GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany — The resurgence of German soccer began, like the country’s economic comeback, after a long slide toward stagnation amid dire prophecies of impending irrelevance.
The sick man of Europe, as Germany was known a decade ago, could as easily have been called the sick man of soccer. After a disastrous European Championships in 2000 when the traditional powerhouse won no games and scored one goal, the problem-solving, build-a-better-widget German drive kicked in.
While the government was loosening German labor laws to grease the creaking gears of the country’s economy, a society known for its apprenticeships and vocational training set about methodically developing young talent in the world’s most popular sport.
In a little more than a decade, Germany has invested nearly $1 billion in its youth programs, with academies run by professional teams and training centers overseen by the national soccer association, the Deutscher Fussball Bund, or D.F.B. The programs testify to the long-term strategic thinking and to the considerable resources that have driven Germany’s rise to renewed prominence in — and at the expense of — a struggling continent.
THE OLD stereotype of the stupid footballer may have to be consigned to history after a new study claimed that players have better cognitive skills than undergraduates and even PhD students.
Research by Canadian academic Jocelyn Faubert, of the University of Montreal, found that sports stars were able to ‘hyper-focus’ when doing tests, thanks to physical differences in their brains.
However, some people appear to have got carried away by the findings. ‘John Terry is brainier than physics super-boffin Professor Stephen Hawking, exclaimed The Daily Star.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Altidore said he decided to play through the abuse Tuesday because he didn’t want to give satisfaction to people who directed monkey chants at him.
The 23-year-old said it was the first time he has experienced racism like this, on or off the field.
‘This was pretty big. To have a stadium chanting monkey sounds is not something pleasant,’ he said in the phone interview. ‘I’m the only black player on my team, so I think it was more directed to me than anyone else.’
Jackie Robinson’s birthday was Thursday. Two days before the first black player in Major League Baseball would have turned 94, American soccer player Jozy Altidore was racially abused by Dutch fans of FC Den Bosch, the team against which Altidore’s AZ Alkmaar was playing.
Unrelenting monkey chants. Just weeks after Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off a pitch in Italy in response to fans’ taunts.
UEFA/FIFA, get your house in order.
Rather than make clear from the top that racist abuse will not be tolerated, UEFA is worryingly silent. And when they do talk, like last summer when they fined a Danish player more for wearing unapproved underwear than they did the national teams whose fans abused black players like Theodor Gebre Selassie or Mario Balotelli, their priorities are never quite in line.
The silence and/or uselessness from the top leaves the sole responsibility of responding to racist fan culture to men who are barely adults and are being abused and attacked in their place of business. And when individuals are making decisions on the spot and under enormous pressure, we see a variety of responses that journalists and other commentators are taking it upon themselves to judge. Is Altidore’s playing on better than Boateng’s leaving?
Who are we to judge?
And why are we spending more time thinking about the individual choices these players are making instead of demanding that UEFA/FIFA treat this as an issue of utmost importance? We owe it to Jackie Robinson to demand better.
Kevin-Prince Boateng’s stand (or walk, more precisely) against racist fans. It speaks for itself.
racism in English soccer, redux
Not only is the John Terry debacle not dying down—Terry recently retired from international football before his FA disciplinary hearing—we seem to be hearing more about it, and racism in soccer, than ever. The Observer, for one, isn’t happy about where the FA seems to be on racism.
And the FA, even now, seem to have some difficulty learning lessons from this fiasco. In a briefing to journalists from the Sunday media on Thursday – before the publication of the independent commission’s report – the England manager, Roy Hodgson, responding to persistent questions, said he might consider giving the captaincy to Ashley Cole for the World Cup game against Poland to coincide with the defender’s 100th cap.
On Saturday the FA made it clear to those same journalists that they should not refer to that section of the press conference lest it reflect badly on Hodgson or the FA, or that not giving the captaincy would be seen as revenge for the Cole tweet. Perish the thought.
The fact that the request from the FA came with an implicit threat that anyone who ignored this advisory might suffer in terms of future cooperation from the FA is both abysmal and shocking.
Racism is vile and malevolent and has blighted many people’s lives. It continues to do so, although great strides have been taken to reduce its incidence. Only racists and intellectual Neanderthals would need convincing that society has to adopt a zero tolerance approach to incidences of racism, or racist insults. And that includes football.
As one writer noted on Saturday: “Most footballers get through the day without uttering a racist remark.” In fact, most of us get through the day without uttering a racist remark.
Terry and Cole are an embarrassment to football, to Chelsea and to England. The club – and just as importantly, their supporters – need to be seen to understand that clearly. And react accordingly.
