It’s an age-old question: Does the soccer field offer broader lessons for life – and can big tournaments lead to changing the perception of nations? The World Cup in Brazil provides an interesting example. Germany won the title deservedly. The question is: why?
It wasn’t a matter of the German “machine”, as so many commentators argued throughout the tournament. Ultimately, what won Germany the title was five unconventional moves that paid off. Interestingly, most of them are the precise opposite of what Germany is usually associated with.
Toss out the old rule book
Ten years ago, after being eliminated from the 2004 European Championship in the opening round of group-stage play, Germany’s national team played “machine-style.” This led the team nowhere.
Rather than doing the expected thing – clinging on to what had been quite successful for so long – the coaching staff decided it was not really a path to the future. It was time for something new.
Out went the muscular, always sideways passing, unimaginative style of play that had served them quite well for so long.
In came reliance on much more agile players who are much more forward oriented. That turned the German team into something that it had not been before – exciting. Bursting into sudden attacks by kicking deep forward passes – and thus opening up the game – became the new mantra.
A good team spirit has almost always been a hallmark of the country’s teams. In a refreshing departure from past practice, the 2014 edition of the German soccer team has a lot of individual stars.
And they excel for one main reason – having an intuitive understanding of each other, of where they are going to be on the field quite a few moments onward.
Smart organisation beats big money
The key reason for the emergence of the great young players is simple – a proper focus at club level on grooming real talent at home, rather than teams relying on the power of big money by buying expensive talent. This is the one dimension where Germany’s talent to organise well came to fruition.
And this is where Brazil, Argentina and many other national teams now openly talk of emulating the German approach to playing soccer – systematically and in a holistic sense.
Bet on youth
It is always said that in Germany, experience counts over everything. With regards to football, that means relying on older players – and forcing the younger players to bide their time.
Ten years ago, the decision was made to bet on youth. And it paid off, big time. Several of the key players – such as Müller, Götze, Schürrle and Kroos – are aged 22, 23 or a maximum of 24. Hence the talk of a “golden generation”.
Democracy in action
Germany is widely viewed as a top-down nation. The “boss” calls the shots, the others click their heels. So much for that stereotype.
The “boss” in German football is the national team coach, Joachim Löw. He certainly has his quirks and idiosyncrasies – and has been known to act in an authoritarian manner.
During this World Cup, Löw imposed his preferences on where certain players should play on the field and came up with a weird and risky style of defence that could have easily ended in disaster.
And yet, at the same time, during the entire World Cup a very healthy democratic debate took place in the German media that questioned the wisdom of the coach’s lonely decisions.
In a triumph for the country’s democracy, the debate ended up with the coach giving up his insistence on playing a strange defensive style. Popular opinion won out – and the German team, all of a sudden much more solid defensively – went on to win the trophy.
* Stephan Richter is editor-in-chief of The Globalist. Follow him on Twitter: @theglobalist