There’s one thing my coach never tired of saying to me: “Hau den Ball ins Tor hinein!” – best translated with: “Just slam it into the back of the net!” What did yours used to say to you? What about this one: “I’m taking you with me to South Africa”? If he did, he was probably just offering to take you on holiday.
But we’re talking World Cup, and Germany is going mad for it – with still two months to go. The media are making things worse, speculating constantly on the make-up of the team – e.g. whether the national coach Löw will cap Kuranyi or not. Everyone in Germany has an opinion on who he should take, especially Franz Beckenbauer.
Contributing to the growing hype around the World Cup is the fiftieth birthday of Rudi Völler, a major German striker from back in the day. Fans associate him (and Frank Rijkaard) with the World Cup victory of 1990, and remember his years of sterling service for big teams like 1860 München, Werder Bremen, Bayer Leverkusen, AS Rom and Olympique Marseille; despite all of this professional football, though, Völler has kept his feet on the ground, and his down-to-earth attitude whilst coaching the national team only made him more popular than he already was. On top of that, he got Germany through to the final of the South Korean World Cup in 2002 and turned himself into the stuff of legend with his televised tirade during the qualifying stages of the European Cup in 2003.
As sports director on the board of Bayer Leverkusen, he still maintains a presence in the Bundesliga of today – and is pretty much the only member of the 1990 team who has managed to! All of the other ten players who helped see off Argentina in the finals back then have disappeared – Illgner, Augenthaler, Berthold, Kohler, Buchwald, Brehme, Häßler, Matthäus, Littbarski, Klinsmann. Bodo Illgner, for example, is now in retirement in Spain; Thomas Berthold, Jürgen Kohler, Guido Buchwald and Andreas Brehme all had spells of bad luck trying to get a foot back in the door of professional paid football at Düsseldorf, Aalen, Aachen and Stuttgart. Then there’s old bow-legged Pierre Littbarski, who has also just turned 50, is now trying to get back into the swing as an intern at Bayern München. And then there’s Lothar Matthäus, of course: the legendary playmaker of 1990 is now nothing more than a laughing stock after his various embarrassing dalliances with various women… Or take a look at Klaus Augenthaler, whose spells coaching in the Bundesliga at teams like Munich, Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Nuremberg have resulted in nothing more than his current desperate attempts to keep in the game by coaching at little-known Unterhaching. The only one who can even hold a candle to Völler is Thomas Häßler, who coaches at 1. FC Köln. And then there’s Jürgen Klinsmann, who materialised like a saviour back in 2004 and led the national team to a series of stunning World Cup victories in 2006. Nevertheless, he went on to Bayern as a God and came back as a fallen idol; then he disappeared to the US. So no matter who Löw takes with to South Africa this time round, we can only hope that they have more success after the World Cup than their predecessors.
And who might that be? The 31st day of play would seem to be recommending strikers for the illustrious heights of the World Cup squad – and not just Kevin Kuranyi. Not Bayern’s Miroslav Klose, mind, who was ill this weekend. Nor his counterpart Mario Gomez, who was left hogging the subs’ bench. And not even Lukas Podolski, despite his solid groundwork for one of Cologne’s goals against Bochum. No: the striker who looks likely to get a selection on the basis of his work on this day of play is Thomas Müller, who scored two of Bayern’s 7 (count ‘em!) goals against Hannover. Olic and the unbelievable Arjen Robben also did well, scoring two and three of the remaining goals respectively. Hannover had plenty of time to analyse their defeat on the way home, what with Iceland’s volcano playing havoc with air travel. The long bus journey will have been clouded by thoughts of relegation, with Hannover’s defeat putting them back in the danger zone as Freiburg won 2:1 against Nuremberg. This leaves five teams fighting against relegation: Nuremberg, Bochum, Freiburg, Hannover and of course Berlin, who already seem utterly condemned.
Another two attackers who also want to go to South Africa came head-to-head against each other as VfB Stuttgart and Bayer Leverkusen lined up on this 31st day of play; Leverkusen’s Stefan Kießling scored his 19th goal of the season and put Leverkusen ahead, but Cacau hit back for Stuttgart with two goals and took his team to victory and into the European league. This led to Leverkusen losing their Champions’ League spot, too, with Werder Bremen having taken their place.
This boys from Bremen just haven’t stopped climbing recently, winning 4:2 against Wolfsburg thanks mainly to Torsten Frings, who scored twice – and then gave interviews full of frustration about how Löw is not concentrating on performance in selecting the World Cup team, with Frings being quoted as saying that if Löw had been looking at performance alone, he wouldn’t have dropped him.
So we’ll have to hope that Frings is wrong, that Löw is open to reason and is listening to Beckenbauer – Völlers trainer back in 1990 – and to Klinsmann, his friend and predecessor. But even if they give good advice and Löw picks a good squad, he’ll still have trouble convincing the 80 million other coaches in Germany that he’s got the right guys with him in South Africa.
(Stefan Reichart/Brian Melican)
Results Matchday 31:
1. FC Köln – VfL Bochum 2:0
VfB Stuttgart – Bayer Leverkusen 2:1
VfL Wolfsburg – Werder Bremen 2:4
FC Schalke 04 – Borussia Mönchengladbach 3:1
Hamburger SV – 1. FSV Mainz 05 0:1
SC Freiburg – 1. FC Nürnberg 2:1
Bayern München – Hannover 96 7:0
Borussia Dortmund – 1899 Hoffenheim 1:1
Eintracht Frankfurt – Hertha BSC Berlin 2:2
1 Bayern München 63 P
2 FC Schalke 04 61 P
3 Werder Bremen 54 P
4 Bayer Leverkusen 54 P
5 Borussia Dortmund 53 P
6 VfB Stuttgart 50 P
7 Hamburger SV 48 P
8 VfL Wolfsburg 46 P
9 Eintracht Frankfurt 45 P
10 1. FSV Mainz 05 44 P
11 1. FC Köln 37 P
12 Borussia Mönchengladbach 37 P
13 1899 Hoffenheim 35 P
14 1. FC Nürnberg 28 P
15 VfL Bochum 28 P
16 SC Freiburg 28 P
17 Hannover 96 27 P
18 Hertha BSC Berlin 23 P