There are new reports about racist chants in English stadiums as well. Stadiums of hate, anyone?
The Bolton striker Marvin Sordell has claimed he and several of his team-mates were racially abused by Millwall fans during his side’s 2-1 defeat at the Den.
The 21-year-old, who was a member of the Team GB squad at the London 2012 Olympics, wrote on Twitter that he had reported his allegations to officials, and claimed that midfielders Lee Chung-yong and Darren Pratley, plus his fellow forward Benik Afobe, had also been subjected to racist taunts by a section of home supporters.
Sordell, an unused substitute in the match, wrote: “Putting the match aside, its 2012 in England and people are still shouting racial abuse at a football game? Shocking.”
He added: “Chungy, Pratts, Benik and I had all sorts of things said to us. The police were standing yards away and did nothing.”
Sordell, who claims the word “slave” was among those aimed at him, also received abusive responses to his allegations on Twitter.
He added: “Funniest thing is if I had come on and scored and gave them some back, I would be the one who got fined.”
In effect, Mr. Cameron’s apology amounted to an acknowledgment that the official version of what happened in the Hillsborough disaster was a stereotyped overlay, eagerly crafted by the police, on a far more complex event that had its roots in bungling and a cover-up by the authorities.
‘This appalling death toll of so many loved ones was compounded by an attempt to blame the victims,’ Mr. Cameron said as the new report was published, effectively rejecting earlier findings by a judicial inquiry and an inquest whose narrow conclusions, blaming police failings but also pointing to unruliness among the victims, had been battled relentlessly by the families for more than 20 years.
Quoting from the new report, Mr. Cameron said: ‘The Liverpool fans were not the cause of the disaster. The panel has quite simply found no evidence in support of allegations of exceptional levels of drunkenness, ticketlessness or violence among Liverpool fans, no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late at the stadium, and no evidence that they stole from the dead and dying.’
More reasons why we should enjoy British men’s and women’s Olympic soccer while it’s still here
Sepp Blatter has played down the chances of Great Britain football teams competing at future Olympics. The Fifa president said the British Olympic Association’s desire to have men’s and women’s teams at future Games was “legitimate” but unlikely to be fulfilled.
“This is a wish and a legitimate wish of the British Olympic Association because they want to have a football team,” said Blatter. “But this is quite a difficult task I can tell you. The four British associations would have to play a preliminary round because the qualification is the European Under-21 championships.
“Everything is possible but this would need a different approach and you have seen the difficulties they have already had to field a combined team here in London. So for the football family, and especially the four associations and Uefa, I don’t think it is likely to be done.”
AARON RAMSEY is urging Welsh football fans to throw their support behind England’s finest young guns when Team GB play in the Olympics at the Millennium Stadium.
Ramsey is part of a five-pronged Welsh contingent who will spearhead the British charge for gold at London 2012, with their key group game against Uruguay taking place in Cardiff.
Stuart Pearce’s side may also have further matches at the Millennium and Wales skipper Ramsey wants Welsh fans to give unequivocal backing to the team.
Some English players at the Millennium have historically been jeered, while Ramsey and co are participating in the Olympics against a backdrop of angst from some Welsh supporters.
But Ramsey said: ‘I hope our home fans will come together for this occasion. They need to get behind the England players in Team GB as well, because this is a real one-off.’
suggested reading: team GB and the home nations edition
Several weeks ago, I mentioned that not only is Olympic men’s soccer a U-23 tournament, but there have been tensions over the very existence of a British soccer team. Now that we’re a week away from the Olympics, it’s time to investigate this further.
It turns out that Britain has not fielded an Olympic men’s soccer team in 50 years.
Poor old Team GB. Has there ever been a less keenly cherished national team than Stuart Pearce’s collection of 13 Englishmen, five Welshmen and the absent friends of Scotland and Northern Ireland?
The reasons for the historical sense of unease are clear enough….Mainly, though, it is the issue of mingled identities that has dogged British Olympic football through its distantly grand history. Assorted English amateur selections won gold at the Games of 1900, 1908 and 1912, after which a dispute over the inclusion of professionals curtailed Olympic involvement until 1936. Post-war, amateur home nations teams competed at every Games until 1972, after which Britain as an Olympic footballing nation simply ceased to exist, stymied by further wrangles over amateurism and muddled by misgivings among the home nations over their enduring status within Fifa.
The situation is even more stark for British women: until this year, there has never been a British women’s Olympic team.
The fielding of these two British teams is happening for only one reason: Olympic host nations qualify automatically. But it’s becoming clear that, for a country as soccer-mad as the UK, enthusiasm for this particular medal opportunity (at least for the men) is surprisingly low.
