Former German international one of few sticking up for FIFA’s decision
13 March ~ It says a lot about the character of Stefan Effenberg that, despite a long and rewarding professional career, he is still most remembered in Germany for getting sent home from the 1994 World Cup after showing the “Stinkefinger” to fans who were booing his anaemic display against South Korea. Manager Berti Vogts never picked him again, and his remaining international appearances were restricted to a couple of friendlies four years later under Erich Ribbeck.
Effenberg was the last of a dying breed in German football – the unrepentant arsehole. Even the whiney Thomas Müller in the current generation of publicity-friendly, well-mannered young men is only the shadow of a jerk compared with the disdainful, contemptuous manner of players such as Günther Netzer, Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthäus and Andy Möller. Their bluster and arrogance were fuelled by a comical lack of self-awareness, not to mention any shred of a sense of humour. It's hardly surprising, then, that Effenberg has crawled back into the public consciousness in order to defend Qatar as host of the 2022 World Cup.
It seems that Effenberg – these days a dreary analyst on Sky's moribund Bundesliga coverage – was the only prominent personality that state channel ARD could persuade to come on to their Monday evening current affairs round table, Hart Aber Fair (Hard But Fair), to talk favourably about the 2022 tournament. Lined up against him were prominent representatives from the Greens and the Social Democrats, and an eloquent, morally well-grounded evangelical theologian, Wolfgang Huber. Even the president of the German foreign trade board, who started out with the asinine slogan "Change Through Trade", was more or less won over to the side opposing either a Christmas World Cup, or Qatar hosting the tournament at all.
There were no concessions from “Eff”, though. Qatar had "earned the chance" to host the World Cup, he maintained. What about corruption? The abhorrent mass abuse of migrant workers building the stadiums? Effenberg stuck to his – regardless of how Qatar won the bidding process, "through corruption or not", they had still earned their chance. The now notorious clip was shown of Beckenbauer irascibly telling reporters that there was no slavery in Qatar and that, "I don't know where these reports come from – my picture is much more realistic.”
Back in the studio, and to the bafflement and bemusement of his fellow panellists, Effenberg said he agreed with the Kaiser. He'd played in Qatar for seven-and-a-half months at the end of his career, so he too had seen "another side to the story". Some footage showing the living conditions of migrant workers, and citing Human Rights Watch statistics of 1,200 worker deaths since construction began on the World Cup stadiums, likewise had no effect on the po-faced former Bayern and Mönchengladbach midfielder. Why, he regularly called his old team-mates in Qatar and they had told him the situation was "not the way people have written about it".
When others spoke, Effenberg either looked exasperated or, when the discussion moved into a more detailed analysis of the ethics of doing business with corrupt and authoritarian Middle East regimes (Saudi Arabia is a huge customer of German industry), bored. "If we're not talking about Qatar any more, can I go?" he asked an hour into the programme. He wasn't trying to be funny. He was just being Effenberg.
Moderator Frank Plasberg at one point apologised for the lack of female representation on the discussion panel, and confessed that a lot of people had backed out of appearing on the show. It must have been a struggle finding someone prepared to not only back the Qatar World Cup, but to appear in public and do so. In the end, only the limited intellect and thick skin of a Beckenbauer or an Effenberg were going to both fit the bill and actually appear on camera.
The only encouraging news for those considering a boycott of the tournament, or still hoping that Qatar will be pulled as host and the bidding process re-opened, is that the repellent, dull-witted Effenberg genuinely reflects the paucity of arguments on the pro-Qatar side. Depressingly, though, you have the feeling that the only true words he spoke all night where when he insisted that the tournament will take place there, come what may. Because in FIFA's world, the arseholes still rule. Ian Plenderleith