Dig deep enough, you can find beauty in the ugliest of things: West Germany, 1990.
“This World Cup is nearly as boring as Italia ’90!” was an often-heard quip by the doltish pundits. “Oh, I agree, it’s all defence, defence, defence. Thank God they got rid of the back-pass then, hey?!” Cue much chortling and cringeworthy, chummy back-slapping by everyone.
The 2010 World Cup was a World Cup that brought twenty-five year old men and above together for one reason – to collectively preach about how dismal the 1990 World Cup was. Such derision implanted an idea in this writer’s head that they need to watch the thing to let them know what they were missing out on. It is this apparent self-tortury that is all part of footballing character building, just what you know what boring, bland and characterless football is really like, or so I thought.
Instead of describing the painful experiences I found in the handful of games I watched (and then skipped through), this writer found joy and creativity in the toughest, hard-nosed and loveless World Cup in recent time.
From the 1982 World Cup, after the West German side colluded with the Austrian side during the group stages so both teams could go through after an Italian-like 1-1 draw, the team was seen with such contempt, hailed as a complete disgrace. Lothar Matthäus bore most of the criticism, for his volatile yet straight-talking manner did not lend himself to the German public. Branded as the ‘then archetypal modern day footballer’ with a general disregard for politeness and sportsmanship, he was seen as the figurehead of these modern, selfish, money-driven footballing superstars. (Things never change, hey?)
It was this group of unruly and un-gentlemanly harem of German footballers that resulted in much-needed change in the West German National team. After the mess of Euro 1984 and the defeat by Spain that caused Germany’s exit, the French paper La Libération wrote, ‘German football, this brute animal, deserves to be drowned in its own urine.’. Jupp Derwall was given the chop (not a nice short, back and sides) and a new search for a coach begun. Only this time, it wasn’t so much about tactical nous or past managerial experience – it was about rekindling the relationship between the team and the fans, and there was one unlikely man who could do it – Franz Beckenbauer.
After retiring and proclaiming that he didn’t contain the qualities to be a coach, Beckenbauer was forced into the job through tabloid talk and his agent putting pressure on him. He only accepted the job because he felt he had some moral obligation to bring return credibility to the national side, more out of a love for the game rather an undying need to manage a team.
Alehouse football and Germany do not get along
Four years later though and it was different, amongst the ‘blind’ yet resilient players like Lothar Matthäus and Jürgen Kohler they had newly crafted panache and flair in Rudi Völler and the Euro 1996 Mick Jagger strutting, Andreas Möller. Lothar Matthäus however would show that for however committed he went into tackle; he was also as committed with the ball at his feet, showing all the talents of a traditional #10.
Swimming in a sea of unmitigated shit, Germany and Beckenbauer created a team that could swan through the majority of defences, yet, when needed, show a resilient defensive side to their game. Inspiring may be perhaps the wrong word to choose, but within the parameters of Italia ’90, along with Cameroon and England, they were the most fashionable and entertaining side there.
Their creative talent is perhaps often overlooked as they didn’t score more than one goal in their final three games in the tournament, none of them from open play – but this is more to do with the attitude of the remaining teams in the tournament, who were more than comfortable to play for penalties and rely on defensive fortitude, forcing visual servitude upon viewers and commentators alike.
None more so than in the World Cup Final, where a staunch Argentina side sat, and sat some more, continued to sit until they developed piles, and apparently their prescription involved some alehouse tackling to soothe the pain – and it all turned rather entertaining, if one forgives the previous sixty minutes of undiluted dross. This was not the canvas for a vintage West Germany performance, even the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters would not have been able to entertain given these rough, portly wrester-type characters masquerading as a footballing opposition.
Wade through enough shit, you’ll eventually find something interesting
To discover the true West Germany, you have to look back to the group stages and the second-rounds, where West Germany handed the United Arab Emirates a right rumhängen in the San Siro, as well beating the youthful, yet talented Yugoslavia 4-1. It is this game that illustrates the true West German side.
This Yugoslavia side contained future British household names such as Robert Prosinečki, Davor Šuker, Dejan Savićević, Dragan Stojković and Robert Jarni. As well as being capable of wizardry, they were also handy at getting stuck in, for in the first few minutes of the game, Dragan Stojković is stamping on ankles, in particular, the left back and World Cup Final penalty scorer Andreas Brehme.
