Is German Football like the German Economy?

In teaching economics I try and relate as much as I an to the interests of the students. I have found that sport is one way of engaging a class especially in the macro indicators of a country – growth, unemployment, inflation, trade, inequality etc. The German economy has been the backbone of the EU for a number of years but has this corresponded to the success/failure of the national football team? The performance at the 2004 Euros were the catalyst to an overhaul of the German coaching system – outlined brilliantly in Raphael Honigstein’s book – Das Reboot. This came to fruition in the 2014 World Cup final when German beat Argentina 1-0 in extra time.

However a year earlier in 2013 there was an all German final in the European Champions League with Bayern Munich defeating Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at Wembley Stadium in London. In order to get to the final both teams beat Spanish counterparts – Real Madrid and Barcelona. What is fitting is that in economic terms German is the powerhouse of the European economy whilst in contrast Spain has suffered greatly from the euro crisis and austerity measures that have been imposed on it. If you look at post-war Germany you can see some correlation between the success of the national side and state of the economy.

The Economist looked at this and made the point that German has opened up its borders to not just traditional labour but also football players. Of the two squads on show at the Champions League Final at Wembley in 2013, 17 were from outside Germany.

Most visibly, Germany opened up. Just as immigrants flock to German jobs (more than 1m net arrivals in 2012), so players join German clubs. Between them Bayern and Dortmund have four Brazilians, three Poles, a Peruvian-Italian, a Serb, a Croat, a Swiss of Kosovar extraction, an Austrian of Filipino/Nigerian stock, a Ukrainian and two Australians—and so on. Of the German players, several have dual citizenship or a “migration background”. If the choice is between a German Europe or a European Germany, as the novelist Thomas Mann once put it, football points to the second.

2014 onwards

The 2014 World Cup victory, almost 25 years since they last won it, was achieved largely through the restructuring of German coaching system. The style of play was transformed from a defensive minded ‘park the bus’ attitude to one of free flowing counter attacking style. However the economy was not as buoyant as in previous years with unemployment 6.6% and the spectre of deflation rising its head. Roll on the 2018 World Cup and the defending champions had a disastrous campaign with not even getting out of pool play. This coincided with weakest growth in Germany for five years. The Euro 2020 (played in 2021 because of covid) saw Germany going out to England in the last 16. With regard to the club scene Bayern Munich did win the Champions League in 2020 but no German team made it to the semi-finals in 2021 as both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were knocked out in the quarter finals.

As with most countries the German economy failed to return to its pre-covid growth rate as shortages of manufacturing inputs have hampered any recovery. However, there are plenty of orders on the books for German companies for a potential rebound when supply constraints ease. On the football side of things under new manager Hansi Flick, ex Bayern Munich, the national side breezed through qualifying for Qatar 2022 in what was a weak group, but are still ranked only 12th in the world which is an improvement on 16th in 2018.

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