As the whistle blew in Munich last night (more precisely at midnight today Hong Kong time), football tournaments at World Cup 2006 kicked off with Germany playing against Costa Rica. Although some Mainland Chinese football fans may still feel the pain over heartbreaking memories that Costa Ricans shattered their arrogance and national pride with two devastating goals in their first World Cup encounter in Gwangju, Korea four years ago, I didn’t have any excitement of revenge when Costa Ricans lost the match to Germany.
As a fan of the German national team since childhood, I have never been so disappointed with Germans on the football pitch, as far as I can recall.
Plenty of media coverage and football critiques have harshly commented that the German national team is in serious trouble. Experienced players are growing old and deteriorating physique, while young players are by all means far from being any match to their seniors in terms of skills, experience, and more importantly, a determination to win. But I was still hoping that under the leadership of manager Jurgen Klinsmann, the former German striker who won the FIFA trophy in 1990 with fellow players such as Lothar Matthaus, Rudi Voller and Andreas Brehme, the German team would be able to make a difference.
But I was tremendously disappointed watching the first match last night. The German team was no longer the group of Germans who used to enjoy a reputation of tough, resolute and mechanical style in the pitch. What I saw on live television, however, was a group of unmotivated school boys reluctantly sent to the fields. What irritated me was not their fledging skills or a lack of experience in international tournaments, but the absence of a resolution to win for their nation.
Over these years I have not watched as much football as I used to be, partly because few football matches are now broadcast on free local television. One key reason is that football is now too commercialised that the leading football stars do not seem to focus on football any more. Once their talent in this old sport of centuries distinguishes them from the others, many of them just turned their back against it so mercilessly. So many out there just wanted to make their names heard and their faces seen in front of the camera, and don't really care what their core capabilities are and what they are paid for. God knows whether they justify the astronomical sums debited into their bank accounts every week or month.
Football betting introduced in Hong Kong in 2003 further eroded my passion for football. Local newspapers are now filled with gambling information every day, which, in my own opinion, is a smear of contempt in the face of it. When people talk about football, they seldom discuss the personal skills and team strategies any more but which team will win and by how many goals. The gambling value replaces the spectacular attraction of football as a form of sports, a demonstration of skills and strategy, and even national pride.
National pride is precisely why I find World Cup tournaments more attractive than other routine league matches all over the world. We have seen on so many occasions that the poor and the powerless could make their way to the central stage of global attention with football. National team members playing for the glory of their homeland often achieved the unachievable elsewhere but in the football pitch. Even if they lose the game, they often gain more respect from football fans worldwide for their courage and determination to stand against the powerful.
Since the first unification of Germany in 1871, Germans have always shown a high level of national pride in every occasion that possibly allows them to do so. This may also be attributed to the mechanical style of German football in the 20th century.
Well, perhaps the game has changed, and so have the people.