Opinion: Germany’s World Cup midsummer nightmare | Opinion | DW | 28.06.2018
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Opinion: Germany’s World Cup midsummer nightmare

Its World Cup exit is part of an increasingly familiar picture. The ex-football and export champion now seems passive and indecisive, while others dominate the game. It is partly a leadership issue, says Joscha Weber.

On July 13, 2014 two top German managers met in the bowels of Brazil's Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, better known as the Maracana stadium. They laughed and hugged and had a beer together. In retrospect, we can see that, at that moment, they were each at the pinnacle of their career.

One was the coach of the German national football team, Joachim Löw, who had just secured a fourth star for Germany in the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro. The other was the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who had recently started her third term in office buoyed up by the best election result her CDU party had achieved in more than 20 years; she was held in high esteem around the world, and according to some polls, her popularity with the German people had also reached an all-time high.

Germany's national football team, their coach and entourage were celebrating their victory in the team's white mosaic-tiled dressing room, and naturally Angela Merkel — accompanied by the then-German president, Joachim Gauck, had come to join them. Since taking office she had always sought the proximity of the national team, well aware that this constituted good PR.

Joscha Weber

DW's Joscha Weber

Read more: Germany divided: 5 snapshots of discontent in a wealthy country

By 2014, though, her connection with Löw went beyond the photocalls. They had a high opinion of one another, and regularly met for cordon bleu dinners in the Chancellery. It may be that their meeting there in the late spring of this year will prove to have been their last.

Germany at odds with itself

Both German icons now have their backs against the wall. After the German team's disastrous performance at the World Cup in Russia, calls for Löw's resignation are getting louder. Merkel is no stranger to such demands; what's new, however, is that these mutterings are now also heard in the ranks of her own CDU party as well as the Bavarian sister party, the CSU.

At first glance, the two events — the sister parties' open conflict about taking in refugees who have already been registered in other EU countries, and the German team crashing out of the World Cup — seem to have nothing in common. However, both reflect the prevailing mood currently affecting, even dividing, Germany.

The sense of unity of that summer of 2014 has long since vanished. Now it's a case of them and us, and opinions are strongly divided — about the number of refugees, questions of public safety, the integration of footballers with a migration background into the national team.

Germany is at odds with itself. A rift has spread across the country, which just a short while ago was celebrated as an international model. Some of those who disliked seeing Germany in this pioneering role are now rubbing their hands in schadenfreude over its World Cup exit.

Germany has created its own crisis

None of this should distract us from an important realization: Germany has created the crisis itself, in all sectors. Germany's flagship industry, car manufacturing, lagged behind on innovation and, as world automotive leaders, its executives thought they could get away with massively deceiving their customers because, in Germany, they were sacrosanct.

Under Angela Merkel's leadership, German politics ignored its domestic and European critics for too long and failed to take action, watched as its opponents lined up and now, suddenly, is startled to find itself isolated. Meanwhile, despite the cautionary examples of Spain, Italy and France, German football rested on its laurels, ignored some striking mistakes in the World Cup preparations, and in the mission to defend its title relied too heavily on seasoned players instead of giving hungry new ones a chance.

A certain complacency, sticking with tried-and-tested methods, getting stuck in old patterns and, last but not least, poor crisis communication are the conspicuous parallels also evident in Germany's national crisis. This summer, 2018, Germany seems to be far too self-absorbed.

The hunger is gone

This too is a leadership problem. Their great achievements in the past notwithstanding, Angela Merkel, Joachim Löw and the top managers of the automotive industry have lost the determination to keep developing, their hunger for fresh achievements, and their awareness of the prevailing mood. The Erdogan-Gündogan-Özil photocall and the never-ending debate about what integration actually means are symbolic of this.

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It's a topic that has been hugely underestimated within the German Football Association, and this is clearly also the case for large parts of the German government with regard to the refugee question. As a result, the German people no longer back the two German icons Merkel and Löw. Right now, the majority are in favor of Löw resigning, while Merkel's popularity ratings recently plummeted.

Angela Merkel has governed Germany since 2005. Joachim Löw has coached the national team since 2006. Both came onto the international stage as outsiders; both worked painstakingly hard to get to the top; both deliver their message calmly and quietly; but both are also regarded as stubborn. And this may prove to be the stumbling block for both the coach and the chancellor.


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