Made in Germany

In an extract from the new edition of Tor!, his book on the history of German football, Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger explains the ethnic make-up of the national side

On a cloudy Saturday, the first day of September 2001, England came to Munich for a crucial World Cup qualifier. On paper, things looked promising for Germany, who probably only needed a draw to go through to the finals. The country approached the match with op­timism, even anticipation, content with the job Rudi Völler had done so far. During his 13 months at the helm, the new national coach had put into action many of the ideas his two predecessors regarded as suicidal. Ger­many no longer played with a sweeper, although you could still have listed the formation as 3-5-2. However, it was the system Argentina had popularised during the 1998 World Cup, with a flat back three and a crowd­ed midfield that did most of the defending before the opposition even reached the last third of the pitch.

Völler, with his close ties to Leverkusen, had also concluded that Michael Ballack was not the underachieving loafer most people made him out to be, but the cornerstone of his new side. It was an­other, though less obvious, example of Ger­many suddenly taking notice of what went on in mod­ern football, because it appeared that most good teams’ true playmakers were no long­er the stylish men-in-the-hole with the No 10 on their backs. Rather, they were all-rounders like Argentina’s Juan Sebastián Verón or Holland’s Edgar Davids – defensive midfielders who could distribute the ball and then exploit the space that was opening up before them. At Leverkusen, the new coach Klaus Toppmöller had acted accordingly and pulled Ballack back, a move that would soon yield astonishing results.

Finally, during the early months of 2001 Völler had given games to quite a few younger players such as Sebastian Kehl and Torsten Frings – a trend that would reach unprecedented heights in August 2002, when Hertha Berlin’s Arne Friedrich set a new record by becoming an international after only two Bundesliga appearances.

It was not only in terms of tactics and blooding young­­sters that Völler’s selection policy was seen as a new departure. Three months before the England game in Munich, he had given Schalke’s Gerald Asa­moah his debut in a friendly against Slovakia. Contrary to some reports in the foreign press, the stunning as­pect of this selection was not that Asamoah was black. Erwin Kostedde and William “Jimmy” Hartwig, both the sons of American GIs and German mothers, had played for West Germany in the 1970s. What made Asamoah different was not the colour of his skin. It was that he had been born in a foreign country, to non-German parents. Under the peculiarly stringent Ger­man citizenship laws – often criticised as a Nazi relic, although in fact they date back to 1913 – it is your blood ancestry only that defines your nationality. What’s more, Germans are very rarely allowed dual nationality and since most people hold a passport of the country in which they were born, this meant that many mi­grants who came to live in Germany were not eligible for the national team.

There is another reason why German teams have been far less racially mixed than those of other Eur­opean countries. As part of the conditions imposed on the losers of the First World War, Germany was de­prived of its colonies. So while Portugal, Holland and France later reaped the footballing benefit of their over­seas possessions through players who defined whole eras, such as Eusébio, Ruud Gullit and Zinedine Zi­dane, we will never know how different German foot­ball might have been if it had harnessed the talents of east Africa or the Pacific islands – or even Cameroon, which was also grabbed by Germany in its colonial era.

Nevertheless, there had been a few men who be­stowed the national team with a more cosmopolitan air. There was Ernst Willimowski, who scored four goals against Switzerland in 1942 for Sepp Her­berger’s side. Four years earlier, he had also found the net four times in an international, but that had been at the 1938 World Cup, against Brazil – and for Poland. Willimowski, born in Katowice, played for Germany as a result of the war, but he did also have German ancestors. (There were also very many other players with Polish ancestry who graced Germany’s teams over many decades, but since most of those were de­scendants of workers who had moved west before the First World War, when Silesia and other Polish pro­vinces still belonged to Prussia, their nationality was never a big issue.)

The 1954 World Cup winner Jupp Posipal was an­other with more tenuous German connections. Posi­pal’s mother was from Budapest and he was born in Transylvania. But since his father was a Swabian baker who had settled on the Danube, the Nazis considered him and his family “ethnic Germans” and ordered him “back to the Reich” in 1943. Finally, there was Rainer Bonhof – the man who delivered the cross Gerd Müller converted for the goal that won the 1974 World Cup final against Holland. Bonhof’s parents were them­selves Dutch, although they lived in Emmerich, a town on the German side of the Rhine, where Rainer was born and played his youth football. Bonhof’s example proves that you could get a German passport once you had lived in the country for a while, but his was an isolated case until the late 1990s, when players like Sean Dundee (from South Africa) and Paolo Rink (Brazil) became naturalised Germans in order to be able to play for their adopted country. However, all these men had to discard their original nationality.

The restrictions on dual nationality, even though slightly relaxed in 1999, have prevented what would have been the most dramatic changes in the ethnic composition of the national squad. There are almost 2.5 million Turkish citizens in Germany, mostly as a result of the influx of “guest workers” in the 1960s and 1970s, and it is not uncommon to find German youth teams in which every third player is of Turkish origin. However, for the vast majority of them it is out of the question to relinquish their Turkish passports.

This has created a curious situation as far as football is concerned. In the 2002 World Cup final, Germany fielded the Ghanaian-born Asamoah, the Polish-born Miroslav Klose and Oliver Neuville, who is from the French-speaking part of Switzerland. But some of the best football on offer at the tournament came from Turkey, whose squad included half a dozen players born between Hamburg and Munich and who all spoke perfect German (in contrast to Neuville).

It is open to debate how easily the German public would accept a national team with more than just one or two strange-sounding names in it, but all the signs are that it would pose few problems. There were arg­uments over Dundee and Rink becoming German, but they had nothing to do with football or the make-up of the national team. Rather, it was a political debate about the fact that the laborious naturalisation process was accelerated for two famous footballers, while less prominent people often had to wait years for passports. In the case of Asamoah’s selection, other countries took much more notice than Germans them­selves.

Two months before Asamoah made his first appearance, Völler also gave a debut to a striker who was born in Poland to Polish parents. Young Klose came on as what he now called his country was drawing with Albania; two minutes from time he scored the winner. And in March 2003, a player who is the living embodiment of the melting-pot metaphor became a German inter­­­national. Stutt­gart’s Ke­vin Kuranyi was born in Rio de Janeiro, to a Pan­amanian mo­ther and a Ger­man father who had grown up in France. He has one grand­­father from Hun­gary and a great-grandfather from Denmark.

In all likelihood, Germany will field many more players in the future with similarly diverse back­grounds, for one thing because the dual nationality rules are less stringent for countries that are in the EU – and that means large parts of central Europe now, and probably Turkey in the near future.

From WSC 198 August 2003. What was happening this month