I am informed that Jurgen Klinsmann, the former German player, manager and current Team USA coach, has been on BBC TV doing punditry during Euro 2012. I am further informed that he recently pronounced, “Anyone can beat anyone, even Spain on a God-given day.”
Pundits. Who needs ‘em? Anyway, Klinsmann is German. So he wouldn’t know much about giant-killer teams, would he? As fellow BBC pundit and former player Gary Lineker famously remarked once, “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”
True enough. They did win with some ferocity here on Friday night against Greece.
Greece. Germany. Not two countries playing soccer on a summer night. The two words, “Greece” and “Germany” saturate our contemporary news and give some of us the shivers. Bailouts and anger. Hard to understand intricacies of a single currency. Banks failing, riots in the streets. Election after election and chaos. Angela Merkel, stern and unforgiving, saying Greece needs austerity. The sullen anger of German taxpayers goading her on.
This was a soccer match about all that. A match wherein “Euro” meant the currency, not the soccer. Through a quirk of fate, Greece, a country on its knees and seemingly existing at the whim of German banks and bondholders, stood between Germany and the semi-finals. Most Greeks loathe German Chancellor Angela Merkel and she made a point of being here, reportedly postponing yet another Euro-crisis summit to ensure she saw a German victory. Not just a soccer match, then.
The German media did its bit to heighten the stinging metaphors of winners and losers. Populist paper Bild practically cackled in a pre-game overview – “Rejoice, dear Greeks, defeat will be for free on Friday! No bailout will help you against Joachim Loew!”
That’s a reference German manager Joachim Loew and he added his own tincture of disdain for Greece, the team, not just the country. But, here, it was not about teams at all. Loew caused some major consternation in soccer punditry by brazenly omitting three of his strikers for the game against Greece – Lukas Podolski, Thomas Mueller and Mario Gomez were replaced by Andre Schurrle, Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose. On a whim, it seemed, Loew placed all of Germany’s goal scorers at this Euro tournament on the bench. Wouldn’t need them against sad-sack Greece, was the message.
Whimsy or arrogance? Ask a lot of people here in Gdansk and they’d say arrogance.
There were few Greeks in attendance. A few hundred perhaps. During the day, many bantered easily with the Germans they encountered. But they would, wouldn’t they? Most were Greeks based in Germany. The ones who could afford to come.
Even if one puts the politics aside and looks at the money side of soccer, this was a bizarre and telling encounter. The combined value of the German team, based on money paid by club teams for their services, is €630-million. That’s about $800-million. And the Greek team worth is only €115-million, or $148-million. And money doesn’t just talk at this level, it strides confidently and, as the Germans did in a 4-2 victory, it can rout.
There were empty seat in the area of the stadium set aside for Greek supporters. The German fans vastly outnumbered them, but by far the largest contingent in the stadium were Polish. The Poles sided with Greece, it can be reported. They cheered Greece on until it became hopeless there were groans when Angela Merkel appeared on the big screen. Another layer to a night and a game that beggared the existing multiplicity of soccer’s meanings and explanations of the world.
And here’s the kicker, the one that Merkel and many Germans will take away. Greece is at fault for lazily taking a wasteful, defensive approach for the first half of the game. For sloppily assuming it would survive long into the game by concentrating on itself, on its trademark preoccupation with its own area, never moving forward. In contrast, this tweaked German team started with concentrated industry and eventually scored goals with ruthless efficiency.
Hardly anyone expected Greece, the country, to undermine the entire euro zone. Now, in the soccer, no one is going to stop Germany from dominating the Euro.
In soccer, sometimes a small country can beat a big country, as the German Klinsmann suggests. But in the world of finance, banking and currencies, David doesn’t beat Goliath. Here in Gdansk, all those worlds got mixed up, and as the Englishman Lineker observed, the Germans always win.