The Brazil-mad pockets of Northern Kerala mourned the night Germany inflicted a 7-1 thrashing on their idols, three years ago in the World Cup. A few angry ones called a strike the next day in Kasargod, the northernmost district of the state.
A few others scooted in the dead of the night to escape the ridiculing Argentina fans, almost a class enemy. Posters of German heroes such as Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm were burnt in public. Three days later, the Germans plunged the Argentina fans into mourning and poster- burning. The only thread that binds the feverish supporters of Argentina and Brazil is their unshrinking loathing of Germans.
It, perhaps, explains the reason why the Germans met with a vapid reception on their first practice day in Kochi, as opposed to the sustained fanfare extended to the Brazilians or Spaniards or even the Nigeriens or North Koreans. It was plain indifference, as not even the regular joggers bothered to pause and look around.
A casual query about which team was practising and they’d walk away, hearing “Germany”, often accompanied with a dismissive scorn, “Oh avanmaro (the others)..” While Argentina and Brazil have an intangible sameness, Germany here has always been about the otherness.
Even the volunteers didn’t have the same sputter as when Brazil or Spain practised — no one stretched his neck over the sight-screen or peeped between tarpaulin sheets to see what brand of football they were discreetly distilling on the ground, before their win-or-bust game against Guinea.
For about 15 minutes into the training session, under a mild drizzle, the German support staff instructed the rest to troop off the ground. The cheeky German media manager chimed in: “We are making a missile.”
It set peels of laughter that ringed in the empty stands. But it didn’t disappoint, let alone infuriate anybody, as they unaffectedly cleared the stadium. It was strange because strutting in front of their eyes were the youngest recognised scions of the World Champions, a bunch of prolifically-talented 17-year-olds playing as enthralling a style of football as any in the modern game. Post Euro-2000, Germany has moved away from playing in straight lines and relying on “the German mentality” to win matches.
Instead, coaches focused on developing fluid formations that required the sort of nimble, dexterous players who would previously have been overlooked because of their lack of physical strength. Now this school of players typifies the Neo-German footballer.
Most of this team — half of them who have come through the DFB’s (German football federation’s) talent development programme, which was introduced in 2003 with the aim of identifying promising youngsters and providing them with technical skills and tactical knowledge at an early age — conforms to this pattern.
Even if you take into account that they still have a few more years to grow taller and develop their physique, no one quite seems to fit into the stereotypical big and imposing German, except perhaps their centre-backs Alexander Nitzi and Dominik Becker, and their goalkeepers.
More or less, there are Tom Thumb-like figures who glide on the green baize, with a sophistication antithetical to what was long perceived as the German ethos of football, relying primarily on ruthless efficiency — the most quintessential of German virtues — and a total obsession with perfecting one’s craft at the expense of flexibility.
— DFB-Junioren (@DFB_Junioren) 12 October 2017
Even their practice sessions these days make for delightful watching. Each player had a ball and assembled into groups of six. Coach Christian Wuck rattled out some instructions before his whistle blew. The entire field of players begins a series of ball touches in unison with the crew of coaches keenly watching, urging and at times admonishing them. They are rehearsing ball movements in sets of 100-200 repetitions, at match speed.
As the session concluded, with most panting and puffing under the thick clouds, Elias Abouchabaka, touted as one of the finest midfielders around, decided to flaunt his full oeuvre of fancy tricks. The toe-touches, drag-backs, pirouettes and dribbles; his feet concocted a magic of an most impish incandescence. He had a few volunteers riveted, who followed him to the mixed zone for a selfie, which he had no qualms to oblige, which prompted a comment from one of them, “Who said they’re mean and unfriendly?” The otherness had been slightly diluted. They’ve been clearly won over.
Coach Wuck, though, wouldn’t mind his players dusting up that old spirit of doggedness. “(Against Iran), they were bad at everything they did. It was a Black Tuesday. More than the defeat, I was unhappy because they let our spirit down. They didn’t play to our ideals,” he observed. Wuck stopped short of saying anti-German football. He chose milder words: “We didn’t play at all. We let our system down and legacy down.”
Against Iran, they seemed the Dutch in disguise, precociously talented but self-obsessed players.
While the coach is confident of his boys picking up the shattered pieces of morale from the Iran game, he wouldn’t have the slightest hint about the antipathy his side is likely to encounter on Friday. After all, Germany is the only thread that binds Brazil and Argentina fans. The undiluted abhorrence of them. The Avamar of football.