Triumph of the will, the logic and the plan

Stan Hey traces the rise of the Germans, through hard work and organisation, to football superiority
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Just as English industrialists continue to search for the secret of Germany's post-war economic recovery, there are many English football managers who, irrespective of the result of tonight's Euro 96 semi-final between the two nations, will be asking themselves: How did the Germans get to be so good at football? The answer is not as straightforward as Vorsprung durch Technik, but parallels can be glimpsed between the achievements of German industry and its football that may give clues to an astonishing durability in international competition over the past 30 years.

It is perhaps a significant irony that the current German squad is sponsored by Mercedes Benz, the makers of the most reliable cars in the world, while England are sponsored by Green Flag, a national car breakdown service. The contrast between the two countries' footballing fortunes remains equally stark. For Germany's international record embraces three World Cup wins (in 1954, 1974 and 1990), being runners-up in 1982 and 1986, and winning two European Championships (in 1972 and 1980). England, as the soccer chant of the 1970s used to go: "Won two world wars and one World Cup". Not much reward for being the originators of the game.

England, until comparatively recently - last Monday morning, according to the front page of the Daily Star - still believed itself to be an imperial power in world football. The Germans have always sought to modernise their approach to football, being less encumbered by notions of world superiority, at least on the football pitch, that is.

England thrashed Germany 6-3 in Berlin in 1938, causing the kind of radical self-assessment that we didn't suffer until the Hungarians inflicted the same scoreline on us at Wembley in 1953. After the war, the German national coach Sepp Herberger began a programme of reconstruction, based on fitness and technique, which eventually bore fruit with his team's surprise victory over the brilliant Hungarians in the 1954 World Cup final.

The English didn't appoint a national trainer until the mid-1950s, relying on committees of blazered buffers to select and organise the players. While England remained isolated from world football competition, thanks to Harrovian arrogance and amateurish disdain for professionalism, the Germans were travelling, competing against the rest of the world.

So by the summer of 1966, when England won the World Cup at Wembley against Germany, it may have seemed that the old order had been re-established. But for England it was indeed "all over", as far as winning international tournaments was concerned. For the Germans had established a national coaching system for players from the age of 14 upwards. They also had a seamless transition from one long-serving manager to another, and they began to base their national squad around whichever team was the most successful in the Bundesliga.

They insisted that each prospective club manager should take a two-year course in tactics, sports medicine and financial administration before taking charge - another contrast to England, where most new managers have stumbled straight from retirement as players without even acquiring basic coaching or financial skills. Organisation, continuity and logic were the key German themes, just as much on the training pitch as on the factory floor.

Meanwhile, for England the wheels were beginning to come off. In the quarter-final of the 1970 World Cup, it lost 3-2 to West Germany, after being 2-0 ahead. Sir Alf Ramsey, the architect of our sole international triumph, was sacked in 1974 and the Football Association then shovelled its way through a dog-eared pack of English club managers - Don Revie, Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson, Graham Taylor - in the hope that one of them might have the secret.

By contrast, Berti Vogts, the German manager, has been in the national coaching system since he retired as a player in 1979, working his way stealthily upwards. Terry Venables, though a talented coach, on the verge of international achievement, will now leave to hand over to Glenn Hoddle, the most gifted but also the most ill-used English international player of the last two decades. It is not just that the Germans get to the beaches first, but that we take too long to wake up.

Stan Hey was one of the writers of 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet'.