he attempted to head in Thomas Muller’s cross, making some contact before the ball fell onto his knee and into the net.

14475483083_c8e403762c_b2. Stepping up – I think it is fair to say that few Sunderland fans will fondly remember Asamoah Gyan’s spell at The Stadium of Light.  Ten goals from a season’s effort for the £13 million player although he always seemed to be moaning (through his agent of course) about something.  Rumours last season that he would end up at Upton Park (“He’s my type of player” said Allardyce – a great endorsement) proved unfounded, thankfully.  But put him in the shirt of his home nation and he is a leader.  A very well taken goal and a little wiggle to boot.

3. Brothers – Can’t believe the TV didn’t pick up the whole Boateng brothers being on opposite sides thing?  Oh, they did?

4. Possession football – Germany had over 60% of the possession yet only managed 4 shots on goal to Ghana’s 6.  The new Spain?  You heard it first here.

5. Form is temporary, luck is permenant – Klose scored with his first touch of the ball to become the joint leading scorer in World Cup history with 15 goals.  Could he miss from a yard out?  Of course he couldn’t but it is always about the instinct, knowing where the ball may just go that makes some players “luckier” than others.  A great player, who has stayed at the top of his game for years.  I wouldn’t bet against him scoring again before the tournament ends to break the record.

The Beer World Cup

Despite a few free drinks at the bar on the A380 I had to get back into the swing of the Beer World Cup so it was a case of Guinness Export Strength v Paulaner. Probably not the best idea after a long day of travel but the World Cup is only with us every four years, right?

Germany 2 Ghana 1

The Kit World Cup – Day Ten

Adidas – 25
Nike – 24
Puma – 19
Lotto – 6
Marathon – 3
Burrda – 3
Uhlsport – 1

Five things from….Germany 4 Portugal 0


22 hours after I left home I finally arrived in my hotel in Singapore.  I was hot, sweaty and tired and just wanted to lay on the bed and watch TV.  The bad news – none of the state-owned TV channels are covering the World Cup – WTF???  The absolutely fantastic news is that across the road from the hotel, on the corner of Raffles City was a German bar that was certainly showing the game.  So I popped over there and joined the pretty young blonde things who were dressed in their German shirts and not much else (it is 34 degrees here at midnight).  A couple of $22 German beers later and we were rocking and a rolling.  A brave lone Portuguese fan walked in, made some ludicrous claims about Pepe being the best defender in the world, then left.

photo 3 (23)I don’t think there was any doubt that this was one of the games of the Group Stages and I was pleased to be sharing a beer or two with some new German friends.  They were confident, if not a bit cocky, telling me, of course, that football was coming home.  One even showed me his bet on his phone – German 3 Portugal 0, Mueller to score first.  Deluded.

1. Every year the German team is always said to be “not quite good as the last” – Same core of players yet somehow there is always a new star.  Everyone thought that Ozil would be the playmaker but those wily old Germans fooled us all and Bayern’s Thomas Mueller dropped back into the whole and bagged himself only the second World Cup hatrick in 12 years. Mueller is still only 24 but has scored 20 goals in just 50 internationals.

2. German fans don’t sing their own national anthem – The bar was rammed yet when the music started up only a couple of them actually sang along.  If that would have been England we’d have been on the tables, blood vessels popping showing our national pride.

3. Laughing – Come on, own up.  When that fourth goal went in and the camera panned across to Ronaldo looking at his new boots, who didn’t have a little laugh?  We all love to hate certain players but today we all laughed….well unless you have him to score first goal at 7/1.

4. Footballers sometimes need to take a long, hard look in the mirror – Whether it be pre-match and the ridiculous haircut (yes, I’m talking to you Raul Meireles) or during the game when they lose their head, again (Pepe) Footballers often show their intelligence in their actions.  You are on the biggest stage in World football.  Billions are watching.  Think what people will remember you for…

5. Never, ever agree to arm-wrestle a German girl – Even if they are much smaller than you and especially not for a beer.

It’s late, I need to sleep

The Beer World Cup

Whilst a nice cold Sagres went down well in the bar of the hotel it was the strong, rich Furstenberg in the German bar that won the day, emulating their performance on the pitch.

Germany 4 Portugal 1

The tournament that freedom forgot


Back in the late 1980’s Europe’s political landscape was changing.  The Eastern Bloc was crumbling. Football was one language whereby different political ideals could be set aside for 90 minutes.  That was unless you lived in the divided Germany at the time.  It is hard to imagine today when we look at Germany that it was still a country partitioned by a wall into the haves and the have-nots. No place on earth saw this divide more than Berlin where the wall completely cut off a section of the city, known as West Berlin, which was a West German isle surrounded by a sea of the Eastern Bloc, a capitalist island in a sea of communism. Football was being suffocated by the political situation.

