THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

12 July ~ When Nottingham Forest's 42-game unbeaten League run came to an end with a 2-0 defeat at Liverpool in November 1978, Forest manager Brian Clough stood at the Anfield tunnel and applauded the players off the field. In a post-match interview, he was praised by the BBC reporter for his sporting attitude towards the victorious Liverpool side. Clough chastised the reporter for his erroneous assumption. "I wasn't applauding Liverpool," is approximately what I remember him saying. "I was applauding my lads. They just went unbeaten for a year, don't you think they deserve it?"

There's no such generous praise for the German's women team in their domestic media after their 12-year unbeaten record in the Women's World Cup came to an end with a quarter-final defeat against Japan at the weekend. There's little or no tribute to the fact that they won the World Cup twice in succession, and that they've been European champions now a total of seven times. You're only as good as your last win in Germany, and its football media has fully exercised its freedom to criticise, just as it relentlessly flails the men's team for anything that approaches an under-par performance.

Harsh as the critiques may be, Germany's fervently free press never fails to throw up worthwhile points of discussion, as though to make up for all its past epochs of censorship. With only one gutter rag on the market (Bild), the quality regional papers boast a wide array of football writers who would never expect to be ostracised by a club for, say, asking awkward questions or writing critical columns. That environment of hard, realistic analysis has been reflected in the lack of sentimentality at Germany's unexpected exit.

Peter Ahrens of Spiegel Online blamed the German defeat partly on the German FA's relentless hype. "The DFB wanted to have its cake and eat it: it wanted to perfectly market the players and the tournament, and at the same time have the maximum sporting success." But when it came to winning the most important game, "long balls were smacked into the box again and again, gambling on the physical inferiority of the Japanese combined with our superior strength in the air. When that didn't work, a great vacuum opened up: there was no Plan B." Ahrens questioned the wisdom of having extended coach Silvia Neid's contract to 2016 just four days before the start of the tournament.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung retrospectively found that all-pervasive complacency was at the root of Germany's exit. "This World Cup was supposed to lift women's football [in Germany] to new dimensions," wrote Michael Horeni. "The triumph was already scripted into the production, and was constituent to the success of the whole plan. And this plan contained no scenario excluding Germany from the final." Germany's failure, he went on, illustrated how much the norms have shifted in women's football, and that the show had become bigger than the actors who thought they were in the starring roles.

Markus Völker in the Tageszeitung expanded on that theme, noting: "There are no more hopeless outsiders, the underdogs are baring their teeth." That, he said, was the new order, and rightly so. "We're watching the best Women's World Cup ever. That is, above all, football. At last! Because football is also about not knowing how the game will end. Women's football has become more unpredictable." Claudio Catuogno echoed that in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: "That the world champions are not Germany every time shows how competitive women's football has become. All disappointment aside, it's proof of a new quality."

But before we get too touchy-feely, here was Oliver Fritsch at Zeit Online with the knives out for Neid. The coach had the team available for three months of preparation, something men's coach Joachim Löw "can only dream of. Such a long time in the barracks demands clever leadership. Yet Neid is seen as over-strict, mistrustful, and cultivating a climate of control, even of fear. Creativity has to fight its way out. Did any single player show any further development at this World Cup?"

It's sometimes hard to read the German sports press without thinking they're a bunch of hyper-critical whiners who just don't know how lucky they are. All those World Cups and European championships, for both women's and men teams, and they're still never happy. But the kind of heavily introspective, forward-looking, free-thinking football writing rarely attained by most British papers, with the notable exception of the Guardian, is crucial to a vibrant and constructive discourse about the nation's biggest sport, and nothing but beneficial to the game. It's only one factor behind Germany's ongoing success at the top level, but any fondness for dwelling on past triumphs will always be usurped by the desire for continued progress. As legendary German coach Sepp Herberger's deceptively simplistic truism famously stated: "After the game is before the game." Ian Plenderleith

Comments (10)
Comment by treibeis 2011-07-12 13:15:48

Excellent stuff, Mr Plenderleith.

Although, hang on a minute, I've got a quibble:

"With only one gutter rag on the market (Bild),"

That may be true of the national market, but there are enough regional papers that you wouldn't have wiped Axel Springer's back passage with. (The MoPo in Hamburg and the BZ in Berlin, for example, are just as bad as Bild, if not worse).

Comment by Jean Williams 2011-07-12 13:38:51

This is very welcome in terms of Ian Plenderleith covering this Women's World Cup with some verve for WSC. It contrasts, though, with a lack of interest in England generally, even on a quiet rest day of the tournament and with relatively little of sporting interest going on. There needs to be a balanced assessment of Hope Powell's role in changing attitudes at the FA towards women's football from one where it was acceptable to have posters of Ian Wright in a blonde wig to one where a semi-professional Women's Super League has been launched. This represents considerable progress in 13 years. Yet, there is still so much to do, with most women's Premiership reserve teams closed down and Centres of Excellence closed in order to make the Super League happen.