Distinctly more comfortable in possession, West Germany were able to play around the hard-nosed and tough-skinned Yugoslavians. They were extremely good at retaining possession, with Matthäus always looking to start moves off, either from the back or in midfield, his passing and vision was often the spark that sprung Germany into life. It was also a clever ploy to create space in advanced areas of midfield, as he was often chased by one of the midfielders back into defence, leaving space for Voeller and Klinsman to drop deep and pick up the ball. Instead of moving the ball out to the full-backs, the West Germans now had a different option. With Voeller and Klinsmann having a good turn of pace, the Yugoslavian defence were wary of getting beaten behind them, leaving space infront of them to drop into.
However, it’s not all about our little ball of German-hatred Lothar, he had the stout yet ball-playing figures around him, all with the ability to move into midfield and find space. In Augenthaler they had a very forward thinking central defender / sweeper, who broke forward from the back, looking to penetrate the tight Yugoslavian defence on many occasions.
Voeller and Klinsmann were a lot more capable at bringing others into play than Vujovic, breaking from the forward line back to offer a forward option. Either Germany’s full-backs or wider midfielders were always looking to drop the ball into these areas in front of the Yugoslavian defence, then look for a quick return ball to the wings.
One may expect that with five at the back, the Yugoslavian defence may be comfortable playing with some width, as they had an extra spare man in the middle. However, this was not the case, they liked to have two spare men in defence, always tight and narrow – giving West Germany space and opportunities in the wide areas of the pitch. The implication was that the Yugoslavian full-back who was given the role of closing down the wide midfielders often left acres of space for the marauding Brehme or Reuter to move into.
However, it was Matthäus’s movement around the midfield that was most dangerous for West Germany. With oxen-strength and unwieldy determination, Matthäus was a hassle for the Yugoslavian defence when moving forward. From a tactical point of view, it also removed the spare man, meaning either one of the forwards were more than likely to be able to turn their marker and create something. The first goal is created by Matthäus’ movement forward, thus removing the sweeper from his role who picks up Matthäus tightly. Jozic is unable to stop Matthäus turning suddenly and striking from a distance.
This movement forward allowed West Germany negate the extra-defensive role of the sweeper, whilst the West German spare central defender or sweeper allowed Matthäus to move freely forward without worrying about being caught at the back. The ball-playing Augenthaler was more than capable to fill-in for Matthäus when he ventured forward leaving West Germany with equal numbers in all areas of the pitch.
It was the movement and flexibility of this German system that provided much needed change and entertainment compared to the stale, inflexible and cold sweeper systems played by the majority of teams in this tournament.
After the first goal, Matthäus looked to play in a more advanced role more often. In response, the Yugoslavians, who wanted to keep the spare man in defence, looked for full-back Vulic to drop inside and pick him up. This however gave the imperious full-back Brehme more space and more room to move forward into. As well as being two-footed, his strike and delivery of a ball was world-renowned. Playing in the stadium where he played his club football, he provided Klinsmann with a perfect diving header opportunity. Klinsmann didn’t grow his reputation for diving headers by missing such opportunities to rub his chin against the grass did he?
The third goal was another from Matthäus. This goal, possibly the most well-remembered goal of Italia ’90, came from Matthäus picking up the ball in his own-half, driving, skipping the tackles of the on-rushing central defender, taking one more touch, then another – before striking it true and hard to the left of the Yugoslavian goalkeeper.
Eventually, West Germany scored another one, which made it four goals. This, in the first round of matches, was to be seen as a whitewash, a disaster, a proper good old thrashing, compared to the dross that was witnessed there on in. West Germany deserved to progress through the tournament, and along with England, played the most progressive and “paradigm-shattering” to warrant such an OTT phrase, football of the summer.
This all culminated in victory against Argentina, who they had lost in the final to in 1986 – and it was the right result. The bullying and overly defensive tactics of Argentina belonged in the playground, and like any good Head teacher, FIFA, in its black blazer and army-sergeant stare, stopped such tactics from taking place again. In the following years, more points were awarded for wins and the backpass rule was removed from the game.
For Germany however, this was meant to be a watershed, a moment where German football would dominate the International stage for the decade to come. With young players coming through, there was new found optimism found after this tournament. Beckenbauer understandably left on a high. Berti Vogts was the man to lead this newly reunified German side into the new decade, with expectations sky-high, went and destroyed all previous optimism by losing at home to Wales – only 11 months after victory in Italy. Beckenbauer may have got many things right in his career – but this prediction was not one of them.