By Michael Seckler
“Bierhoff kann sich durchsetzen. Kuba … und Deutschland ist Europameister “! If you are not German you probably have no idea what this sentence means or stands for. If you are however, you probably remember how the commentator Béla Réthy screamed it during the last moments of the European Championship final in 1996. It was a special moment: Bierhoff gets the ball in the box, stops it, turns around the defender and finishes the match with a shot in the far corner. FIFA had just established the Golden Goal rule, which said that a goal scored in overtime ends the match.
Personally, this moment is probably my oldest football-memory. But even though Germany won the championship, the victory can’t conceal one little detail: we won it German-style. If you listen to what Réthy said moments before Bierhoff’s goal, you’ll find the perfect evidence. “The midfield is ignored, long shots to the strikers” were Réthy’s words to describe the pass that lead to the goal. At the same time I remember how this tactic was driving everybody, and especially my father, crazy. It was this way of playing that gave German football-players their well-deserved reputation of playing efficient but hardly ever beautiful. In fact, the complaints about these hit-or-miss-passes might – sadly enough – be my actual oldest football memory.
HOWEVER, one day after two German teams competed in the Champions League final, I am still amazed how much has changed since then. Even though this wasn’t the German national team, almost half of its players were on the field yesterday. What people could see, especially in the beginning, was modern football at its best: fast and technically strong. How did it happen? German players used to be famous for their will and their fighting spirit. Dribbling and performing magic on the field was none of their business.
Luckily it’s easy to see when things changed: After a disappointing European championship in 2004 Jürgen Klinsmann, Oliver Bierhoff (!) and Jogi Löw became the new head-coach-trio to get Germany ready for hosting the world championship. Two years later in 2006 they had turned the national team upside-down: They sorted out the majority of the “fight-and-run”-generation and exchanged them for younger talents who are more receptive of the new tactic. The tournament became an overwhelming success: Even though Italy stopped the “Sommermärchen” (summer fairy-tale) in the semi-final, people were amazed to see the team playing efficiently AND beautifully. I remember a moment of pure confusion among the audience when two German players played a double-pass using a back heel. It almost seemed wrong.
The tactic of integrating young, athletic and technically strong players into the team became even stronger after Klinsmann resigned and Löw became the only head coach. So far, he couldn’t win any of the following tournaments in 2008/10/ and 2012. Spain and Italy were simply too strong. However, he created a team that is able to fascinate the audience again. And for that I want to say: Thank you Jogi (Löw)!!