England v Germany.
The 2022 World Cup is over. The best ever according to Fifa president Gianni Infantino, although saying otherwise would be like Tim Cook presenting Apple’s new iPhone 15 and saying, “To be honest guys, this one’s not quite as good as the iPhone 12.” So, with a focus on my own teams, I'll try to make a more rational assessment.
That's right, 'teams'. Plural. I have a friend who's lived in Amsterdam longer than I have in Berlin. His kids are Dutch and his wife is Spanish. In fact he's Spanish himself although he grew up in Canada with a Belgian father. He's since exchanged his Belgian citizenship for French which apparently you can do. I hope I've got all that right - hey man if you're reading.
I mention this to demonstrate that supporting more than one national team is not so unusual these days. My buddy had a full house of five in Qatar so it's not surprising at least one of them made the final. Two teams are enough for me. Neither of them fared so well.
Germany didn’t make it out of the group stage. No less than a complete disaster. Utter humiliation. An unforgivable embarrassment. And that was after 2018’s exit.
England went two rounds further. Despite reaching the semi-final last time out and the Euro final only last year, a quarter final defeat (as in 1998, 2002 and 2006 and the same stage as in Euro 2004, 2012 and 2016 - remind me, what happened in Euro 2008?) was taken quite well by the English fans and media.
The question I’m posing in this article is: Which men’s team will be the first to win their next major honour? England or Germany?
Based on current evidence it would appear to be England. Their displays and achievements in recent tournaments have been the best we’ve witnessed in many a long year. They have a coherent, balanced and well settled team at present. The players seem to take pride in and actually enjoy playing for their country. In charge of it all is a levelheaded manager who, for the most part, looks as if he knows what he’s doing.
Germany, on the other hand, are in disarray. The reputation they once had for knowing how to play tournament football is shot to pieces. Their director of football has quit and, as members of the 2014 title winning team have gradually retired, few of their replacements seem to have the world class quality we’ve come to expect from one of the all time great footballing nations.
But there's more to it than that. Looking back through the history of the Euros as well as the World Cup, provides an insight into both countries that shouldn't be ignored.
Germany won their first World Cup in 1954. The Miracle Of Bern it was called. Just nine years after the Second World War left the country in ruins, they apparently had no chance. It’s been claimed that they only beat overwhelming favourites Hungary in the final because it rained on match day. Adi Dassler had provided special boots for the team. He’d worked out that having three supportive straps on the side was an optimum combination of visibility and support. The classic Adidas 3-Stripes logo was born.
Germany (sometimes as West Germany of course) won it again 20 years later, 16 years after that, then again in another 24 years. That's quite a consistent pattern. They have a proven capacity to produce a World Cup winning team once every generation. England have won the World Cup once every...
Closer inspection shows the remarkable record that Germany can boast. They've never failed to qualify for a tournament and they’re practically ever present in finals or semi-finals. There have been blots on the landscape of course, but something else stands out to me.
In 2004 they didn't progress past the group stage for the second consecutive Euros. Sound familiar? Ten years later they were World Champions. Might this hint at an important attribute the DFB possesses that the F.A. do not? The ability to identify and fix problems.
England meanwhile, tend to flounder around the quarter final stage. It’s true that some heroic performances have ended with the inevitable penalty shoot out defeat (it’s a skill, not a lottery) but it’s also true that one golden generation after another have gone out with a whimper.
All manner of excuses have been put forward to try and explain why a supposed top footballing nation has underperformed at major tournaments time and time again. Too many games in an exhausting season, players prioritising club over country, too many superstars in the same team playing out of position and not gelling together, youngsters not getting enough opportunities in a domestic league saturated with overseas talent, no wifi in the team hotel.
I have my own theory. Let's take a look at some of the England managers we've had over the last decade or so.
Glenn Hoddle and his faith healer.
Kevin Keegan whom I’m not sure could even spell the word tactic.
Steve McClaren aka The Wally With The Brolly.
Fabio Capello who couldn’t speak English.
A string of what turned out to be poor choices exposes the F.A.'s habit for appointing managers who aren't up to the job. Admittedly they've been hampered by a lack of quality candidates (in its entire thirty year existence, an English manager has yet to win the Premier League) a fact finally accepted when Sven-Göran Eriksson became the first person not hailing from the birthplace of football to take charge of the national team.
Roy Hodgeson seemed a sensible choice when he took over. He had a decent pedigree but his prime years were spent managing teams such as the United Arab Emirates and Finland. It's one thing to have a measure of success with countries whose expectations are satisfied when they eventually qualify for something; quite another to deliver from the high pressure hot seat of a nation yearning for the international honours they've believed to be within reach for more than half a century and counting.
After early promising signs, it all went horribly wrong at Euro 2016 when England were put on their knees by Iceland.
There’s since been a significant improvement under Gareth Southgate. He's restored a bit of dignity and respect while presiding over England’s best tournament record in recent history.
And he still has the media on side. Previous disappointing campaigns have seen relentless criticism hurled at every easy target and the manager is usually the easiest. But it was different this time. England came home from Qatar under an umbrella of praise. Clear evidence, according to our revered football writers, of better things soon to come.
For as long as I can remember we’ve been told that England will do better next time and after reaching the Euros final, there was genuine belief that next time would be this time. Instead, they were knocked out in the quarter finals. Again. They comfortably beat mediocre teams then fell short as soon as they came up against one of the favourites. Again.
Who knows what will happen next time but I suspect Germany will have solved their problems and won another tournament, or two, long before England have figured out how to do it.