“Die Insel” are two words you cannot escape when English football is talked about in Germany.
It only means ‘the island’ but the thing about islands is that they’re isolated from everything else. The use of “der Insel” then seems to carry with it the idea that English football is another kooky world altogether, where TV money and hyperbole swirl in equal measure – which is certainly true.
If you talk to Germans about English football, you’ll find that they respect it, particularly for reasons of tradition, but that respect hasn’t extended to the national team lately. Borussia Dortmund’s chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke demonstrated that in January this year when he said, “The English will be able to celebrate a great milestone in the summer. Fifty years without a title.”
The wait may go on, but the reaction in Germany after England’s 3-2 win in Berlin spoke of a new found respect as the media gushed over the performance of Roy Hodgson’s side.
“The new England can really play,” read the headline of Munich based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung while Sportschau’s Markus Bark talked of how astonishingly brave England were.
This new England aren’t all that familiar in Germany and so it took some longer than others to get used to the sight of, say, Dele Alli. When he touched the ball for the first time, German TV commentator Béla Réthy briefly transformed him into “Ele Dalli” but Alli’s influence on the game meant that was quickly amended as he made his mark in Berlin.
Jamie Vardy did so too with a rather memorable back heel flick for England’s equaliser, described as “a goal you’d rather have expected from Lionel Messi or Zlatan Ibrahimovic,” by Die Welt Am Sonntag. It was “the climax of England’s attacking craft” in the words of Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Thomas Hummel.
Hummel in particular couldn’t get enough of England’s display either. “The youth of England has pushed the top dogs from the throne this evening.” He continued: “Now the Germans know too that the new team of Roy Hodgson has nothing to do with the old popstar troop from the island.”
Herr Hummel obviously didn’t think much then of England’s much vaunted golden generation (but then again, given the amount of silverware they won, why would he?).
Still, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) allowed itself a snigger at the standard of English goalkeeping after Jack Butland’s mistake as they said: “England is simply no longer a goalkeeping nation.”
To be honest though, Germany, which has always prided itself on its high standard of goalkeeping, didn’t think much of English goalkeepers before Saturday night anyway. When living in the country, you’ll quickly discover that English goalkeepers are very much German football’s “why did the chicken cross the road” gag.
(If you’d like first-hand experience of this, play 5-a-side in Germany as an Englishman and make a mistake whilst being in goal. You’ll then see the natives exchange a nudge and a wink before saying “English goalkeepers, eh?” and chuckling.)
But given the result, the harshest criticism in the German press was naturally reserved for their own team.
“Against the young, hungry Englishmen, the world champions seemed saturated and a little sluggish,” said FAZ’s Christian Kamp.
The front page of BILD am Sonntag’s sport section declared that striker Mario Gomez was coach Joachim Löw’s only winner on the night, after his first goal for Germany in nearly four years.
Marcus Bark was a little more worried about the progress of Löw’s team since they became world champions in 2014, saying that they had only convinced in two of their 16 games since beating Argentina in the final.
The German fans weren’t exempt from criticism either as Die Welt Am Sonntag called it an away game in their own stadium but the Ruhr Nachrichten’s Matthias Dersch pointed out the ticket prices were so high that a normal fan can hardly afford to watch the national team anymore.
Still, the 4,000 English fans were complimented by BILD for the way they celebrated their team with vociferous support for nearly 90 minutes. Their booing and refusal to join the Mexican wave which went round the Olympiastadion drew extra marks from German magazine 11Freunde for what was “the only comprehensible response.”
What was similarly understandable was how most reports pointed out that Mario Gomez’s first half effort was incorrectly ruled out. What was equally admirable though was how it didn’t get in the way of the consensus that England deserved their win as Löw affirmed after the game.
Thomas Müller, Bayern Munich forward and darling of the German media, played down the defeat. “To be honest, I think we’re rarely at 100 per cent in friendlies. It was a typical friendly performance from us.”
Müller also stated that “friendlies do not have the greatest importance” but that didn’t quite agree with his comments in Thursday’s press conference when he said: “These friendlies have nothing to do with the Euros but they are important.”
Still, every German I encountered on Saturday night in Cologne was magnanimous about the result. That in itself was disappointing because there’s no fun to be had with people who are good losers.
Back in England meanwhile, the media hype machine cranked back into action with dreams of what could be achieved in France this summer but get this England fans – according to Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Thomas Hummel: “The euphoria on ‘der Insel’ is justified.”
You can follow Archie Rhind-Tutt on Twitter (@ArchieRT1)