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Culture

Drawing Parallels between Soccer and Economics

Former soccer star Oliver Bierhoff grabbed headlines in his native Gernmany this week. However, there were no alleged extra-marital affairs involved; Bierhoff was delivering a lecture on economics at a Berlin university.

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Applying game play to the economy: Oliver Bierhoff at Berlin's Humboldt University.

Soccer players are generally not considered the most educated and eloquent examples of humankind. Many athletes reinforce this stereotype with their tales of schooling sacrificed to time on the training pitch. There are exceptions of course, most of which are revealed when players leave the game and begin new careers. It generally becomes clear at that point whether their heads are suited for anything besides a contact point for a soccer ball.

One player now making his way into this own brave new post-soccer world is the former captain of Germany's international team, Oliver Bierhoff. His affability has put him squarely in the man-you-could-bring-home-to-mother category; his college education and pedigree--his father earned millions at an energy utility--indicate he's got more in his head than just goal strategies and red and yellow cards.

Bierhoff had a successful, scandal-free sporting career as one of Europe's top soccer players, winning the 1996 European Championships for Germany with the first ever game-winning "golden goal" in international competition. In the late 1990s, he helped his team, AC Milan, return to their winning ways. He retired from soccer in 2003.

He is a well behaved, respected and good-looking man who is now supplementing his work as a television sports commentator with a sojourn back to the classroom.

Applying soccer strategy to economic recovery

His professional soccer days may be over and the university career long behind him, but Bierhoff returned to school this week to talk about both aspects of his earlier life. At a lecture at Berlin's Humboldt University, Biefhoff discussed the similarities between soccer and scholarship in a lecture entitled "What society can learn from sport."

Oliver Bierhoff

Oliver Bierhoff as German national soccer team captain.

Despite his education, Bierhoff's familiarity with the inside of a university is limited. He got his degree through a distance learning project set up by the University of Hagen. It was a model that would be mirrored in his football career. He was distance player who brought the German national team the expertise he garnered during stints with teams in France, Austria and Italy.

Germany is a team on a downward spiral

After retirement a year ago, the 36-year-old was distressed upon returning to his homeland to find its economy in shambles.

"The current situation in Germany appears to me to be a little like a football team which astonishingly starts to go downhill," he told the students at Humboldt University. "The success is missing, everybody is dissatisfied and no one can understand at all how it could come so far. And everybody knows that something must change, but everybody is waiting for somebody else to do it. "

Gerhard Schröder Agenda 2010

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder .

Bierhoff told the students that elite students and start-ups should receive more support and that concepts like success and competition should be encouraged and no longer viewed as being slightly distasteful. Regarding Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Agenda 2010 reform program, which seeks to boost the German economy and save its pension and social welfare systems from collapse, Bierhoff said the chancellor was on the right track, although he doubted the governing social democrats could convince a wary nation of that.

Team spirit can save the economy

"How does Germany return to the Champions League? In football we say: find the game to suit the challenge," Bierhoff told the assembled students. "A direction change is also often expected when you change coaches. But I can assure you: Success will come only if everybody puts their nose to the grindstone and works together."

One might argue that Bierhoff's appraisal of the world's economic situation and Germany's role within it was simplistic and the numerous soccer terms he used to illustrate his points might not hold up to intellectual scrutiny.

Many of the students attending the lecture likely knew more about economic theory than Bierhoff did, and it's improbable he'll be hired on as a full-time lecturer. Still, he succeeded in at least one area where most professors fail--he was asked for autographs after the seminar was over.

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