If Jamal Musiala plays at Wembley on Tuesday in the Euro 2020 knockout game between England and Germany, he may have to look down at times to remember what shirt he’s wearing. The nervous Bayern Munich midfielder, who played the crucial pass that equalized Germany in a 2-2 draw with Hungary last Wednesday, has made just four appearances for the senior team of his country. But between 2016 and 2020, Musiala played 25 matches for the national youth teams of Tuesday’s opponents England.
The 18-year-old British and German passport holder, born in Stuttgart, is the youngest player to represent Germany since Uwe Seeler, captain of the famous World Cup final loss to England in 1966. Musiala is too young to have experienced how politics and sport overlapped when the two sides met in the past: he was not even born when photos of Paul Gascoigne and Stuart Pearce, edited for look like soldiers of the second world war, were published in the Daily Mirror in 1996 alongside the title “Achtung! Surrender “.
However, having moved to the UK in 2010 because her mother was studying at the University of Southampton, and with Brexit reportedly “a factor” in her family’s return to Germany in 2019, Musiala will know that politics won’t. is not only reflected in the rhetoric around the game, but can also redirect sporting fortunes.
The match was touted as the rekindling of an “old rivalry” or even a “grudge match” in the British press, but German players and experts spoke of the clash in more festive tones. “Playing against England at Wembley is great,” said midfielder Leon Goretzka.
One of the reasons for this is purely sporting: Germany’s real grudge matches are against teams that have inflicted painful defeats, like Italy or the Netherlands. Matches against England, on the other hand, tend to produce happy memories: England have won only six of 24 matches against West and Reunified German teams since 1966. Germany won the last game of the week. ‘England in the old Wembley Stadium, and the first after its demolition and rebuilt. “Four World Cups and three European Championships” is the correct answer to England’s song “Two World Wars and one World Cup”.
The other reason is political: when confrontations with England accidentally take on overtly political significance for the German side, it is usually because they symbolize the start of a new era. The key game in this regard is not 66 but 72, when Germany beat England in the Euro quarter-final.
Germany’s fluid style that night, embodied in the long anti-establishment lockdowns of playmaker Günter Netzer, was seen as the sporting expression of a political reinvention: in early elections in November of the same. year, the center-left SPD of Willy Brandt would win the majority. for the first time in German history. the Daily mail described the match as the “night that changed the German image”. “No Englishman will ever be able to warm up again with the old assumption that on the football field if not anywhere else Germans are an inferior race,” wrote the Observer Hugh McIlvanney.
A 4-1 victory at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa served as a similar springboard, presenting for the first time a more multicultural Germany dotted with players of Brazilian, Ghanaian, Tunisian and Turkish descent.
For England, these meetings often ended up channeling fears rather than hopes. The 1990 World Cup semi-final in Rome came just two days before East German diplomats met to negotiate terms for reunification – a process Margaret Thatcher had opposed more vigorously than any other European leader.
That summer, Commerce and Industry Secretary Nicholas Ridley was sacked for a Spectator interview in which he describes European monetary union as a “German racket intended to seize all of Europe”, illustrated with a caricature of Helmut Kohl sporting a Hitler mustache.
Germany’s dominance on the soccer field and tennis courts (Boris Becker and Steffi Graf won their respective singles tournaments at Wimbledon in 1989)]touched a greater paranoia of being sidelined by what was now Europe’s largest economy. When Britain slipped into recession a year later, many blamed Germany’s low interest rates.
When Germany knocked England out of the Euro semi-finals in 1996, John Redwood urged Time readers to “Rethink Germany’s Problem,” and a Conservative campaign poster ahead of the 1997 election showed Tony Blair sitting like a puppet in Kohl’s giant lap.
The tabloids try to present this meeting in terms of martial conflicts of the past – “Let’s blitz Fritz” wrote the Sun in 1996 – look back more as desperate diversionary tactics, a case of “Don’t Mention The Economy”. They were also new: when the teams met in 1966, some 20 years after Victory Day, there was no report of the Wembley crowd booing the German anthem, and the war was barely mentioned. by the British press.
Can Tuesday’s game still support similar political narratives? If Germany loses, they will leave a question mark at the end of the 15-year period in which their football team was led by Joachim Löw and the country by Angela Merkel. For the coach and chancellor, it could shift the emotional focus from the accomplishments of their time to the opportunities they missed.
Some Brexit supporters may wish for a rock-solid English victory to bring home the UK dividends freeing themselves from the chains of that old ‘German racket’. Yet a German team that no longer lives up to old stereotypes of ruthless efficiency, and an England team more wary of patriotic pride than in the past, may be ill-equipped to sustain this scenario.
When England and Germany met in 2010, a German player was under contract with a Premier League club. This time around, eight players from the German squad are earning or earning their club salaries in England, while England players Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham play with Germany’s Mats Hummels in Dortmund. Not to mention the time spent by Jamal Musiala in the England junior teams.
These are two sides telling the story of increased international entanglement, as Brexit has pulled the two countries in different directions. As ships of nation-state narratives, for once they no longer seem fit for purpose. Instead, they look ahead of the curve.
Philip Oltermann is the author of Keeping Up With the Germans: A History of Anglo-German Encounters. To order a copy, go to guardbookshop.com