Home News Another summer to remember? For Germany: So far, so good.

Another summer to remember? For Germany: So far, so good.


Philipp Lahm’s career has been like a man meticulously completing a bucket list. He won eight German titles with Bayern Munich, a team he had been a fan of as a child. He captained the team for six years. He led the team to a domestic and European treble. A year later, he led Germany to the World Cup.

Now, several years after retiring, Lahm is a respected figure in German football: smart, thoughtful, cautious, but also candid when necessary. He has held a number of honorary ambassadorial positions, but in 2020 he got a real job as tournament director for Euro 2024.

Yet, for all his other achievements, Lahm will always be remembered in his home country as the man who led the fairytale summer of 2006. That year’s World Cup, and its significance for Germany then and now, began with his goal in the opening match against Costa Rica in Munich.

Germany didn’t win the World Cup, of course. Technically, the hosts’ campaign ended in heartbreak. But that, in any case, heightened its subsequent significance. For Germany, the 2006 World Cup was always about less the result than – in a startlingly literal sense – the friends it made along the way.

After just one game at this year’s European Championship, it is premature to conclude that Florian Wirtz, the Bayer Leverkusen midfield playmaker who opened the scoring for the hosts at Euro 2024, is destined to follow in Lahm’s footsteps.

Maybe this crushing 5-1 win will prove to be a false victory, a Scotland side that was determined but clearly outclassed. Maybe one of Wirtz’s teammates will dominate the game, or at least part of it, and become the central character of the story. (It’s Jamal Musiala, if you want to know the name). Maybe Germany will win the whole thing and the details will fade from the picture.

Championships, like butterflies, have their own unique colors and patterns, but they only begin to become clear after they emerge from their cocoons. (Note: butterflies may not be like this, but for metaphorical purposes, let’s think of it this way.) They don’t stay the same. Over time, they shimmer, dapple, or fade.

That was certainly the case in 2006. The shadow of that tournament hangs over this World Cup, a memory so perfect that the current tournament seems incomparable. Germans remember clearly how happy they were then, and how unhappy they are now, with war not far away, the economy stagnating, and the far right on the rise.

But it was just a trick of the light. In 2006, Germany too had felt anxious, unsure how the World Cup would go and reluctant to celebrate publicly. That was until Lahm stepped in. Only then did Germany begin to appreciate the colours of that bright and vivid summer.

So, no matter how Germany’s story ends, one must hope that Wirtz’s goal will have the same effect 18 years later. This World Cup will not solve any of the problems facing Germany or Europe. It is a difficult task for the sporting world to handle, no matter how grandiose UEFA’s mission statements and slogans. It is not a panacea.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t provide relief over the next month. Wirtz’s goal and the four that followed eased nerves in Germany’s sporting world – which feared on-pitch humiliation might be waiting – and for now, that might be enough.

Despite all the worry and anxiety, there is still a glimmer of hope in Germany, a hope that something encouraging, happy and – in the best way – wonderful and small is brewing. That is perhaps all that is needed to help the country towards the World Cup: a sense that these could actually be a few weeks to remember.

We started with a few ideas:

Ready to have fun This is, I think, the first men’s football tournament in nearly a decade that doesn’t require a massive logistical effort for fans in (most) participating countries. The first two World Cups, held in Russia and Qatar, were expensive, practically challenging and ethically complex. The last European Championship was held across the continent but was hampered by travel restrictions.

Not since France and Euro 2016 has it been easier to attend a tournament (or even be there in person). As the slogan says, Germany is at the heart of Europe. The Netherlands and Poland will both draw big crowds, but Scotland deserves a special mention.

On Thursday morning, I flew out of Manchester Airport (the one not in Scotland, you know). My flight, like the airport, was packed with Scottish fans, most of whom were dressed in tartan. This was particularly striking because my flight was to Rome. Rome wasn’t the only tartan-clad army making the detour: As of Friday, there were an estimated 200,000 Scots in Munich. In other words, that’s 4% of the country’s population.

Orange House Before I left, my son and I ran into a neighbor who asked the Smiths which team they were rooting for in the European Championship. He was expecting England, of course, or maybe Scotland.

Instead, my son proudly announced that next month he would become Dutch. I had to explain: my son was certainly English, but at the age of six, country was still a vague concept. He was probably loyal to the country to some extent, but his loyalty to it was not as direct and intense as his loyalty to the great glory of Virgil van Dyck.

go home? Gareth Southgate’s attitude as England manager was perhaps best summed up by the manner of his dismissal. Regardless of how his (surprisingly) bold side fared in Germany, it was assumed that this might be his last World Cup.

The decision need not be rushed, though. Southgate’s contract expires in December, an unusual timeframe for an international coach (usually they move from one major tournament to the next). This suits Southgate perfectly: it gives him and the English football establishment a chance to revisit and reflect on the right course of action once the excitement/regret has worn off.

Equally, his employers deserve credit for having a succession plan in place. Less creditable is the suggestion that they would be more than happy to appoint a non-British coach to replace him. One of the few beliefs I hold dear is that major footballing nations should not hire foreign coaches.

I know this sounds bad, but rest assured it’s not born out of some kind of Neolithic conservatism. International football is meant to test the strength of a nation’s sporting culture. If the big nations can’t produce good coaches, then they should address the problem internally, rather than importing players from countries that can. (Yes, Belgium and Portugal, I’m looking at you.)

United States 1, Brazil 1 If the build-up to the European Championships had seemed relatively low-key until the very last minute, it’s safe to say that the upcoming Copa America had yet to really enter the European imagination.

But that doesn’t mean the USA’s fascinating draw with Brazil went unnoticed: if it feels like a sign that the Selecao are still improving, then it should give Gregg Berhalter – and his team, and his country – considerable encouragement heading into this tournament.

There seems to be a signature product missing from his coaching career so far: a proof of concept, a sign of what could be to come. A draw with Brazil, even a slightly lackluster match, even in a warm-up game, was not up to par. Still, it hinted that the Copa America could be the stage where the U.S. finds a success.

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