sábado, junio 03, 2006

Che and the Germans

As it happens, this article has nothing to do with the Latin American hero Ernesto "El Che" Guevara.

The article by Spiegel talks about the greatest German team ever to be fielded during a World Cup.

So, because I like football, here it goes:

1974 World Cup

Land of the Long-Haired Legends

By Klaus Brinkbäumer

Helmut Schmidt had succeeded Willy Brandt as chancellor; Gerd Müller looked like Che Guevara, and Franz Beckenbauer was already calling the shots. The 1974 World Cup revisited.

There are weeks in every childhood when the pace of life picks up and the world suddenly unfolds before your eyes. And when those weeks have passed into oblivion, the world has become a different place. Bigger and wider.

It was the summer of 1974, a cool and rather wet one at that. It was the summer that followed Willy Brandt's resignation as chancellor and Helmut Schmidt's election as his successor. The red-alert summer of the Baader-Meinhof terrorists. The summer of Abba's "Waterloo." And the summer when men dressed in navy tracksuits with three white stripes would appear on television day in, day out. Longhaired men who were dubbed rebels because they drove Jaguars and owned discos.

It was the summer when even Gerd "Podge" Müller, Germany's goal poacher extraordinaire, managed to look like Che Guevara.

The year 1974 was to the new generation what 1954 had been to its parents. The boys who were born in the mid-1960s and played football of an afternoon in the fields behind their houses - using goals carpentered by their fathers - got their first taste of the World Cup that summer. It was a year when kids growing up in Hiltrup, a suburb of the oh-so up-market Westphalian city of Münster, had to go on weekend walks with their parents, every darn Sunday. Across the parking lot of the local hotel, past the tennis club and around Steiner Lake. A whole 35 minutes of purgatory before they were free to kick a single ball.

And then, suddenly, there they were.

Cruyff, Neeskens, Rep, Haan, Rensenbrink were getting out of a bus at their team headquarters, our Waldhotel Krautkrämer. At first they didn't want to sign autographs, but eventually they relented. We pasted their signatures in albums right beside match reports from the local Westfälische Nachrichten paper. We were allowed to round up their balls during practice, and even reenact their victories: 4-1 over Bulgaria in the first round, then 4-0 against Argentina, 2-0 against East Germany and 2-0 against Brazil. Holland in sleepy Hiltrup. It was like magic.

But with their orange shirts, long hair, and flowing game, that team oozed glamour, art. They were the embodiment of success. This was the way life was supposed to be. We Hiltrupers were even ready to concede the sport's ultimate prize to this Dutch team.

Until that night at the pool.

Cruyff and the others were lounging around in deck chairs with a few local girls. And the Bild newspaper ran a story only because one of its reporters was on hand. When the paper hit the newsstands, Cruyff had to spend nights on the phone to his wife, trying to rescue his marriage. That's why he couldn't prepare sensibly for the final.

Naked Hiltrup girls in the pool? That wasn't the way we were brought up. That was disgusting. We were still at elementary school.

And thus it was that a single headline in a single tabloid newspaper restored the patriotism of many Hiltrup youngsters. That was why we cheered Gerd Müller's winning goal; at the end of the day, we had been reincarnated as faithful fans who had never abandoned their beloved team for a single moment.

Today everyone knows that the Dutch neither understood nor accepted their defeat. Some disappointments simply refuse to die. After the final, at their banquet, they were fêted as winners. They forged their own reality, and reveled in it.

The Polish created a fantasy world as well. After their 1-0 loss to the Germans, after the deluge - a true legend in which Frankfurt's stadium was transformed into a lake district and keeper Sepp Maier somehow saved the day - after that game, rumors were rife in Poland that the Germans had only pumped the water from the Polish half of the field. Enabling Gerd Müller to score the solitary goal of the game and ensuring that Poland's inspirational attack was bogged down in the mire. Everything was a plot, organized crime at the very least, tantamount to the start of World War III. This is how the defeat must have felt to many Poles. Nothing could change their minds. Not even the pleas of their top stars, Deyna and Lato, when they got home: "It's nonsense. Firstly, the teams swapped sides at the interval. And, secondly, we got to choose ends at the toss-up." It was all to no avail.

Because in soccer, legends have always been more powerful than truths.

This 1974 World Cup was the tournament of legends. And that it has remained for those who played in it - and most likely for all of today's 40-year-olds who first caught the fever during its four dramatic weeks.

