For all the usual tabloid guff about Germany being ruthlessly efficient, marching on and putting the jackboot in, something rather untoward has happened this summer – the once great grinders of the world football stage have added panache to their package, and charmed an unsuspecting public both at home and around the globe.
Joachim Löw’s boys brigade is certainly well organised, that other Teutonic virtue we always expect – but theirs in an organisation that captures the exuberance of a thrilling young generation of German players, and harnesses them for some breathtaking attacking football.
What we are now seeing is the culmination of an investment programme begun in the aftermath of Germany’s sorry Euro 2000 performance. Since then, the DFB have poured €20 million a year into an holistic vision of soccer education – and the 2010 vintage are the first graduates to have come through the process form start to finish. Starlets like Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller can cut the traditionally heady German spirit of ‘Immer weiter’ (ever onwards) with effervescent technical skills and dress it with an olive of tactical nous. It is so far proving an irresistible cocktail.
It has Germans baffled too. Delighted of course, but not a little shaken in the beliefs they have always held dear. That is in part because this team also looks different to any previous incarnation of the national side – it is blessed with a cosmopolitan soul, with players of Tunisian, Turkish, Brazilian and Polish descent. And though that might be a startling sight for traditional German fans, it is one that says something of the nation’s normalisation after generations of division. Germany is a multi-cultural place and fans in Berlin are giddy, wondering perhaps what the team’s fine performance says about their own identity.
Starlets like Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller can cut the traditionally heady German spirit of ‘Immer weiter’ (ever onwards) with effervescent technical skills and dress it with an olive of tactical nous.
The nation also has a debt of gratitude to Joachim Löw – a manager who left for South Africa, if not embattled, then unloved. A myriad questions greeted his selection, with big names absent, personality clashes reported and a suspicion that Löw is biased towards players from Germany’s south. His contract was also due to end – and a new one had been the subject of much wrangling. He has however proved just how important having big balls is at a major tournament – something future England managers might learn from. He should be lauded for sending out such young stars (look at 24-year-old keeper Manuel Neuer for example – and ask yourself why we kept Joe Hart, 23, parked in the garage). He has also known how to coax excellent performances from players the pundits claimed were ready for pasture – notably Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose. Tactically, motivationally, and some would argue sartorially, Löw has manoeuvred dangerous waters with the same fluid intelligence as his team.
Most importantly, World Cups need a story – one team who transcends the jingoism of the whole affair to create a narrative that fans can look back on when the dust settles. Much of this tournament has been a drab affair – can you even remember any games before Germany beat Australia 4-0? – and was desperately in need of some entertainers to lift the tone. From the most unlikely heritage stepped Germany, eager to play, eager to thrill, eager to win. For all that they have been maligned in the past, we should very much love them now.