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Nein zum Englischen Modell

Callum Seddon

Das Reboot cover

Raphael Honigstein
Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World
Yellow Jersey Press, 2015
£18.99 (hardback)
288 Pages
ISBN: 9780224100120

The object chosen by curator Neil McGregor to conclude last year’s British Museum exhibition Germany: Memories of a Nation was a replica of Germany’s 2014 football kit, representing the national team’s success at the World Cup held in Brazil that year. In an exhibition that brought together a bible inscribed by Luther, the Bauhaus-inspired gates from Buchenwald, and fragments from the Berlin Wall, football seemed like a strange place to end. But it made a crucial point about the formation of contemporary Germany’s national identity: the pride and confidence in the triumphant Deutscher Fußball Bund (DFB) team, and therefore in the nation at large, was seen as a fitting conclusion to McGregor’s reflection on how Germany had, even in a relatively short period of time, changed dramatically in the way it perceived itself. Earlier in 2014, McGregor spoke in Oxford about the exhibition. One of the first slides he discussed depicted German fans welcoming the triumphant DFB team at the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin. For many Germans, he said, this may have been their first time singing the national anthem with an attitude of Selbstbewusstsein, rather than awkwardness. Raphael Honigstein translates this term for us in Das Reboot: ‘In German, confidence and its opposite, self-consciousness, are the same word: Selbstbewusstsein. We don’t see the contradiction – to be aware of yourself is to be confident’. As Honigstein points out, however, that earlier reluctance to show support for the DFB may have really just stemmed from the fact that, at the turn of the millennium, the German national team was something of a national embarrassment: boring, defensive and uninspired football in which it was hoped a match would be won with lucky headers.

Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World examines the significance of Germany’s World Cup success in greater detail. Honigstein, a journalist for The Guardian and Sueddeutsche Zeitung, has previously offered a German’s perspective of English football and culture in his first book Englischer Fußball. Das Reboot focuses exclusively on German matters. The book shifts between past and (near) present, switching between each stage of the World Cup and a broader account of the long-term planning of the DFB: the establishing of a network of regional youth training academies (Stützpunkte), and the implementation of new training methods and technologies. It describes how, under Jürgen Klinsmann and later Joachim Löw, the Nationalmannschaft began to play a more exciting, effective, fast-paced kind of football.

The historical chapters, interspersed between chapters devoted to each World Cup match, attempt to make the connection between past and present more apparent. It can feel oddly jarring to move from the fast-paced analysis of individual games to the narration of dry details, such as the balancing of youth players’ academic and sporting education. These clashes in tone and tempo are particularly present when – without prior warning – Honigstein suddenly drops out of the picture entirely, only to be replaced by former DFB players (in one chapter, Thomas Hitzlsperger recounts his experiences at the World Cup in Germany in 2006, and in another, Arne Friedrich describes South Africa 2010).

On the other hand, this structure can be effective. This is noticeable when Honigstein narrates the World Cup-winning goal: Mario Götze’s volley past Argentina’s Sergio Romero. Only a few pages earlier, Honigstein had described the role of a contraption called the Footbonaut on the DFB’s training, a 14 by 14 Astroturf cage that unpredictably fires balls at players, who have to quickly control and shoot the ball through a series of small targets in quick succession. It becomes clear – even if ultimately impossible to prove – that Götze’s winning goal was precisely the kind of action that the Footbonaut tries to relentlessly drill into its trainees.

Das Reboot is very much a book of two halves. On the one hand, it is a ‘close reading’ of one team’s highly successful international campaign. But on the other, it is a story that offers insight into the relationship between football and national identity. To return to that concept of Selbstbewusstsein, it’s easy to see why there is so much confidence in the current state of German football, at both the international, and league level. The confidence in the collective abilities of a team rather than a simple injection of money (discussed by Honigstein in his account of the unlikely rise of TSG Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga), is one that makes for a stark contrast with today’s Premier League clubs. As the banner of some recent FC Bayern München fans recently declared (in response to the injection of yet more cash into the English Premier League): Nein zum Englischen Modell.

Callum Seddon is a D.Phil student in English at Merton College.