Making Sense of Soccer

As (almost) every European would agree, soccer is more than just a sport and it is obvious that soccer has an influence that goes way beyond the action on the pitch. Soccer has become a mass phenomenon, a multi-billion-dollar business and nothing short of a pseudo religion for many. Italian writer Umberto Eco describes soccer as one of the most common superstitions of our time and even calls it the new opiate of the people. While many soccer fans in Germany (and Europe) might not be acquainted with philosophy, there is a kind of philosophy that they do understand. It’s the philosophy of soccer and the philosophers are the coaches, managers, and players who generously share their insights into the game.

Trap's famous press conference

Trap's famous press conference

Likewise, Eco’s statement can be broken down to soccer terminology as the famous quote by Scottish Bill Shankley proves: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” And Giovanni Trappatoni, who is best-known for his notorious press conference during his spell as coach of Bayern Munich, might want to add: “Soccer is ding, dang, dong. There is more than just ding.”

Soccer has always provided the media with plentiful bloopers and the occurrence of the most absurd statements is by no means restricted to German soccer players. It seems, however, that Germans take soccer quotes more serious than other nations. Which might sound like another (bad) soccer joke, the Deutsche Akademie für Fußballkultur was founded in 2004 to gather bits and pieces of soccer information that are now officially considered cultural. Each year, the academy, whose members among others are the Goethe-Institut, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Zeit and Süddeutsche Zeitung awards the Deutscher Fußball-Kulturpreis in various categories. The  soccer quote of the year usually gets the most attention. With plenty of material to choose from, the committee has just announced its final 11 soccer quotes of the year 2010 and it promises to be a close race for number one.

soccer is boring

This year, Jürgen Klinsmann hopes for a top position with his description of Spanish world-class forward David Villa: “It is delightful to see him play one-on-one, especially against two.” Math has always been a treacherous topic, most famously for Fritz Walter jr. who boasted: “Jürgen Klinsmann and I are a great trio … I mean, quartet.” Lukas Podolski also made it among the last 11 when he was asked which prevails, his happiness to have scored or his disappointment about the 1:1 draw. His answer: “Actually, both prevail.”

Internationally, German teams are feared for their ability to win even when they play less than poorly and therefore, the game can be easily understood from a foreign perspective. “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” (Gary Lineker) For obvious reasons, this rule does not apply to games of the Bundesliga which poses a problem to some teams and brings about brilliant ideas such as Mainz 05 coach Thomas Tuchel’s game plan for the clash with Bayern Munich. “A fast goal and a fast final whistle would help us … and maybe we can park the team bus in front of our goal.” The winner will be announced on October 29th.

It could be argued that soccer’s role in European society is not justified, but the argument may be settled (for now) with Thomas Häßler’s attitude toward the game: “Wenn man mir die Freude am Fußball nimmt, hört der Spaß bei mir auf! “ (translates freely to: “If you take the fun out of soccer you take the fun out of life.”