Can football unite a nation?

Press department

  • of Hermann Strasser
  • 19.06.2018

Even today, many politicians and citizens deny that Germany is a country of immigration. The fear that a flood of strangers threatening us, who also stayed here, is rocked up to the end of the world by some.

Nevertheless, people immigrate and emigrate not only in Germany, they are also visible and audible on all channels and T-shirts, on streets and in factories, not least on the soccer field. But there is hardly any sense of alienation or alienation there, there is multicultural play and trickery, fouling and negotiation, hugging and waving the flag. You can see them again at the 2018 World Cup: the national flags on houses and in stadiums, on streets and cars. For which nation? Of course for your own, to which you confess because you are “with yourself” with and in the nation.

On the other hand, people have not one, but two focal points in life: what is their own and what is foreign, what is mysterious. In this sense, he who has no fatherland is poor; but whoever has only one is poorer.

Who is playing for the nation?
Nation also stands for one's own history, against the loss of which one resists in order not to lose oneself. We are dealing with a multitude of cultures in the world, and each nation draws on its cultural tradition. This does not have to correspond to the logic of industrial society or the cultural pressure to adapt from the world football association and the sporting goods manufacturers allied with it. Tradition and diversity inspire the buying frenzy of the top division clubs in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and many other countries - at least as long as the annual new signings, which not only in England already exceed one billion euros, are covered by TV revenues.

Who actually plays for their own nation? Sure, “Poldi” Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose are Germans, even if they already had tears of pity when they scored goals against their home country Poland. Poland's best midfielder, Roger Guerreiro, came to Legia Warsaw from Brazil in 2006 and in April 2008 got a passport - I mean passport, of course - and joined the Polish national team. The native Brazilian Diego Costa from Atlético Madrid has played in the Spanish team since 2014, the former German international Roman Neustädter now for Russia; After playing in the Bundesliga in Mainz, Mönchengladbach and Schalke in 2016, he exchanged German for Russian citizenship. The Austrians proudly refer to their veterans Vastić, Junuzović and Alaba. The latter was greeted by the Tyrolean governor Platter, ignorant of his nationality, with a throaty "How do you do?"

At the World Cup in Brazil, in addition to Poldi and Miro, Sami Khedira, Shkodran Mustafi, Mesut Özil and Jérôme Boateng - all born in Germany - slipped into the black, red and gold jerseys and made the German team colorful. And the French? Without the bubbling spring of African players, they would not have made it to this and the last World Cup.

There are umpteen stars who are not in the national team of their country of origin. We are dealing with a type of development aid, even if the directions from which it comes and where it is going keep changing. In this “global play”, the ball kicks are shot like balls from one country or continent to another. The question is, however, whether the eligibility to play as stipulated by UEFA and national football associations is still up-to-date, above all in line with sport.

The Bundesliga as a training league
You may still remember when two English clubs, namely Chelsea FC and Manchester United, were in the final of the Champions League, the top European league, in 2008. The praise for the English players' level of play was hard to beat, but the Three Lions were not present at the European Championships in the same year.

In Germany, attention is still paid to which professionals make it into the Italian, Dutch, Czech, Polish, Turkish or Spanish national teams; just like many Germans in Italian, Spanish or English top division clubs. This is how the Bundesliga becomes a training league. Your modern human trafficking business is flourishing.

After all, 15 out of 23 players in the current German World Cup squad come from Bundesliga clubs, while only three out of 23 Brazilians come from domestic clubs.

How strong is a football nation?
Fans and officials ask themselves again and again how can you attract good players over the long term. Just as Sinn needs time, playful skills and a national team do not come about overnight. Seriously: Doesn't it make sense to only recruit players for the national team who also play in the respective nation and its leagues, because they determine the style of play and the strengths of the teams there?

So far, this has not affected the fans' popularity with the clubs. That is why I suggest that, from the next World Cup, the national teams should only be recruited from players from the respective clubs in the country - regardless of their nationality. Why shouldn't Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi play for Spain, Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündoğan for England, Franck Ribéry and David Alaba for Germany, Jonatan Soriano and Amadou Haidara for Austria? They live and play for clubs there, and have done so for many years, and make a decisive contribution to the respective football culture.

Then you could save yourself the hypocritical debate about the photos of Özil and Gündoğan with the Turkish President Erdoğan, especially since you don't have to deny your family roots in Turkey and can still be German. There are supposed to be sports greats who move their place of residence or their bank accounts abroad in order to avoid taxes in their “home country”. Do national players always have to be turned into role models?

Are coaches above the nation?
With the sponsors or owners of the clubs and the national coaches, this has long since ceased to be an issue when we think in retrospect of the Greek Otto Rehhagel, the Poland Leo Beenhakker and the Russian Guus Hiddink. And now there is also a German, namely Franco Foda, coach of the Austrian team and even won a victory against the Germans!

In general: Doesn't the saying “We are a team”, which represents the nation, apply equally to the coach and his helpers? Are coaches above the nation and players below or what? The new recruiting practice would be more honest and would reflect the real strength of a football nation - and not the strength prevented or only borrowed.

And why should football fans, who keep their fingers crossed for their multicultural club and cheer, not also do the same for the national team when it features players who play in the respective nation, where they determine the quality of football?

The new recruiting practice among footballers could even give a boost to the idea of ​​the new Europe. That is what makes Europe so interesting - and worth living in. Football also has to do with culture, because culture is a way of life. Some sports are part of the national identity and become a projection screen for a country's longing. Football is not just a game that gives endless joys and sorrows, often replaces, reconciles and divides friends or families. Just a nation within a nation.

Money rules the football world
Last but not least, the Özil and Gündoğan case shows that in professional sport everything is related to everything and that money, relationships, marketing and PR play a central role. After all, you can really earn money with the images. Even if money is decisive for the first and second division clubs, this is not the case with the fans in the stadium and in front of the television.

The football world is crazy - crazy through greed, corruption and media hypocrisy. Football has long since become a show. Not only because the winner's party is followed by transfer poker, also at Eintracht Frankfurt, and the word “indecent” is no longer sufficient for some transfer fees - Real Madrid superstar Neymar is now worth 260 million euros. When the richest clubs are usually at the top or FIFA creates new tournaments so that the ruble rolls around for them, one has to ask: Where is the sport in that? It fits in with the fact that the European Champions League, the flagship product for clubs and associations, will completely disappear from pay-TV from the coming season.

Is the national team still a sports community? Only when football is embedded in the living environment of the audience and fans does it make sense. Because the audience makes the game an event! Then Gary Lineker can chant again “Football is when Germany wins in the end ...” and the Austrians can finally start their pilgrimage to Cordoba again.


To person

Hermann Strasser is a sociologist and professor emeritus at the UDE. He is, he says, “German civil servant for life with an Austrian passport” and was a fan of Austria Salzburg and Rapid Vienna, and later of MSV Duisburg. At the World Cup, he'll keep his fingers crossed for the Austrians, if only they were there.