Tuesday, July 13, 2010

(Un)just desserts?

A front-page commentary from the current issue of Die Zeit refers to Joseph de Maistre's famous comment that 'every nation gets the government it deserves'.

This would be a rather cruel observation about Germany at the moment, where word has been making the rounds that the Conservative-Liberal coalition in power since late last year is doomed; however, the paper notes with some satisfaction, there is another side to this coin: 'every nation also has the national football team that it deserves'.

This, naturally, would go down rather better here, as -- despite having to settle for third place -- the German team played some surprisingly inspiring football.

Of course, this would be less pleasant, if true, for, say, England and France.

But I'm wondering whether this whole connection between national character and style of play actually holds up.

Just consider the top three teams -- Spain, the Netherlands and Germany -- who played, respectively, with almost inhuman efficiency, brutal thuggishness(*) and exuberant joie de vivre.

None of these, it seems to me, corresponds very well at all with their respective national stereotypes. (Certainly not with regard to Germany, where, say, a relaxed, graceful and easy-going Lebensfreude -- while not unheard of -- is not exactly overabundant. We have our virtues: this is not one of them.)

Which, to turn this back to Die Zeit's politics-football comparison, is, perhaps, comforting: maybe, after all, we don't deserve the government we have.

Nor, one might say at the moment, the trains we have.

But that is another issue altogether.

(*I'm referring here to the final: How does one sing 'everybody was kung-fu fighting' in Dutch?)


mikeovswinton said...

Look at the names in my comments of the 7th July folks. Don't say I didn't warn you about Sifu de Jong.
The Spiegel piece about DB is very sad - I have happy memories of travelling round Germany on trains. Are the Talis trains in the west/Benelux going downhill as well? I was amazed at the quality of their sandwiches a few years ago.

Geoff Coupe said...

The Dutch would just sing 'Kung-Fu fighting' in the original language... BTW, today's Guardian carries a story about why the German team play the way they do - at least according to Michael Ballack's agent... We friends of Dorothy are everywhere.

Ario said...

Some Dutch columnists have also attempted to crowbar sociological interpretations into the way the Dutch national team played. Apparently, it is symptomatic of the country's descent into Wilders population. Perhaps, perhaps not, it is impossible verify.

More likely, as this has already been mentioned upteen times by the national coach, the motivation to play brutal is down to years of playing nice football with arguably the most gifted individual players in the world (i.e. the Ajax generation of '95) without actually achieving anything. It may be impossible to understand to anyone who isn't Dutch, but it was sort of nice to see this team actually seriously fight for a trophy rather than become all indignant because the other team is not letting them win (as you may know Ian Buruma describes something similar in the opening chapter of Murder In Amsterdam).

Still, I hope that having lost the final and blaming the referee for their self-inflicted woes the Dutch will come back to their senses, kick (ahem) out Nigel de Jong and van Bommel and while retaining some of the attitude return to actually playing football rather than the opponent. Who knows.

John Carter Wood said...

Mike: your powers of prediction are indeed up there with a certain allegedly psychic octopus. Someone in the sporting press should take note and make you famous.

As to the trains: being typically German, Spiegel paints the situation rather more bleakly than it is. The ICEs have been problematic for years, it's true. (The problem with the axles affected me personally.) And the a/c problem is indeed occasionally frustrating. On the other hand, this does seem to be a record-breaking heatwave; my experiences with DB (and they're pretty extensive) have generally been quite good. And for all its problems, train travel in Germany is far more pleasant than it is in Britain.

The last time I was on a Thalys was last year: it was, I'm happy to report, in good form, if still rather retro-styled.

Geoff: Yes, I saw that article. So far, I haven't noted the 'storm' that it reported occurring in Germany about the possibility that a few of the team might be a little light in the cleats. But maybe I read the wrong papers. On the other hand, Bild has been emphasising stories such as Philipp Lahm's wedding and Thomas Müller's romancin' of his decidedly feminine Freundin.

Overcompensation, one wonders?

Ario: as my post suggested, I'm a bit skeptical about the effort to read the tea leaves of national destiny from the performance of the national team.

But, you know, despite the rather ugly final, the team made it far.

And, despite your prediction, you lost only 1-0, just like we did.

Here's to the Dutch-German mutual sympathy society!