The first issue surrounds the inclusion of non-English players (i.e. Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish athletes). Of vital importance here is that the United Kingdom is a nation of nations, and this is shown clearly in international team sports like cricket, rugby, and soccer. The organizing bodies of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are worried that taking part in a British team would threaten their FIFA-sanctioned status as nations and their future ability to play as independent nations in international competitions, or put another way, that in future, there would be a single Britain team, representing all four nations. The individual associations made their concerns known early. In 2009, after years of wrangling, the three Celtic nations declared that they would not participate in a team GB, but they would not stand in the way of an all-England team. But these pronouncements held no legal weight; players could not be barred from playing for the newly-formed teams.
Playing in the Olympics is for some an especially appealing prospect, since Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland haven’t traditionally been good enough to qualify for either the World Cup or the European championship. For other players, however, national identity trumps concerns about international glory. Scotland’s Julie Fleeting announced last year that she would not be playing for team GB.
Fleeting, who plays for Arsenal, has ruled herself out. The 30-year-old has backed the stance of the Scottish Football Association, which believes any involvement could affect Scotland’s independence as a football nation.
Fleeting told the Scotsman: ‘My thoughts are these: first and foremost I am a Scottish international, and that’s the most important thing for me. The SFA [Scottish Football Association] make all the decisions in terms of the national team. I would definitely not step out and say I would like to play for Team GB.
‘What I am saying is I would like to play for Scotland for as long as I am selected. I am delighted to pull on the jersey. That’s the most important thing for me. I know it’s the most important thing for all the girls that I play alongside. I would not want to jeopardise that.’
‘Obviously the Olympics is a fantastic stage but I am Scottish through and through. It might mean our girls would not have the opportunity to play for the national team in the future because some of us went to play for Team GB. That’s not a risk any of us are willing to take.’
Ryan Giggs has confirmed he wants to play for Team GB at the London Olympics even though his presence would disturb the Welsh Football Association.
The association, in common with the governing bodies of Scotland and Northern Ireland, fears that a Great Britain side will undermine the right of the four home nations to appear separately on the international stage. However, the 38-year-old is relishing the possibility of taking part and, alongside his former Manchester United team-mate David Beckham, is likely to be one of the three over-aged players allowed in the squad.
Giggs ended his career with Wales in 2007. It still left him with a hankering to appear at a major international tournament – Wales last did so when they reached the World Cup finals in 1958 – and Giggs is the only player over 23 at Old Trafford to have been given permission to take part.
Pearce could not find space for Beckham in his 18-man squad after a lack of defensive and attacking options led him to select Manchester City’s Micah Richards and Liverpool’s Craig Bellamy as two of his three overage players. That left the coach with a straight choice between Beckham and Giggs, with the latter’s more recent Premier League experience believed to have been a deciding factor.
It’s understandable, though. Giggs’s playing career has been exceptional, both in its quality and its length. (The man is 38.) And for all that, he’s never played in a major international tournament. Giggs will be the captain of the team.
And there’s still more mayhem. Not only does team manager Stuart Pearce have to negotiate these tricky minefields of national and cultural identities and loyalties, he also had a limited pool of U-23s available for selection. Why? Because England’s governing soccer body, The Football Association (otherwise known as the FA), declared that anybody who played in last month’s championships cannot be called up for the Olympics. The rule, according to Stuart Pearce last December:
‘We have agreed that any player who boards the plane to the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine will not be considered for selection to Team GB.
It would be one thing if that just narrowed the over-age possibilities. But actually, that eliminates a few key players from the Euros…
…like this guy (age 21)—and the guy providing the assist (23):
…and this guy (23):
The reason the FA cites seem (and probably are) reasonable: player fatigue. But that isn’t stopping countries like Spain from shipping off three players from their winning team to London. And while Pearce supported this decision in December, now that he’s had to actually pick a roster, he’s less happy.
Stuart Pearce has placed himself on a potential collision course with the Football Association after criticising its insistence that, Jack Butland apart, no player involved in Euro 2012 could also feature in Great Britain’s Olympic squad.
Well aware that Spain’s Olympic squad includes three players who featured at Euro 2012 – Javi Martínez, Jordi Alba and Juan Mata – the former England left-back believes he should have been permitted to pick from a wider talent pool.
‘I’ll continually send the same message out that we have to take our best players to every tournament. Not just for the sake of the manager or the coach but for the players themselves; they have to experience tournament football.’