West Germany were hosting football's greatest pageant, and were beaten by East Germany in the initial phase by a solitary goal. As a result, they found themselves in a second-round group with Yugoslavia, Sweden and Poland - avoiding the formidable Argentina, Brazil and Holland in the notorious "group of death." That was how West Germany reached the final. And fifty-seven seconds after this match had started, without having even touched the ball, the Germans found themselves a goal behind to a Neeskens' penalty. Yet they still went on to lift the trophy.

That whole World Cup was one huge adventure. And what a final it was, with Hölzenbein's dive and Breitner's penalty kick to level the score; with Müller's swivel and soft shot past the Dutch keeper to make it 2-1. Past Jongbloed who only needed to throw himself to the right as he had so many times in training before our very own eyes. It was 2-1 at halftime. After the restart Beckenbauer and Maier marshaled the team's defenses, and Vogts played better and better against Cruyff. When the game was over, we watched German President Walter Scheel presenting the trophy to Franz Beckenbauer.

The tournament got off to a fine start, even for the Germans from the East. Two years earlier they had captured the bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Munich. And now they were climbing out of their plane wearing shocking green shirts and shocking yellow ties. They practiced in public and enjoyed the life in the West. It was a time when Erich Honecker was encouraging private consumption and openmindedness in his country. You could even buy Levi's and Wranglers on the other side of the Wall.

Was it coincidence that East Germany played more vibrant, more liberated soccer than at any time before or after during those weeks?

"Eight, nine, ten, great." That was the battle cry of the 1,300 fans who had been nominated by their worker cooperatives and then ferried to the West, where they proudly brandished the flag with the hammer and compass emblem. Croy, Bransch, Kische, Streich - these were their idols. East Germany beat Australia 2-0, drew 1-1 with Chile, and then edged the West 1-0. That probably meant as much to the East Germans as the trophy itself did to the "class enemy."

For the West Germans, the tournament got off to a shaky start. They had dazzled fans with their brilliance at the European championship in 1972. "Rambazamba" was the buzzword chosen by Günter Netzer and Franz Beckenbauer to describe the team's fluid tactics and formations, the German answer to total football. But now, in the summer of 1974, they found themselves performing lethargically, losing warm-up games and being booed for their pains. The Bayern Munich players had run out of steam after winning the European Cup, and Netzer - the same Netzer who, 30 years on, would demand unrelenting concentration from Germany's new footballing generation - was strangely listless.

Then Erwin Kremers, Schalke's leftwinger, was kicked out of the squad for calling a referee a "stupid pig" on the final day of the Bundesliga season. "At least three times," the match report specified. And then came the dispute over bonuses.

A new era in sports had just dawned. Real money was flowing into the game. The players, nudged by Beckenbauer, who was being nudged by his agent Robert Schwan, demanded their share. They wanted 100,000 deutschmarks each if they won the trophy. Needless to say, the public and German Football Federation were outraged. The team's coach Helmut Schön alternately threatened to quit and nominate 22 new players. In the end, a compromise figure of 70,000 was agreed.

The players were packed off to their training camp in Malente near the Danish border. "The trip to Legoland was our big day out," claimed right-back Paul Breitner. But the reality was different: Beckenbauer spent his nights with actress Heidi Brühl, and others headed off to the Reeperbahn, Hamburg's red-light district.

Overath was selected in midfield, with winger Uli Hoeness noting the political parallel: Overath replacing Günter Netzer was like Helmut Schmidt replacing Willi Brandt. In both cases, he felt, a visionary had given way to a pragmatist.

But even pragmatism is no adequate description for the hosts' 1-0 win over Chile. Unadulterated torture, it took a speculative, long-range strike from Breitner to save their necks. "You don't score those against real keepers," the man of the hour agreed afterward. The 3-0 win against Australia represented a slight improvement, but was marred by Beckenbauer spitting toward the jeering fans. Even after two wins, the squad and their supporters were still miles apart. "We weren't together. The team wasn't a team," Hoeness said. Then came the 1-0 defeat by East Germany. Leaving West Germany as runners-up in their group.

This gave rise to another one of those legends: The Night in Malente.

Coach Helmut Schön, the man with the trademark cloth cap, "the kind of guy who hated conflict" according to Hoeness, broke down with palpitations, and Beckenbauer seized control. He talked the coach into changes. Revamped the team. Suddenly Hoeness, Grabowski, Cullmann and Flohe were out. And Bonhof, Herzog, Wimmer and Hölzenbein were in.

