The German FA held a gala evening to mark the opening of its football museum in Dortmund. Hundreds of VIPs turned up for the celebration, but there was no escaping the fact that a shadow hung over the celebration.
Shortly after DFB (German FA) President Wolfgang Niersbach took to the stage at the start of Friday's gala evening, he touched on the allegations first reported by Geman news magazine "Spiegel" that illicit funds were used to help with the right to host the 2006 World Cup.
Niersbach expressed sadness that "somebody is trying to cast a shadow over this event." He said the allegations of the past week were not just painful for him, but for everybody who had worked to make the 2006 World Cup a success. Niersbach went on to pledge to work, along with the DFB's presidium, to uncover any wrongdoing that may have occurred in connection with the 2006 bid. This reflected a statement published by the DFB's executive board earlier in the day, in which it also expressed support for the FA's president.
More interesting than what Niersbach actually said was his demeanor. Upon his arrival he quickly slipped past the reporters gathered along the red carpet - taking no questions. Once inside the auditorium though, gone was the tension that had been evident just over 24 hours earlier, when the DFB president faced reporters in a hastily called press conference in Frankfurt. There had been "no slush funds, no votes were bought," he had said, declaring that was the most important message for people to understand. By the end of that press conference, though, there seemed to be more questions he couldn't answer than ones he could. Speaking at the gala evening for Germany's new museum, there were no prying questions from journalists. On this night, Niersbach was very much among friends.
An evening for distractions
National team head coach Jogi Löw said the allegations really made him think, but he wondered why they were coming out now. "I am 100 percent behind Wolfsgang Niersbach," said Löw. National team manager Oliver Bierhoff also offered his support, questioning the role of former DFB President Theo Zwanziger in the entire affair. "It's strange that Zwanziger didn't try to deal with this during his time in office," said Bierhoff, before adding: "Or perhaps he had other interests to pursue." This came just hours after Zwanziger was quoted by "Spiegel" as labelling Niersbach a liar for denying the existence of a slush fund. An hour or so later, Löw and Bierhoff were all smiles on stage, along with the 2014 World Cup they helped bring home last summer.
Even if for just one evening, the event helped those present try and forget about last week's nasty allegations and bask in some of the happier memories that German football has had to offer over the years. The museum's new-age architecture and trendy exhibitions certainly went some way to doing that, but there was no escaping the unwanted shadow hanging over the event. A couple of key figures in the vote-buying allegations raised by "Spiegel" were conspicuous by their absence. Franz Beckenbauer, president of the committee that won the 2006 bid, cancelled at short notice, as did Günter Netzer, an ambassador for the committee. Not a word was lost on their respective decisions to give this celebratory evening a miss.