The German (football) War Machine II

Ken Early, writing in Slate, looks at the Brazilian debacle.

On Germany's reaction to defeat at Euro 2000:

Rather than write it off under the heading of “these things happen,” the Germans decided to act. Clubs in the first and second division were told they had to set up standardized youth academies as part of a broad reorganization of the national football structure. The idea was to make sure that the next generation of German players would be better than the last.

Year by year, the new generations of German footballers were equipped with the technical and cognitive tools that we saw dismantling Brazil at the Mineirão. The coordinated movement that looked like some uncanny telepathy is really just coaching. Over the last five tournaments Germany have reached a semifinal, a final, a semifinal, a semifinal, and now another final, after what might be the World Cup’s greatest ever victory. Germany’s plan is working.

Of course, Germany is the spiritual home of planning in a way that Brazil will never be. But something in Brazil has to change, or the future of the national team—still the proudest institution in a country that doesn’t take pride in many of its institutions—looks bleak.

Historically, Brazil has produced outstanding footballers with the same seeming effortlessness with which it produces mangoes. The Brazilian football industry has been shaped by this plenty to resemble the country’s other exploitative, extractive industries. Footballers are another commodity to be exported. It’s a strictly materialistic system, in which the only guiding principle is success.

This has been how Brazilian football has worked over the decades as it has gradually ceded its vibrant former identity. It didn’t matter that Brazilian football gradually ceased to be loved around the world. Nobody cared that the beautiful game had been overtaken by a hollow cult of victory. The enduring success of the national team covered the flaws. At any given time, Brazil could count on several of the best players in the world, and that was usually enough.

Brazil, he writes, had fallen prey to magical thinking.


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