With the World Cup behind us and the national league competitions well underway across Europe, it is time to share some reflections on what has happened in Germany and German football that it has come to where it is right now.
What has happened in Germany and with the national team since May is difficult to describe, therefore it took some time to gather thoughts in order to provide explanations that seem comprehensible. It is indeed difficult to find a suitable starting point. Germany have won the World Cup in 2014 and its defense began two years later with the qualification process. In between was the Euro 2016 which has to be considered another chance wasted to win a title for this talented crop of players at the disposal of Joachim Löw. Yet, the consequences were … there were none. The team sent to Russia for the Confed Cup last year was made up of youngsters and fringe players and they won this competition in style, thus fanning hopes that Germany would almost sleep walk to the final in Russia a year later. Alas, it was not to be. And quite rightly so.
Germany as defending world champions crashed out of the tournament after just three matches during the group stage. The team was too slow. Yes, their possession and pass statistics were superb but that does not equate to success on the pitch. Possession is useful if it brings success. Their opponents, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea were no awe inspiring teams but they did their job. Mexico caught them unawares and scored the only goal of the match with an incisive counter attack. Sweden profited from a wobbly defense and scored. Luckily Germany not only equalised but scored a fabulous goal to win the match. The last match was crucial and it proved too much for them. So much for a brief recap of the on pitch performance of the German national team. Nothing new and already often discussed to the point that it is tiring to continue.
The World Cup for Germany was a drama in three acts: prelude, main act and aftermath. The first part was the photo session by Mesut Özil and his team colleague Ilkay Gündogan with the Turkish president Erdogan in May. To say the photo shooting was a stupid thing is a gross understatement in the eyes of the general public. For Mesut Özil as he has stated afterwards it was a sign of respect towards the country of his parents. That may be okay, had he met Erdogan in private. As it stands, the Turkish president used the photograph for his own political ends as a general election was due in Turkey.
The photo proved to be the opening of Pandora’s Box as commentators slaughtered Özil and Gündogan and called them names, something that previously has been the domain of the right wing groups. This time main stream politicians joined in; one calling Özil a sheep shagger who must go back to Anatolia. This affair was no longer just a joke that can be shaken off easily. One wonders what might have happened with this affair had Germany reached another semi-final. We will never know. What we know for sure now is that Germany and German football is caught in a debate where there hardly can be any winners. The DFB seems to be following a populist trail: its president demanded a clear statement from Özil to declare his position, to make clear where he stands. This is without precedent that a president of Germany’s biggest sporting association puts out such a demand to a player. It was expected that the DFB would protect Özil from any racist or xenophob attack. Nothing happened. It is important to add that Reinhard Grindel, the current DFB president is a politician with the CDU and has once stated that a multi cultural society is humbug. It may explain his demand to Özil. The player remained silent which did not help him or his case. When he went public he did so with a statement shared on twitter. He cited racism as a reason to retire from the German national team.
Grindel replied but he missed the point blatantly quoting the amateur section of German football who are working tirelessly against racism but are criminally underfunded because the DFB prefers to support the national team and the Bundesliga which both bring attention and money to the coffers. Ominously in this affair is also the silence of the national coach, Jaochim Löw as well as the team. Only three players reacted, Neuer, Müller and Kroos. The latter said that some of Özil’s statement was nonsense and part was true. That was it. The silence of the team and Löw (Özil was said to have been his favourite player) is open to questioning. Could it be that Özil has got it wrong? That he was simply a sulking kid who realizes that no one likes him? Or has he hit the nail on the head?
It goes without saying that everyone involved in this affair has lost. The DFB should have made it clear that the photo shoot was a stupid thing and possibly kicked Özil AND Gündogan out of the team before the World Cup. The team’s manager Oliver Bierhoff admitted as much AFTER the tournament, thus fuelling the flames even more. What has happened instead was that the DFB tried to sit out the affair by remaining silent, secretly hoping that a successful tournament would make this whole thing forgotten. It was a spectacular failure.
This sad affair saw no winners, only losers. No winners? Of course there are winners. It is this tiny minority that relentlessly has made their point about migration to Germany, who have been hostile to anyone not blessed with a heritage of at least three generations of germanness. This minority have highjacked the public debate to this extent that there is no debate without talking about migration or migrants and who have spread their poisonous thoughts with such an effect that it is impossible to debate anything else or for that matter to discuss the topic of migration, as pressing as it may be, with reason and rationally. What this minority does is fear mongering and scapegoating. Mesut Özil was their ideal victim as others remained silent i.e. most of his team mates or others who have put him out there to be slaughtered, i.e. Grindel and Bierhoff. Even the national manager, Jogi Löw did not step forward to defend his player, allegedly his favourite player.
The winner in their affair is racism of which many have hoped that it did not exist any longer in Germany but which is now ever so apparent.
Ironically, Germany will host the Euro 2024, beating Turkey in the process. The country whose president was at the start of the affair with a photo taken with Özil and Gündogan, two players of Turkish descent now playing or having played for Germany. It may be some consolation after all this.