They looked like ordinary, unremarkable commuters: 12 blokes in black anoraks sitting in a Bakerloo Line Tube heading towards Wembley. In Germany yesterday, the media remarked that the decision by the country's soccer team to take the London Underground to training was a " bit of a novelty". Joachim Löw, their coach, insisted that the team had opted for the 42-minute Tube ride because of London's "terrible traffic", flatly ruling out the suggestion that the idea was a publicity stunt. He wasn't joking.
Compare the image of modest, Tube–travelling German footballers with a photograph of the British Premier league player Robin van Persie that appeared in the German and UK media last month: it showed the Manchester United star clutching a large metal ring with bunches of keys for each of his five cars attached. They included two Porches, a BMW X5, a Range Rover and an Audi. "For trips down to the shops, Robin likes to drive his white BMW X5," readers were informed. The contrast between Teutonic and British soccer culture could hardly be greater. "In Britain, soccer stars are the Kings of Bling, in Germany the idea of a good night out for Bundesliga players is a couple of beers and being in bed by midnight," one DFB insider told The Independent yesterday.
The ostentatious way in which British First Division players display their enormous wealth is accepted as a normal component of UK soccer, and if anything it is encouraged by the popular press. In German soccer, players showing off money is considered vulgar not least because it turns off the fans. That is not to say that German players are not wealthy, but they don't display it and the media does not dwell on it.
The upshot is that while Manchester United's star players buy country mansions and become fully fledged members of the "Cheshire Set", their German counterparts at Bayern Munich live in modest accommodation in the suburbs of the Bavarian capital and attract little attention other than when they are on the soccer pitch.
A highlight for the German media is when national or major Bundesliga team players decide to attend the annual Munich Oktoberfest beer festival. Despite the oceans of alcohol on tap, German footballers are rarely photographed drunk or even getting drunk. Instead, they turn up dressed in traditional Bavarian Lederhosen costumes with their Dirndl-clad wives or girlfriends, and order dinner with their drinks. It is a far cry from "five car-key" football.
Germany's modest approach to soccer has obvious roots in the country's history. After 1945, football was one of the few ways of regaining some form of international recognition and pride for a disgraced and shunned nation. Nobody was going to applaud show-offs; especially not German soccer show-offs.
Germany reinvented its own peculiar brand of soccer modesty for the World Cup, which it hosted in 2006. Reunited Germany wanted to be loved and the soccer tournament was the ideal vehicle. Jürgen Klinsmann fielded a young German national side comprised of players who were so unknown that they had neither the money nor the media reputation to show off. Klinsmann forged an almost hermetically sealed team identity which frowned on the notion of individual players capturing the limelight.
The Klinsmann concept continues. Today's players are still modest. With the growing inclusion of foreign and domestic immigrant players to the national squad, German soccer sees itself as a standard bearer of new multiculturalism.
Mesut Ozil, the Turkish German soccer star is one such player, and part of the modest soccer generation. He plays for Arsenal and lives in Hampstead. German radio recently interviewed customers in his local pub, noting their shock that a soccer star should condescend to drink with them. "We're not used to seeing such famous players close up," said one drinker. Ozil's modesty was clearly working magic.