When England meet Germany at Wembley, the managers will have more in common than the greying remnants of a perm, says Matt Nation
Anyone who has played in a support band or given a speech as best man at a wedding will know what it’s like to perform for an increasingly disgruntled audience. Expectation is great, pressure is enormous and, with the exception of the odd beer bottle winging through the air, rewards are few. In an attempt to make it all seem a little more attractive, such unfortunates are described in German, rather winsomely, as Pausenclowns.
As the German FA announced its plans to give Rudi Völler a one-year contract as national team manager in the wake of a disastrous Euro 2000 this summer, the word Pausenclown may well have crossed a few people’s minds. However, this may well prove to be one of the best things that has ever happened to Völler. For not only does he provide relief from the haplessness of Erich Ribbeck, he also represents the opportunity to enjoy another year without the “real” coach.
Despite an impressive record as coach for over a decade, Völler’s preordained successor in 2001, Christoph Daum, remains the weird kid in the Bundesliga playground. When interviewed, the Bayer Leverkusen coach is as jumpy as the driver of a getaway car parked outside a bank with its engine running and his answers, extemporaneous yet sensible, are delivered in the staccato of a faltering Gatling gun.
His language of motivation, although rumoured to be effective, always seems slightly wide of the mark – during a goal drought, he advised his centre forward to start thinking “like somebody selling vacuum-cleaners door-to-door” – and his plans to boost his players’ mental strength by having them walk over hot coals caused a few furrowed brows in a football world accustomed to easing crises by telling its players to put the round thing into the rectangular thing.
Völler can’t be doing with any of that. Similar to Keegan as a player, he has also enjoyed an identikit managerial career, having been plucked from relative obscurity and thrust into a high-profile job despite a complete lack of experience. Völler, however, has one crucial advantage over his English counterpart. It is the people, rather than Völler himself, who have declared him their champion, their “bloke down the pub”.
He is indeed so down-to-earth that nobody would be at all surprised if he were to reveal that he spends his weekends on the allotment, with nothing for company except a crate of lager, his three best mates and a deck of skat cards. Even his nickname – “Auntie Kath” – is welcome respite from the “Kaisers” and “Sirs” of the recent past. Despite his mild manners, he assures people he is quite capable of “banging on the table” – the German equivalent of chucking teacups and the cornerstone of success for anybody in a managerial position – but his popularity is further increased by the dearth of reports confirming this irascibility.
Most significant of all is the suitability of his name for terrace chanting. Whenever he comes within ten miles of a football ground, the crowd starts groaning his name in a reverent baritone, until the entire stadium resembles a field of cows busting to be milked. England may be past masters at dealing with minefields, lions’ dens and white-hot cauldrons, but the forthcoming game against Germany could be the first time they run out to be faced by what appear to be the inmates of an abattoir. “Christoph, Christoph”, or even “Kevin, Kevin”, just doesn’t have the same intimidating ring to it.
With a Joe Soap in charge at last, Germany remain unbeaten since Euro 2000. A few more wins could see Christoph Daum wising up to the fact that he’ll be on a hiding to nothing and remaining in the familiar environment where cheque book rather than birthplace determines success or failure. This volte-face might prove disastrous for Völler, particularly if the FA then appealed to his vanity and asked him to carry on.
Blokes down the pub are all right on condition they know when to stop. It’s when they start repeating the card tricks or, as Keegan might do, narrowing their eyes and inviting you into the car park, that the sound of chairs being scraped backwards abounds. If Rudi is wise, he’ll drink up soon before the landlord starts rolling up his sleeves.
From WSC 165 November 2000. What was happening this month