This is a less than ideal setup for a successful campaign. David Beckham’s exclusion has probably turned away some casual fans, even as some journalists are suggesting that Beckham’s exclusion may be a good thing.
Although Beckham now suffers from a chronic lack of pace and mobility, even if he can still unleash a few Pirlo-esque passes, there was arguably a case for naming him in the squad on exceptional dead-ball ability alone. Giggs, though, is currently a bit more versatile – as well as possessing the added benefit of being Welsh and thereby bringing geographical balance to the squad.
In many ways the antithesis of the celebrity culture which surrounds modern football, Pearce is also among the least likely to have been swayed by Beckham’s fame. Indeed he may instead have harboured real concerns about the media circus which invariably surrounds a man who appears to spend as much time modelling underwear and cosying up to politicians and royalty as actually playing football these days.
Beckham’s predilection for the limelight could well have provoked a muttering of discontent. Moreover the potential chemistry between the LA Galaxy midfielder and the notoriously straight-talking Craig Bellamy – another overage Welshman in the squad very much on merit – may have proved combustible.
Organizers are reducing capacity across the soccer venues by a half million seats, a response to ticket sales figures. Meanwhile, former players/current commentators are trying to rally support for the team. See Gary Neville, for example.
All of this leads to certain questions:
- for other Olympic and Paralympic sports, the Celtic nations are enthusiastic and valuable participants in the British sporting effort. Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, for example, is Welsh, as is star hurdler-turned-commentator Colin Jackson. And while Andy Murray strongly asserts his Scottish identity, he nonetheless gladly plays for Britain. So why do some sports (team sports?) require independent teams while other sports can fall under the rubric of Britain?
- Are the stakes higher for Scotland, the one home nation most likely to achieve independence?
- What is FIFA getting out of continuing to allow the home nations to have separate teams? Are there similar concerns with the rugby and cricket organizing bodies?
- If the British teams progress through the tournament, will we see increased support? And if we do, who will be doing the supporting? The English? Or a broader British base?
In the meantime, for more thorough arguments about maintaining these three autonomous Celtic teams, here are some links.
- Welsh historian Martin Johnes insists that Welsh players who choose to play for team GB are running the risk of undermining Welsh international soccer.
- A debate between a pro-British football politician and an anti-.
More to come on this.
the Beckham Olympics saga continues
So I mentioned a few weeks back that David Beckham was slated to make his final international hurrah at the London Olympics as one of the three over-age players on the team GB soccer squad. Well, that’s not happening. The three over-age players are Micah Richards (24) and Welshmen Craig Bellamy (33) and Ryan Giggs (38). The 18-man squad has 13 Englishmen and 5 Welshman, which makes it less team GB and more team England-and-Wales.
In response, Beckham says he won’t be the one who lights the Olympic flame, since he isn’t and has never been an Olympian.
In fairness, though, was it ever going to be him? Yes, he was instrumental in bringing the Olympics to East London, but it’s hard to see anybody other than Sir Steve Redgrave lighting the flame. The other possibility is Roger Bannister, who’s old and an icon but never won a gold medal. Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson would be another possibility, but surely she’ll be lighting the flames at the Paralympics. Sebastian Coe has run the Olympics; that’s got to be honor enough. And it’s hard to see who trumps a five-time gold medalist (that’s a gold medal in five consecutive Olympics).
However, I can tell you one thing for certain: Beckham should not play for Team GB.
The organisers of the games may well owe him a debt of gratitude for the selfless (but headline generating) work he did to bring the games to London. He may even be the most positive role model in the Olympic committee; unless you’re a particular fan of Lord Coe, the personality vacuum but that doesn’t mean he is an Olympian
It is easy to forget that the Olympics isn’t a personality contest for news media and advertisers to hock isotonic sports drinks, tattoos and leotards. The Olympics is about the very best athletes competing for a place among the elite. This applies to athletics, it applies to cycling and to all the other olympic sports, so why doesn’t the same attitude apply to football?
Simple. The UK doesn’t care.
Today’s addition to the outstanding goals of the tournament collection, complete with a great sideline celebration from the coach.
Dumb move of the week goes to UEFA, which fined Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner nearly $126,000 Monday and suspended him for one World Cup qualifier for a stunt in which he celebrated a goal by pulling up his shirt to reveal an advertisement on his underwear. I can understand the market-driven reasoning for UEFA’s heavy fine, but it’s completely tone-deaf for UEFA to fine Bendtner so much more than the fines UEFA has given to national associations for incidents involving racism and crowd violence. What kind of message is UEFA sending? That protecting its sponsors is more important than taking a real stand against racism and violence. And that’s embarrassing.