The next day Beckenbauer passed the ball around the practice pitch, juggled it occasionally and - interspersed with theatrical yawns - cast tasty morsels to the reporters. Hoeness "needed to improve 100 percent," was one of the juicier revelations. Later everyone else, Netzer included, raved that this very night in Malente had seen Franz Beckenbauer's inauguration as the emperor of German football.

The tournament continued for the players from East Germany, but they had already had their day. Against Brazil, they were in for an unpleasant surprise: Jairzinho, who had squeezed into their wall on the edge of the box, fell like a sack of potatoes as Rivelino shot. Such dastardly behavior was unknown in the communist world. Rivelino's free kick proved the winner and the Süddeutsche Zeitung paper joked: "East Germans Build Faulty Wall." They finished their group in third place. It was to be their one and only appearance at the World Cup finals.

Their unforgettable moment was the match in Hamburg against their Western rivals, the day the capitalists capitulated to the collective. "When I die, put the inscription 'Hamburg 1974' on my gravestone. Everyone will know who's in the casket," said Jürgen Sparwasser, East Germany's goalscorer on that fateful day.

Slowly but surely, the Bundesliga boys began to justify Berti Vogts' assertion that they "weren't just after big bucks, they were 22 real men." With his blond curls and cherubic face, Vogts himself looked more like a choirboy. But for the rest of the tournament Beckenbauer's team was inspired by the "spirit of Malente," as the phenomenon was later christened. "We resurrected the German virtues," Netzer said.

They played well against Yugoslavia, a team that had been rollicking and rolling through the host country with big games and big mouths, crushing Zaire 9-0 on their way. The eastern Europeans wore pink shirts with buttons undone, revealing manly doormats on their chests, and Branko Oblak signed autographs with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. But the West Germans were focused now. They may not have been 11 friends at that point, but they had become a brotherhood, a "partnership with a purpose," as winger Bernd Hölzenbein said. Thanks to another long-range effort by Breitner and a typically scrambled goal by Gerd Müller, they won 2-0.

These are the things that can make the difference between victory and defeat. Cruyff always wanted to score spectacular, glorious goals. Müller was grateful for anything he could get. And as scrappy as the Germans' finish in the final may have been, it was enough to clinch the trophy.

They had already beaten Sweden with their keeper, Ronnie Hellström, in a game that belonged to an aspiring 22-year-old. "I had a big say in that," Hoeness volunteers today when describing the 4-2 victory. "I helped make a lot of things happen." He can be really modest, too, his friends maintain.

Watching the final today, the pace, the utter lack of urgency, seems astonishing: One player runs and then passes. Then another starts running with the ball. Meanwhile, most of the others stand patiently around, awaiting their turn. Even the advertising hoardings are immobile; even the "Jägermeister" sign never wavers. But, even 32 years on, it's still an exciting match. There were chances at both ends. Cruyff got madder and madder. But German goalkeeper Sepp Maier - the "Cat from Anzing" - was playing at his brilliant best. "The greatest World Cup final of all time. Holland are the finest losing finalists ever," wrote Corriere dello Sport.

Then came the post-match banquet. And the winners celebrated in true German style.

How stupid can you be?

Characteristically, the mandarins of the German Football Federation had brought along their own spouses and welcomed legions of honorary guests. But the wives and girlfriends of the players were not invited. There was no room in the hall! The functionaries were "bloody amateurs," railed Beckenbauer. "Beyond words!" Uschi Müller stood at the doorstep and vowed that hubby Gerd had played his last game for Germany. Gerd was cleaned up now, having abandoned his Che Guevara look. He nodded and said, yes, dear, of course. The family comes first now. He was 29 at the time and kept Uschi's promise in all of the years he still played soccer. He never played for Germany again.

The bad old days?

The stadiums were never full and still had running tracks around the pitches. There were no mascots like Goleo. There was just Tip and Tap, and they both wore pants. The ball was a patchwork of black and white pentagons, not plastered with shapes that look for all the world like Carefree pantyliners. The shorts were short and even a little snug, and red shirts had yet to become bones of contention. It was the time when Germany still took the field in black and white, and Holland wore orange. When you could still hear chants like "Poland's out, don't pout" and songs like "Soccer Is Our Life."

And when the man in orange, the genius sporting the number 14, smiled as he gave his autograph to a boy from Hiltrup.


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