|Germany and the World Cup
Jun 8th 2006 | BERLIN
From The Economist print edition
The hopes and fears of Germany's controversial national coach
EVERY time Germany wins football's World Cup, some pundits assert, the country takes a turn for the better. Thus 1954 saw the start of the economic miracle, 1974 the birth of modern Germany and 1990 unification. The causality seems implausible, although some economists are talking up the 2006 tournament, which starts this weekend, and is being staged (like 1974's) in Germany. A clearer link exists between the country and its football association (DFB), since they display similar strengths and weaknesses.
The DFB, with 6.3m members, acts like a state within a state. In common with other German sports organisations, it has its own rules and enforcement methods. Even more than the political system, it is built for stability, not speed. It has its own parliament, which meets every three years and is made up of delegates from 21 regions. Its presidents' average age and tenure in office almost match those of popes.
Predictably, change comes slowly to the DFB. It was not until 1970 that it approved an official women's league. Only in 2001 did the DFB allow the top clubs to create their own subordinate governing body. Were it not for the World Cup, especially the staging of the final in the stadium originally built for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, the DFB would still not have officially admitted its questionable activities during the Third Reich.
Yet until recently the DFB was highly successful. Because it saw market forces as incompatible with amateur sport, the DFB started a single professional league, the Bundesliga, only in 1963. This gave birth to the most modern league of the time, which may be why Germany was so good at football, says Thomas Kupfer, who has written a book on football management.
It was only a matter of time before stability turned into disadvantage. In 1990 the national coach, Franz Beckenbauer, promised that “working together with the eastern Germans, we will be invincible for years.” But the DFB failed to make top clubs professional enough or to foster modern training methods. Nor was young talent encouraged and brought on. German football, like the economy, began to decline, which became obvious when the team was thrashed by England in 2001. Three years later, it took a drubbing at the 2004 European championships.
Enter Jürgen Klinsmann, a former star footballer, hired as national coach mainly because of a lack of alternatives—just as Angela Merkel became boss of the Christian Democrats in 2000. Mr Klinsmann planned not only to win the World Cup, but also to reform the entire DFB. Always a maverick, he capped his career as a player by moving to California to start a sports consulting business.
He has indeed proved a reformer. He has centralised power so that he can prepare his team properly. He has decreed a more offensive strategy, and tried out many younger players. He has hired trainers versed in modern methods, including (horror!) an American fitness guru. He is fond of management fads, communicating by e-mail and using motivational training. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, Mr Klinsmann has been vilified—not least for continuing to live in California. The DFB's board has rejected his candidate as chief talent scout, even though this job is central to his plans.
Will Mr Klinsmann stick around after the World Cup? Conventional wisdom says that the answer depends on how well Germany does. But he may also wonder if the DFB can ever change. Even were Germany to win, which looks unlikely, Mr Klinsmann might prefer to go back to California. That would make it hard to tout any victory as a harbinger of further reform, not just of Germany's football association, but of the country as a whole.