The German national team is at a crossroads following the retirement of Bastian Schweinsteiger. As Germany looks to the future, Michael Da Silva explains why it needs a captain who represents its multicultural society.
The news that Bastian Schweinsteiger has quit international football heralds the end of an era for one of Die Nationalmannschaft’s most celebrated players.
Battered, bloodied and bruised, Schweinsteiger dragged Germany to an extra time World Cup final triumph over Argentina in 2014 in heroic fashion, a performance that will go down as his finest hour.
But like Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose before him, Schweinsteiger is part of the past – and now Germany must look to the future.
Coach Joachim Löw, who recently committed his own future to the national side until at least 2018, needs a new figurehead to lead a Germany side that already looks very different to the one that triumphed in Rio de Janeiro. Russia 2018 is the next target and Löw needs new inspiration.
A big decision now awaits: who should step into Schweinsteiger’s shoes?
There are three obvious candidates: Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira and Jerome Boateng, with Mats Hummels having also been mentioned. All of them are natural leaders and have a case to be Germany’s new skipper, but none of them have a case more compelling than Boateng’s.
The former Manchester City and Hamburg player has grown into a world class defender at Bayern Munich and is known as The Rock for a reason. His game improved immeasurably under Pep Guardiola at the Allianz Arena and, at international level, is the foundation of Löw’s gameplan; a ball-playing yet uncompromising center-back who sets the tone for the rest of the team. Cultured yet courageous, inspirational yet humble, Boateng has all the qualities Löw could wish for in a leader.
But looking beyond his significant contributions on the field, the appointment of Boateng would be a statement not only for the team, but for Germany as a whole.
The DFB can make a landmark decision by appointing Boateng as the face of the new, multicultural Germany. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall almost 27 years ago, Germany has become one of the most open and welcoming countries in Europe, yet its image around the world hasn’t necessarily caught up with the reality.
As a Berliner himself, captain Boateng would be the perfect symbol of what it means to be German in 2016 and the diverse tapestry of the nation’s 80 million people.
A decision to make Boateng captain would also be the perfect repost to the comments made by Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) federal spokesman Alexander Gauland, who was quoted by the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine as saying "people like him [Boateng] as a footballer, but they don’t want to have a Boateng as a neighbor."
The wave of support for Boateng was emphatic. While the 27-year-old said he was "saddened" by Gauland’s comments, the response by Die Nationalmannschaft’s fans at the team’s final pre-Euro 2016 friendly in Augsburg in May represented the whole of Germany. "Jerome sei unser Nachbar" [Jerome be our neighbor] was the message on a huge banner unfurled at the WWK Arena.
It’s a sign of how far Germany has come in its relatively short post-reunification history that the support for Boateng was unwavering, and the hashtag #boatengnachbar swiftly went viral. The people of Germany had spoken.
The other candidates for the role, Khedira and Neuer, would also make excellent choices and a decision to make Boateng captain will not be a straightforward one. His susceptibility to injury and the occasional red card are crosses in the against column. However, Löw will be aware of the benefits of having a centre-back as captain, while Khedira’s chequered injury history could count against him.
Boateng doesn’t just represent the 235,000 Africans residing in Germany, but the nation’s cultural acceptance of all people. There would be no more effective way to denounce Gauland’s comments and reward the defender for his world class performances for club and country, than by making Boateng the face of modern Germany.