England won’t learn German lesson

It was the most astonishing series in international football I had ever seen. For a team of such serious World Cup heritage to concede four goals so easily, without offering any resistance and in such a mentally fragile state, was a truly unbelievable sight to behold. I am speaking, of course, of Germany – specifically Germany’s throwing away of a four-goal lead in the last half an hour in a World Cup qualifier at home to Sweden to draw 4-4 barely eighteen months ago.

Much is already being written about Germany’s World Cup triumph, and mostly correctly: it was a triumph of youth development; of involving clubs in the national team’s development; of top-quality coaching at every level; of promoting the game with a community sense and not just a business one. Yet another point is often missed – namely Germany’s remarkable ability to perform when it really counts.

This is a German team which recently lost at home to Australia; which got stuffed two years ago at home by the same Argentine team it beat in this year’s Final; which is decidedly average even in the occasional competitive qualifier. Yet it has appeared in every World Cup quarter-final since 1954 – a scarcely believable statistic, especially when added to a joint-record three European Championship wins in that period.

In fact, since 1954, Germany’s overall win-loss record is scarcely better than England’s. Yet Germany has now won the World Cup twice as often as England has even reached the semi-final; since 1966, Germany has reached the Final as often as England has reached the quarter-final.

There is a specific skill, even within tournaments, to managing performance – one the Germans have mastered. Take a quick glance at World Cup history and note how even Germany’s group games follow the same basic pattern – usually an opening win to get off the mark, followed by an average second game (sometimes even a defeat), and then the result required to get through; alternatively, if they happen to win the second game, they’ll often lose the third (to, say, Denmark or even in one case East Germany!) The team then begins to gather pace through to, and usually beyond, the quarter-final.

Even if the English got the youth development right, the coaching right and the club linkage right (and there is evidence they are getting somewhere with the first two of these at least), there is little evidence they understand how to be a Turniermannschaft – how to manage a competition and the level of preparation (mental and physical) required.

Thus, we should probably expect Germany’s fifth star before England’s second.


2 thoughts on “England won’t learn German lesson

  1. Seymour Major says:

    There is something that is very difficult to train in a sports team. The ability to handle pressure at crucial moments in a game.. It is something the Germans repeatedly do exceptionally well at in Soccer. Their stats for winning penalty shoot-outs lend a lot of weight to that contention.. Yesterday, I read in the Sunday Times that they have won five out of six penalty shoot-outs in knock out matches at World Cups – a stat which no other country can match.

    The English FA ought to compare their situation with French Rugby. In that setup, the French Top 14 clubs have unlimited financial power. Resultantly, their top sides are building club teams which cannot be bettered in Europe – yet despite the size of their player resources, the French National rugby team is a disaster.

    Contrast the structure of English football with English Rugby Union. In the latter case, there has been a structure in place from grass-roots upwards which is geared towards achieving a No. 1 ranked national rugby team. That structure has been in place since 2008. We a seeing the early fruits of that with the continuing improvement of the current England team.

    I do not think that England Football can never learn the German lesson. I would agree that it would be very difficult because there is one obstacle that would be exceptionally difficult to surmount – namely, the club versus country problem. To achieve that, there has to be a willingness by the top Premier Club owners to agree to rules which would curtail their financial power. That might be too difficult to achieve.

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