Once, there was showbiz in English football, one that went by the name of Golden Generation. It fuelled the media, foddered the tabloids, as football turned out to be more than a scramble on the pitch. The showbiz slowly died down, more out of humiliation than natural regression, but the moniker remained; its baton passed on, and with it the perks and perils. Germany owns the baton now, more in light of their glorious bottles in the fag end of big tournaments than any other queer resemblance to the English. But are the Germans doing it more like the English Way on the pitch too? Will they not crown themselves in the national pride that they claim to deserve? Maybe a resounding yes, could be a big no, but similar courses are being tread and the comparisons will grow, bigger and bolder with time.
There is a distinct air of desperation in Germany. Long has it been since they last won anything worthy of mention; their last World Cup win dates back even further: 1990 to be precise when Andreas Brehme’s late, late penalty won ‘West Germany’ the World Cup. The Berlin Wall was yet to be taken down; unification was still some time away. Italia’90 was West Germany’s third World Cup win, and a final and two semi-final losses later, the number remains exactly the same. 24 years on.
Let’s for once travel back four years in time to the World Cup in South Africa. Germany, the Euro’08 runners-up, headed into the tournament with possible intentions of revenge against European champions Spain and with fixations on the Cup. Young blood, exciting talent and a supposed winning mentality blew everyone away with graceful, beautiful football, and caught the awe and fancy. Until, of course, the semi-finals’ time arrived, again. Spain played them off the park and off the Cup, and with it evaporated another German dream.
The likes of Mesut Oezil and Thomas Mueller were forgiven for being too young and inexperienced then. Top scorer Mueller’s naivety saw him miss the semi-final through a accumulated-cards’ suspension, but it was a case of navigating the learning curve back then. Wins over former World champions England and Argentina (with an aggregate score of 8-1) en route to the semis made Germany the toast of the World Cup. It inevitably put pressure on them to win the tournament outright. The youthful shoulders felt the weight of pressure, and succumbed to it.
And here they are again, four years on, where mere expectation has been replaced by concrete demand. Nothing less than a return home with “Germany 2014” engraved on the yellow silverware will be acceptable, and this is where the German Golden Generation could pull itself apart from their fanciful English counterparts, or maybe join them as one in lores.
The British media’s clichéd attachment to overreaction and exaggeration is well-known, and it raised only half an eyebrow when the coterie of David Beckham, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney was exotically overhyped as the Golden Generation. Heaped on those young shoulders was the weight of great expectations fuelled by their own overachievements with their clubs, and they rarely got up from the ground. If their achievements at club level was the yardstick to measure and clepe them, then their achievements with the national team didn’t even merit a ‘Copper Generation’ moniker. The Golden Generation never progressed past the quarterfinals of a major tournament, and limp, woeful performances were their specialty on the big occasion.
Germany’s ‘Golden Generation’ faces similar expectations and pressing calls. Manuel Neuer, Mesut Oezil, Thomas Mueller, Marco Reus (sadly injured), Toni Kroos and Mario Goetze are at the peak of their powers, and are set to be the core of the German national team for years to come, let alone this World Cup. Last World Cup’s disappointment should be compensated for this time around, and so much of the end product of that hope rests on the shoulders of the German Golden Generation. They could either go the way of their English predecessors, or carve their own niche.
The generation that lifted the Euro’96 is long gone, what remains are the fans who witnessed the glory days. The Germans have sniffed silverware in the ensuing years, but the hands remained empty. Could this be the time when the Golden Generation comes off age? This could perhaps be the last chance saloon for the group to separate themselves as the men who once were the boys. And Brazil offers a wonderful opportunity to realize it, to seize it with both hands, to leave their own marks on history.
At a time when German football is burying stereotypes of the past and its football is being associated less with terms like ‘efficiency’ and ‘pragmatic’ and more with ‘fluid’ and ‘beautiful’, the Golden Generation has the perfect setting to banish their demons. But they can easily turn out to become more like their English counterparts. A failure to again win (although it is much tougher in Brazil) the coveted prize could weigh them down bad, and we could even see the end of the road for many of those stars.
The English generation failed to produce when most mattered, but more importantly they played little football on the pitch. Germany, on the other hand, offer fluid, proactive attacking football bettered only by a select few, and this could be the key that sets the two generations apart. Going by the overall freshness of their football and their desire to stay away from the limelight, it seems only a matter of time before we see the Whites holding aloft the fabled Cup. But until then, the comparisons are here to stay, and it would be a shame to see Germany’s Golden Generation becoming another version of the English Golden Generation.