Yeah, well, England’s league is better than your league, Germany
Germany had barely had a chance to parade their World Cup trophy around the Maracana Stadium when attention feverishly reverted to the most alluring of media babe magnets. Manchester United were finalizing new kit deals. Arsenal were going Doc Brown crazy with pre-season signings and Chelsea were being linked with every big, burly, brutish striker not Diego Costa or Didier Drogba.
The Germans might be the smartest and most industrious, but they’ll never have the Premier League’s pulling power. This fascinating dichotomy between intelligent performance and superficial popularity is lifted straight from the tackiest nightclub, where fake-tanned acolytes totter beneath the glitter ball towards the thick bloke with big muscles. Beside him stands a measured, methodical, well-travelled individual of impeccable taste and acquired knowledge – I’m picturing Joachim Low here - who can offer a fascinating insight into different cultures and styles. Thick bloke with big muscles grunts a lot.
But he grunts really loudly and is always accompanied by lots of fawning apologists who make light of his intellectual shortcomings by emphasizing his muscles. Just look at those biceps. Those muscles are coming to you live, clenched and tensed, every Super Saturday, Sublime Sunday and Mildly Entertaining Monday. He comes in glorious high definition and from every conceivable angle. Think not about the cerebral shortfall, think about the muscles. You can’t take your eyes off those muscles. They’re the most Exciting Muscles in the World ™.
Most are happy with this arrangement. He’s an amiable lug with deep pockets surrounded by hangers-on desperate for handouts. But then, every four years, the curtain is pulled back. The World Cup becomes that moment when the nightclub’s lights are switched on abruptly and stunned admirers exclaim: “Blimey, you’re not that attractive after all. Now the music has stopped and I can actually hear you, you’re really not that interesting; just a lot of dull talk about “positives” and “target men”. That guy over there is much more entertaining and he dresses better.”
And everyone briefly gathers around the debonair guy in the v-necked white T-shirt with the floppy, black hair who likes to tell the one about convincing Mario Gotze that he was better than Lionel Messi. At this point, thick bloke with big muscles starts to kiss his own biceps like a petulant, neglected child, muttering something about still being the most popular in the world. He’s even heard to whisper: “Yeah, well, my Sugar Daddy is bigger than your Sugar Daddy. He’s a rich foreigner with big yachts and oil wells and everything.”
But in the harsh light of reality, he sounds a bit ridiculous. His persona shifts. Suddenly it’s like dealing with a doddering old relative, suffering from dementia and stuck in a distant heyday. There is an overwhelming desire to pat the hand and patronizingly shout: “Aah, you still think you’re the best in the world. That’s sweet. But that was a long time ago. Do you remember the Germans? They’re the best in the world now. Why don’t you have a lie down and watch your old 1966 video.”
Germans oozing homegrown talent
Watching one of the Premier League’s most accomplished players – Andre Schurrle – set up the winning goal in the World Cup Final for Bayern Munich’s £31-million player - Mario Götze – was an exercise in humility. Neither man was considered decent enough for a place in Germany’s talent-stuffed starting XI. They were pushed to the fringes, sitting in a warm Maracana dugout with other ridiculously gifted Germans.
That’s what €1 billion buys you these days; the smartest, brightest most entertaining men inside the Maracana. The Deutscher Fussball-Bund’s revolutionary coaching programmes have churned out players with streamlined efficiency. Schurrle and Gotze joined 12 others in the squad who came through the youth ranks and benefited from tailor-made infrastructure (no large pitches with prodigiously well-developed kids being ordered by frustrated fathers to ‘get stuck in’).
The World’s Greatest League ™ boasted only one player in Germany’s first XI – Mesut Ozil – a charming, impudent, charismatic individual often criticized last season for not putting a full shift in. Oh, the irony. He has been charged with similar crimes in a German jersey, particularly in the tournament’s early stages; one theory being that the relentless, rambunctious nature of the English Premier League had subdued the creative beast. Oh, the double irony.
But Germany’s rags to riches story is such a universal tale, idealists are dreaming of writing a chapter for themselves. When they failed to qualify from the group stages at both the 2000 and 2004 European Championships, they started over. They went from rubbish to world champions in a decade. Their ambition is suddenly infectious. Three Lions followers are mostly saying the same thing. We could do that. We meet the criteria for a German-like revolution. We’ve been rubbish for years.
Fortunately, Gary Neville was on hand to quash any fancy talk of root and branch reform. Apparently, those who believe in adapting Germany’s template believe in magic wands, he said on Twitter. In fairness to the daydream believers, most probably believe in small-sided games involving children at the earliest age focusing entirely on speed and technique at the expense of raw power, an investment in fully-qualified coaches beyond enthusiastic PE teachers, the implementation of short and long-term goals for youth and senior levels and possibly a foreign player limit at Premier League clubs. Clearly, that’s all bedknobs and broomsticks.
People who write - "England should follow the German route" are either oblivious to the obstacle or believe in magic wands!
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) July 14, 2014
With comical swiftness, any hope of emulating the World Cup winners was drowned out by the sound of millions of bubbles bursting. While the Germans touched the stars in Rio, Neville turned into that cynical, jaded schoolteacher, waggling his finger in idealistic faces and ordering them to put aside any foolish notions of ambition and application and to stop filling their heads with World Cup-winning nonsense.
They’ll be no more silly English talk of becoming artists, creators and inventors. They’re all going to become bus drivers and that’s that.
Neil Humphreys is the best-selling author of football novels Match Fixer and Premier Leech, which was the FourFourTwo Football Novel of the Year. You can find his website right here.