One of the most interesting aspects of a new international is that I often use the opportunity to review my previous match pages against the upcoming opponents. This has been the case with the Republic of Ireland, who Germany play next Tuesday, and the last two occasions they played them, in 2012 and 2013, in the qualifying campaign for Brazil.
But what immediately struck me is how the Ireland pages have proved to be particularly noteworthy in the snapshot they provide of the attitude towards Joachim Löw and the atmosphere in Germany in the post-Euro 2012 period, as the team embarked on their road to Rio.
Chief protagonist in the campaign of negativity was, of course, Uli Hoeness, whose determination to ensure that the German team hotel rendez-vous was accompanied by headlines of rebuke directed at their coach, becomes even more apparent when individual matches are selected and looked at retrospectively.
His ‘ping pong tables from Mont Blanc’ remark still makes as little sense as it did two years ago, but pales into significance alongside his assertion of Miroslav Klose ‘going missing on the big stage’ and infavourably comparing him to Bayern legend Gerd Müller. Hoeness would be well aware that the average person reading his remarks would not bother themselves to look up that the Gerd Müller goal-tally also included the likes of Albania, Wales and Cyprus.
That Jogi had to use up precious time dealing with rebuttals to this drivel, rather than planning and preparation in the short time he had available with his players, defending not only himself, but the striker who within a short time was to become the greatest ever goal-scorer in World Cup history, is nothing short of a disgrace.
One year later, Hoeness chose to voice his criticism at the selection of Mario Götze, who was at that time lacking in match practice, despite Pep Guardiola, and Mario himself, expressing their desire he played. Jogi was keen for his young star to join the team, calling him an ‘important player over the coming months’ adding he could ‘count on [him] for 15/20 minutes’ if necessary.
Thankfully, Hoeness did not get his way, but probably not even Jogi could at the time realise how prophetic his remark would turn out to be:
Further defence of his policies were necessary at the same press conference, including speaking up against accusations of ‘favouritism’ from Borussia Dortmund for his apparently not selecting players from their club, an appalling slander on his integrity, and one which they would well know he could never disprove. A mere month later he had again to defend himself at a press conference after accusations of favouritism for the complete opposite – including Dortmund players in his side to face England. I’ve often wondered if, like the porridge in the fairy tale, there was a ‘just right’ setting that would have met with Goldilock’s approval. I will leave Dortmund fans to let me know the answer to that one.
Everyone, it seemed, believed they could do a better job than Jogi, everyone knew how to pick a stronger, bound-to-be-more-successful, team. “A coach should not be a flag waving in the wind” Jogi said “but make his own decisions independent of surveys or the columns of self-proclaimed Bundestrainers.”
Ever-eager to assume the role of chief surveyer was the self-titled ‘Oracle’, Oliver Kahn. A quick check of the definition of an Oracle gives us “A person considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic opinions.” or “An authoritative or wise statement or prediction.”
Vaguely amusing though this might seem to read now, launched at the beginning of the 2013/2014 season, this was a disgraceful attempt to undermine the national team set-up, brewing up ill-feeling against their coach and instilling a complete lack of confidence in his ability not only to bring home the big prize, but the considerable work he had done so far as Bundestrainer.
Kahn continued to post loaded surveys questioning Jogi’s judgement, such surveys incidentally being under no obligation to be independently verified and monitored. Giving what he declared his followers’ ‘clear opinions’, he at one point claimed that German football fans ‘didn’t understand’ the Bundestrainer’s team selections. Perhaps they equally don’t understand Pythagoras or Einstein. That does not, of course, mean those two great gentleman were wrong either.
Thankfully the Oracle’s predictions were as misplaced as his pompous choice of a nickname.
These two match pages typify two years of what at times went far beyond constructive football debate, bordering almost on character assassination, with even the most reputable of writers believing they were justified in asserting they spoke on behalf of all of Germany in their attempts to discredit Jogi, not only as a football coach but as a role model for the nation. Positive words, or even politeness, were a rarity.
Germany inflicted on Ireland their heaviest ever home defeat, and then the next year qualified for Brazil with their 3-0 victory in Cologne. Shining through as we look back is Joachim Löw’s admirable conduct in the face of all this mounting, seeming unending, criticism – a glowing example of courage under fire, his quiet but articulate determination an indication of his belief in both himself and his choice of players, a team that would prevail and make their country so proud, leaving the rest of the world looking on in admiration and envy.
Following their return from Brazil as World Champions, a million people took to the streets of Berlin to welcome the victors home. Cheering in that crowd would have been those who had cast votes of ‘no-confidence’ in polls calling for Jogi’s dismissal, at the time no doubt mentally lining up their particular favourite to take his place. Many lining the roads would have read those headlines and nodded, automaton-like, in agreement at harsh words from the likes of Hoeness and Magath. Covering the triumphant homecoming would have been the writers of doom-laden articles and pessimistic features a mere few months prior, and watching would have been journalists and bloggers who had spoken of the certainty that Jogi would falter under pressure, joining the queue in lambasting him both professionally and personally.
So next time you re-watch those glorious scenes from the Brandenburg Gate and remember Jogi’s cry “Wir sind alle Weltmeister”, just think whether the self-congratulating should perhaps have paused for one short moment and those celebrating all remembered the rough journey they gave him along the road to bring them home that precious golden trophy.