There seems to have been a recent polarisation of female development in that the FA constantly claims to have the 'fastest growing female team sport' at mass level. This is debatable given the stats for other sports. It also relies on the army of unrewarded volunteers who should be given honours rather than those given to FA 'insiders'. Then there is the England national team. It is still more lucrative and beneficial to go to the States if you are a good female player. Like them or loathe them, the US women's national team players endure. They look like they are on a mission to repay Germany for 'ruining' their 2003 World Cup by winning in Germany in 2011. We could leanr from this professionalism.
I agree with Ian's comments-the presence of Japan and Australia is a very welcome counter to the Eurocentric & North American nature of WWC up to now. An expanded tournament in Canada 2015 to 24 teams and the presence of Nigeria in the final at the U20 WWC last year in Germany 2010 bodes well for more competitive future tournaments. We just have the Team GB brou-ha-ha to get out of the way in 2012 first!

Comment by JimDavis 2011-07-12 14:19:20

No such praise for the German team after their 12 year unbeaten record came to an end. Sounds very much like when that other sporting dynesty that ended this year - the Australian men's one day cricket team and their unbeaten run in world cups.
Have to say I enjoyed all the games I watched of this world cup, but left scratching my head at the number of long range efforts that seem to go past the 'keepers within the middle third of the goal. Did FIFA decide to play with another newly designed football in this WC?

Comment by innocent bystander 2011-07-12 14:50:02

The German team is an example of team preparation gone wrong. In that respect Oliver Fritsch was correct. On a different note it was simply put too much pressure on the team to win the World Cup. And everybody played to that tune, thus making it even more difficult to cope with the constant pressure of being under media scrutiny. The TV were the main shakers and movers in making everybody believe another summer fairy tale is going to happen this year, there is not an iota of introspection to be found.

Rudi Völler was right in 2003: there are no minnows any more in world football nowadays.

An excellent article!

Comment by G.Man 2011-07-12 16:42:56

Indeed, an excellent piece.

How much of a difference a sliver of luck can make. Maybe if Kulig had not been injured, or one of those long-range shots had hit the target, or the ref had sent of a Japanese player for one of a few professional fouls, or Maruyama had scuffed her shot, or my aunty had balls, the German press would hail Sylvia Neid as the female Sepp Herberger and her team as legends.

And what treibeis said about the German 'Boulevardzeitungen'. The Express in Cologne is another compendium of vileness.

Comment by Peter_Bateman 2011-07-12 18:05:11

Neid was also taking a lot of stick over her selections, in particular her favourites from Frankfurt, notably Birgit Prinz but also Ariane Hingst both clearly past their sell-by dates, and who in the view of most observers had done nothing last season to justify selection. This is a sore point in Potsdam who, despite being champions, had only three players in the squad, one of whom had anyone had anyway signed for Frankfurt. Bernd Schroder was on TV again today putting the boot in on Neid, and doubtless enjoying it hugely!

Comment by imp 2011-07-12 20:12:09

Meant to say "the only national gutter rag". Thanks for all the feedback, Ian.

Comment by SoccerLimey 2011-07-13 06:58:08

I don't think it's too unreal to think that no praise would be due. It's women's football, for Christ's sake. The men's team wouldn't get any praise either, no matter where they play.

Try Italy out and see how that works for you.

Comment by jameswba 2011-07-13 15:52:04

I too enjoyed the article but (and apologies for going on an off-topic rant) was a little struck by the 'notable exception' made of the Guardian's football coverage. There's plenty I'd praise the Guardian for, including its relentlessness in pursuing the phone-hacking scandal and its truly fantastic cricket coverage, courtesy of Selvey, Brearley, Bull etc.

But football? John Ashdown is doing his best with the Womens' World Cup but you can almost hear his editor telling him not to get too excited. Jonathan Wilson is in a class of his own, of course, and David Conn does some good investigative stuff, but then what? I don't see a lot more than McCarra, Williams, Wilson and Hayward with their 'Arsene's a genius'/'Wenger's lost the plot' type pieces and Daniel Taylor with his pseudo-psychologist's analyses of Fergie's body language. More quantity than quality to be frank.

I think I've enjoyed the Women's World Cup because it's reminded me of how football tournaments used to be before they became media/celebrity circuses. I've read Ashdown, the 2 or 3 (very good) pieces on here and watched the games. Nothing more - and it's been great.

Comment by Peter_Bateman 2011-07-13 16:16:06

For those who read German more pearls of wisdom from Herr Schroder here http://www.taz.de/1/sport/wm-2011-mixed-zone/artikel/1/der-scheiss-faellt-uns-jetzt-auf-die-fuesse/

He apparently takes no pleasure from Germany's failure, no really!!

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