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May 3, 2013
‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch?’, L’Equipe asked its readers on Thursday morning, noting that this ‘might be helpful when following the Champions League final’. In his daily column, Didier Braun already announced, very tongue-in-cheek, for the eve of the final the inevitable wave of editorials likely to draw on the parallels between Germany’s domination of the Eurozone and the Bundesliga’s surprising hold-up on European football. He is right: editorialists and intellectuals love to establish such parallels. Of course, it is always tempting to interpret football as a mirror of politics and to establish links between what happens on the pitch and in international relations. Needless to point out that the temptation becomes irresistible when Germany is concerned.
It is understandable that media seek to exploit the symbolic potential of football, especially on a European level. And it is only natural that in the current political configuration Germany is the object of extrasportive allusions and references in the press. Especially when its main opponent on the pitch is Spain, another symbolic key player in both the economic and financial crisis and European football.
It does not come as a surprise then to have intellectuals muse about the multiple facets of German domination. Or renowned newspapers like The Guardian publish op-eds pretending that “the Champions League semi-final clashes mirror Europe’s political tensions” and that “beating the powerful Germans in a Champions League semi-final (…) would bring a much-needed morale boost to millions of Spaniards who have seen their quality of life unexpectedly worsened in recent times”. Articles like this remind the reader of Euro2012 and the relentless efforts of the media to load up the quarter final between Greece and Germany with some kind of aggressive symbolism.
The good news is: it does not work any more. The tempting parallels between football and international politics may reach a general public who does not care much about football in normal times. But they appear remarkably disconnected from the attentive public of what may be called the European football community.
The new interactivity of football websites and fan forums reveals that media discourse of this sort is either consumed rather critically or ignored altogether. Having spent several hours this week on French and English football web pages over the virtually thousands of comments on the Spanish-German summits of European football, I have hardly found any singificant contributions that picked up the political parallels. Of course, football fans are interested in the economy of football and different models of football governance, and there was much talk about the financial management of the four Champions League semi-finalists, but articles like the one mentioned above were simply dismissed as ‘ridiculous’, ‘pathetic’ or ’100% pure populist and polemic nonsense.’
To quote some of the comments in extenso:
‘Football is probably a rather poor vehicle to make all but the most superficial of political and economic points, at the end of the day.’
‘Projecting national insecurities on football teams is as low-bottom as it gets. If your quality of life is rubbish, football should be the least of your worries.’
‘If you’re struggling to make ends meet I hardly think the result of a football match contested by a collection of millionaires is going to make a huge amount of difference. (…) The idea that people might be less pissed off about having no money from month to month because Real Madrid or Barcelona won a trophy is silly in my opinion.’
‘I don’t really see how that [the football results] might be applied to their respective economies.’
‘The success of the German teams this year means we are all going to be exposed to numerous articles suggesting the football world is going to be crushed beneath the all powerful machinery of the mighty German shock troops (Bundesliga teams to the rest of us.)’
These quotes may be aptly concluded by a spontaneous Spanish-German dialogue on this English news website:
‘As a Spaniard, I can say that the most part of us don’t really think that having won Germany would have made us not even a bit happier. The most part of us is looking at other things and problems of the country. (…) Honestly, I expected more of this newspaper.’
‘As a German, I totally agree with you. I love football, but this is going too far here.’
What becomes clear here is that the readers of football web pages are no longer fooled by media discourse. They are perfectly capable of adopting a critical distance and treat the tempting paralles of football and politics with irony. Like the taxi driver at my last visit to Barcelona last october who welcomed me to ‘Spain, the European champion of football and unemployment’, only to add: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll manage to get rid of both titles.’