Germany take pleasure in Vogts' pains

Euro 2004: Scotland's beleaguered manager cuts a lonely figure as he prepares to take on an unforgiving homeland
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The Independent Online

Schadenfreude will not feature among the names on Rudi Völler's team-sheet on Saturday at Hampden Park. There is little doubt, however, that it will be Germany's twelfth man.

Berti Vogts may say there is nothing personal about being pitchforked in against the country that dispensed with his services five years ago, but there is. And it's all coming in his direction. To paraphrase Kevin Keegan - who was Vogts' nemesis during their playing careers - Germany would love it, just love it, if their football outcast were to be humiliated in Glasgow.

A German television reporter stood on the pitch at Tynecastle last Tuesday night, after the dust had settled on Scotland's 1-1 draw in a friendly with New Zealand, and did his piece to camera. It was unlikely to contain any heartfelt message of solidarity ahead of the European Championship qualifying game.

There is no fear among the German public about the Group Five encounter. Why should there be? While Germany contested the World Cup final against Brazil last summer, Scotland have won only three of their 16 games since Vogts took over as national coach 15 months ago. That has only increased the pleasure his homeland has taken in his slide into obscurity.

It's hard to pinpoint why Vogts arouses such antipathy in Germany. True, he lacks the charisma of his predecessor and colleague, Franz Beckenbauer. However, Vogts delivered success at Euro 96 and was runner-up four years earlier.

"Neither the media or the supporters ever really warmed to Berti," explained Manfred Munchrath of Kicker magazine. "People didn't think he was a good tactician. He also failed at two World Cup finals, the competition that matters most to Germans."

Failure is a relative term. Both times, Vogts' team were eliminated in the quarter-finals. After becoming world champions in 1990, it was a national disaster when Bulgaria ended their reign at US 94. When Croatia repeated the trick at France 98, it was auf wiedersehen, Berti.

Right now, Scotland would kill for that sort of failure. A worrying inability to win has become a malaise under Vogts. A humbling defeat by Austria in a friendly in April was watched by just 12,000 at Hampden, and there are doubts whether all 50,000 seats will sold for the visit of Germany. Once, drawing with New Zealand would have provoked a storm of protest (the Kiwis are ranked No 51 by Fifa, 13 places above the Scots, illustrating the slide), but just a few half-hearted jeers greeted the final whistle on Tuesday.

Vogts could be the loneliest man in the world on Saturday night if Scotland lose. Shunned by his homeland and the place which offered sanctuary. He hears all the "McBerti" taunts from back home, all the gloating about how he is a failure, and yet he tries to maintain an immunity to it all.

"Germany were my family, but now I have a new family and I love my new family," insisted Vogts in his office at Hampden. "I love the Scottish way of life, I love the Scottish people. I even understand the journalists here better than I did in Germany." Cruelty is not an exclusively German trait. When Vogts informed the post-match press conference at Tynecastle that he believed Scotland could still beat Germany, it was ridiculed in headlines that suggested he had been at the schnapps.

"I have a very good feeling about this match," he declared. "This is not blind optimism, there has been more and more progress. When I watched back the match with New Zealand, I thought the players did very well in it. The first half was a good performance. It was only the result that was disappointing."

True, a number of Vogts' first-choice selections were missing. However, he will also be deprived of the services of Barry Ferguson on Saturday. Vogts has shown patience all season with the midfielder, who has a pelvic problem, and allowed him to miss several games. The reward was to discover that Rangers then moved the player's surgery appointment forward from 9 June.

Deep down, Vogts knows he would not be worried about this encounter if he were still in charge of Germany. "Very worried in the past but not now," he laughed. "There is a lot of respect on the German side for Scottish football. They watch all the matches, but they haven't seen the best Scottish team yet. They will on Saturday."

His counterpart has not been too impressed. Völler watched the 1-0 defeat in Lithuania that pushed Scotland back into third place in the group, and his reported comments were scathing. Vogts, though, defends the man on whom he once relied to score goals for him and Germany. "I spoke to Rudi three weeks ago and told him about the negative headline, but those were not the words from Rudi. He is always a very positive guy. It was very easy for him when he took over, because the Germans played badly at Euro 2000.

"He brought a lot of young players and it was the first time in history that the Germans had to go for a play-off place to get to the World Cup, but he got them to the final against Brazil. However, Germany is a big football nation and the real pressure for him is the World Cup 2006. It's at home and Germany must win the World Cup. I tell you, second place is nothing, it's a disaster. In 1992, when we lost the European Championship final against Denmark, it was a disaster."

Vogts knows he does not have the same raw material to work with that he had in Germany. The player who fires his imagination most on Saturday will be wearing a white shirt ("Michael Ballack is the best midfielder in the world," Vogts has stated) but he promises: "We will give Germany a hard time, we will fight, we will be very Scottish. I didn't come here just to play golf, you know."

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