Whilst the ageing, yet still impressive Olympiastadion, was still one of the biggest stadiums in the country, and its tenants Hertha Berlin were still able to cross the wall to compete in the Bundesliga, it was deemed a journey too far for the West German national side.  The team featuring the likes of Harald Schumacher, Andreas Brehme, Lothar Matthäus and captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had finished runners-up to Argentina in the 1986 World Cup Final in Mexico and would go onto win the trophy four years later.  This was a golden generation of West Germans, yet the West Berliners were denied the opportunity to see their national team play in the city for nearly four years from 1983 as the political situation took priority over the beautiful game.

During this period, West Germany had won the right to host the 1988 European Championships ahead of a joint Scandinavian bid from Norway, Sweden and Denmark and an expression of interest from England. However, political arguments kicked in from day one about the initial West German mutterings of hosting some of the games during the tournament in the Olympiastadion. The Eastern Bloc disagreed with the fact that West Berlin were part of the Federal Republic of Germany (despite Hertha Berlin’s participation in the Bundesliga and Oberliga) and concerns were expressed that should games be held there, the Eastern Bloc may withdraw their membership from UEFA.  Despite three games being played at the Olympiastadion in the 1974 FIFA World Cup, including East Germany versus Chile, it was now a footballing hot potato that the West German football federation, the DFB,  did not want to handle.

After significant political debate on both sides of the Berlin Wall, West Germany relented and agreed that the host venues would be Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Gelsenkirchen, Stuttgart, Cologne, Hanover and Düsseldorf. West Berlin would have to look over the wall with envious eyes.

However, DFB committee member Hermann Neuberger came up with a compromise that would placate most parties. The Berlin Four Nation Tournament was announced in late 1987 to take place prior to the European Championships, in West Berlin. Invites were sent to World Champions Argentina, European Championship favourites Soviet Union (and thus getting the Eastern Bloc onside), Sweden and West Germany. Whilst there had been calls for the participation of East Germany, many observers suggested that the Eastern Bloc didn’t want an embarrassing and politically sensitive situation of the two German sides meeting and playing with a political football.

The tournament was arranged over Easter weekend in the simplest format. Two semi-finals were played back to back in the Olympiastadion on 31 March 1988, with West Germany drawn against Sweden and the Soviets against Argentina. With a disappointing 23,700 fans in the stadium for the start of the tournament, West Germany took the lead when Olympique de Marsaille’s Klaus Allofs netted just before half time against the Swedes. Their lead was cancelled out in the 75th minute when Peter Truedsson equalised. As the stadium at the time had poor floodlight facilities at the time, there was little time scheduled between the two games and so extra time was scrapped and the tie went direct to penalties which saw the Swedes run out 4-2 winners after Lothar Matthäus and Rudi Völler missed their spot kicks.

Just thirty minutes after the end of the first semi-final, Argentina and Soviet Union kicked off the second semi-final. Despite having Diego Maradona in their starting eleven, Russia underlined their promise as potential European Champions by racing to a three-nil lead after just fifteen minutes thanks to goals from Zavarov, Prostasov and Lytovchenko. Prostasov added a fourth late in the game after Diego had scored from a freekick. The Soviet Union’s 4-2 victory meant that the final everyone wanted to see, a repeat of the 1986 World Cup Final, would be a mere warm up to the final two days later. Ironically, the official attendance for the second game is recorded as 1,300 more than the West German game earlier in the afternoon.

Once again the soccer-starved public of West Berlin hardly flocked to the Olympiastadion. Just over 25,000 saw the 3rd/4th play off game between West Germany and Argentina two days later which was decided by a single Matthäus goal, and unofficially considerably more than that stayed in their seats for the final between Sweden and the Soviets. Two second half goals from Hans Eskilsson and Hans Holmquist saw the tournament won by the Swedes with a huge sigh of relief from the organisers that the weekend had passed off without any political incidents, although disappointed at the lack of attendance for both games.

By the time the European Championships kicked off in June the competition was long forgotten.  West Berlin had to look on with envious eyes as the huge crowds flocked to the West German stadiums and saw a tournament that crackled with passion, drama and talent the like we had not seen before in the European Championships.  Both West Germany and Russia made the semi-finals, although the hosts were beaten by eventual winners Holland, inspired by Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard.

The concept of the Berlin tournament was never repeated, perhaps because of the fall of the Berlin Wall eighteen months later and the subsequent fall of the Eastern Bloc in the proceeding few years, although it could be said that various attempts to resurrect a similar competition were behind such tournaments as the Umbro Cup held in England in 1995 featuring England, Japan, Sweden and Brazil or the Tournoi de France featuring Brazil, Italy, England and the host nation in June 1997.  But for one bright moment in Spring 1988 it seemed that football might break the political divide between the East and West in Europe. Alas, it was not to be.