I will be rooting for Germany in Sunday’s World Cup final.
Now, there’s a sentence I thought I would never write.
I grew up with an intense dislike of German prowess on the football field. One of my first memories is of Harald Schumacher flying through the air, almost killing the hapless Patrick Battiston. (To this day, the Frenchman still carries a cracked vertebra and damaged teeth; Schumacher probably still carries his hateful smirk.) Four years later I saw Germany end Mexico’s World Cup dreams in Monterrey through a relentless display of intimidation. They then proceeded to eliminate my beloved French again. Oh, how I hated them, with their canine names: Rummenigge, Littbarski, Briegel, Augenthaler. Yes: almost 30 years ago, when I celebrated Argentina’s triumph in the Azteca as if it were my own, it would have been unfathomable that I, one day, would root for Germany.
It would have felt like a betrayal.
For example, a betrayal of my unflappable love of the underdog. As a recent acquaintance on Twitter recently told me: “Better to risk heartbreak than fall into the self-indulgent trap of rooting for the favorite." And so it is with me. I find cheering for the strongest—team, individual, you name it—not only safe but also a bit prosaic. What joy is there in confirming the predictable? Just imagine the pleasure of watching David surmount the odds, attain the almost impossible! And, in soccer, Goliath hails from the Rhine. Brazil may have won the tournament five times, but Germany is the team everybody really fears. They are the system, the unrelenting machine (yes: darker notes could be inserted here, but let’s keep away from those analogies). So, as a lover of the potential of the underdog, rooting for Germany feels like a betrayal.
It is also a betrayal of my own history as a Mexican soccer fan. A little trivia for you: when was the last time (before Belo Horizonte, that is) that Germany scored six or more goals in a World Cup match? Yes: against Mexico in 1978. And then there’s 1986, which I’ve already described. Oh, and 1998, courtesy of Klinsmann and his robotic friend, Herr Bierhoff. So, as a Mexican fan, it also feels like an act of disloyalty to root for a team that has given me—us—such sorrows.
And lastly, it is probably a betrayal of the one footballer who has given me more joy than anyone else, a man who has been a reliable source of elation for almost ten years: Lionel Messi. I’m a Barcelona fan, you see. And the Messi years have been, well, we all know what they’ve been like. No club has played with such effortlessness, with such beauty. The core of that team won everything, including two World Cups when—sans Messi, but with his blueprint—they exchanged the blaugrana for the roja. They won until the got tired of winning. They drove their opponents mad, sometimes almost literally (see Mourinho, Jose). And Lionel Messi was there all the time, the protagonist if there ever was one. He is that most improbable of human beings: a man born to do one thing better than anyone else. And I’ve been fortunate enough to root for the team that man has played for since he first decided to kick a ball for a living. So, as a Barça fan, as a devoted follower of the great Lionel Messi, I feel like a traitor.
And still, I want the Germans to win. Not only that: I want them to win in spectacular, undeniable fashion.
Why? Well…the thing is, I love football for what it really is: a game in which a group of eleven players triumphs by the virtues of creative association. And no national team associates so brilliantly, with such vitality and grace, as Germany.
The Germans have been, by far, the most complete team in Brazil. They work in almost seamless synchronicity. Unlike, say, Brazil or even Argentina, Germany interprets football not through disruption but through constant creation. Their progress has been astounding: there is hardly one player on the German side for whom physicality is an absolute priority. Even the German defenders have a certain flair. Much has been written about Manuel Neuer’s abilities to play as a libero. He deserves the praise and the fact itself merits pause: this is a German team in which even the goalie, a direct descendant of the house of Schumacher, uses his feet like a virtuoso. From Neuer up, Germany is a team guided by several, highly technical brains. From Lahm to Mueller, to Kroos to Özil, these Germans don’t intimidate through strength, they do so through the dizzying power of association. Through, well, football. A sport they play at different speeds, almost like musicians who adjust their tempo as needed. You could see it against Brazil. There was Kroos, reading the game vertically. Or Özil, finding pleasure in the smallest of spaces, the cracks, the slightest opening. Or Lahm, the conductor, a man blessed with an uncanny sense of the scene. Or Mueller, that odd fellow, a forward with the body of an uncomfortable teenager, the perfect disguise for what he truly is: the man who one day will own Miroslav Klose’s record as top goalscorer of the competition.
But what I really admire, what finally made me decide to root for the Germans, is that none of this virtuosity is the product of chance. There’s immense hard work behind what we’ve seen in Brazil. And yes, I know you might say that every national team works hard. You’d be half right, of course, because while most teams do indeed train like crazy, very few teams—if any—have been so devoted in their passion for reinvention. Because sometime in the decades past, Germany decided that their brand of football—brutish, bellicose…German—had an expiration date. And then they chose to try and find joy in discipline. And, by God, they’ve done it. It took them years and years (many of these guys have indeed played together for that long), but they’ve done it: disciplined, relentless, joyful, thrilling association football. Neuer deutscher Fußball.
How could I—how could you—not root for that?