Black Stars vs. Die Mannschaft was my prediction for Brazil after Copa 2010 in South Africa, but a lot has changed.
Making these kinds of picks that far out is always a shot in the dark – there are so incredibly many variables in the equation and a lot can happen in four years, even before you factor in the deeper arcane mysteries of the Butterfly Effect and Quantum Fuckery.
Still, it’s fun. If you’re wrong you can always say hey, nobody saw X coming, and if you happen to get it right you can remind everyone that you called it four freakin’ years ago. It’s sort of like being an ESPN analyst, only without the hair gel and Connecticut winters.
How am I feeling about that rash moment of precognitive fervor right now, with the opening matches of the tournament mere days away? Honestly, not so great.
Die Mannschaft (for those of you who don’t speak German, that means “die in a mineshaft,” and no, I don’t think it’s a very good team nickname, either, although it might work as a name for an industrial band) looked, in 2010, like the safest long-term bet in history. They had spectacular talent, and a good bit of it was going to be in the prime of its footballing life come 2014.
Honestly, this pick didn’t strike me as being terribly risky – unless a meteor hit the whole squad during a training session the Germans’ alchemy of sheer physical excellence, infused with their – and forgive me for stereotyping here – national gift for tactical precision, made them an obvious choice over a Spain team playing the back nine of its golden midfield generation’s career and the utter crazy of a defensively challenged Brazil squad overrun by the frenzied expectations of the home crowd.
But now? Well, three things concern me.
1: Trouble up top. The nation’s premier striker, Mario Gomez (no, that doesn’t sound German to me, either) is coming off an injury plagued season and will miss the Cup. This means that the team will enter the tournament with Miroslav Klose and Kevin Volland as its only traditional strikers.
The optimistic view is that Klose and Volland average 28.5 years old and have 132 international caps and 68 goals between them, and that’s fantastic. A more nuanced analysis of the data, though, reveals that Volland is 21 and Klose is 36. All but one of the caps and all of the goals, many scored back when he could get around the pitch without the help of a walker, belong to Klose.
A May/December strike force isn’t necessarily fatal, but had I seen it coming I’d have been far less likely four years ago to slot them into the final.
2: My friends will recall how unenthused I was last summer when Bayern Munich named Pep Guardiola as its new manager. They might also recall that I have always been suspicious of his tika-taka style. Yeah, he won a lot of trophies at Barcelona using it, but a lot of managers could have won trophies with Xavi, Iniesta and Messi in the side. I didn’t believe it would translate to Germany and the Bayern squad. Yes, they clinched the league midway through the second half of their first match, but that domestic success owes less to his tactical genius and more to the fact that nobody in Germany comes close to having their talent.
How did Bayern fare when they ran into their first legitimate test of the year vs Real in the Campions League? Right.
There are seven Bayern players in the German side and six of them are projected starters. Maybe I’m being silly here, but part of me can’t help worrying that for the past season these guys have been trying to be Spaniards, and I wonder if there will be an issue adapting back to a less twinkletoes style of play and integrating with teammates who were, for the most part, immersed in the “national style.” Not sure. May be overthinking here.
3: Because South America. In passing, it should be noted that no European side has ever won a Cup on South American soil. Brazil is in South America.
Four years ago I argued that by 2014 Ghana might be ready to establish itself as the greatest side in African history, and perhaps could even become the first to lift the Cup.
Then a couple things happened.
1: Michael Essien. At the peak of his powers I felt that The Bison was one of the five best players in the world at any position – which is a serious assertion given that he’s a holding midfielder with limited value in the attack.
But he’s had knee issues. He missed the 2010 World Cup with an injury, and then blew his ACL and meniscus (a combo I know a bit about myself) prior to the 2011 season.
My bold 2010 prediction was premised on a healthy Essien, but he has never been the same since that last surgery. How good can he really be this summer? Well, he’ll still arrive with the same uncompromising attitude and will to win. Nonetheless, while I’d bet the house on his mentality, I’d be hesitant to wager much on his knees.
2: Asamoah Gyan. A truly spectacular strike talent, and the kind of force you need up top to threaten the best defenses in the world. And then something went wrong. I honestly have no idea what, but he decided that instead of testing himself at the highest level and honing his natural gifts against the best competition in the world that he’d be better off playing club ball at Al Ain in the UAE. Which is roughly the equivalent of a Belfast pub league.
In sum, when you take away the two fundamental pieces upon which my prediction was constructed, my confidence in that prediction fades, and quickly.
So no, I no longer expect a Germany/Ghana final. The Germans’ talent level and superior depth affords them a greater margin for error, and regardless of what they get from Klose and Volland they have a number of other players who can inflict grave damage on any defense in the world – which means that I do believe they stand a very good chance of reaching the final.
I’m sure I’ll be back at some point in the coming days with an updated set of predictions, based on more current data. But for now, I just wanted to let everyone know that hey, it was a pretty, sunshiny day in summer 2010 and I’d had a pint or two. I was giddy.
You can’t hold me to that. Unless it happens. Then I’m a genius and you’re going to have to listen to me telling you about it forever.