03 July 2010

What Fußball Says About the Globalization of Germany

SoccerQuantified has an interesting post about the make-up of this year's phenomenal German World Cup team. Here is an excerpt:
While Manuel Neuer, Arne Friedrich, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Thomas Müller are all Germans of German descent and were born in Germany, Sami Khedira, Mesut Özil, Mario Gomez, Lukas Podolski, Marko Marin, Miroslav Klose, and Jeronimo Baretto Cacau are different. And it’s not just the starters: the bench was loaded with non-traditional Germans of Nigerian (Aogo), Ghanaian (Boateng), Turkish (Tasci), and Polish descent (Trochowski), alongside goalies Butt and Wiese, and field players Jansen, Kroos, and Kießling.

All of the seven non-standard Germans who played last night [against Australia] have at least one parent who is not German (only two have one German parent: Khedira's and Gomez's mothers are German). And the most common foreign origin of players on the German team is Poland (Podolski and Klose; along with Trochowski who sat on the bench). Khedira’s father is Tunisian, Gomez’s is Spanish, Özil’s parents are Turkish, Podolski’s and Klose’s parents are immigrants from Poland, while Marin’s parents immigrated from Bosnia-Herzegovina). Cacau’s story is a little more complicated; he came to Germany as a young man of 18 to live with an uncle and try his luck in German soccer. But wouldn’t you know it, 3 of the 7 were born in Germany.

So how did the Germans end up with such an international team? Before you accuse the German soccer association of scouring the world to buy some new citizens who know how to play soccer, think again. It all makes sense, at least to a political scientist, historian, or economist, and there’s nothing fishy about it. In a curious way, the make-up of the German team reflects different trends in recent German history.

Take Özil (or Tasci). During the 1950s and 1960s, Germany rebuilt its economy from the ashes of World War II. In fact, the German economy became so successful that commentators refer to this period as “the German economic miracle”. The economy grew, and labor markets grew tight. Enter the Turks. Originally attracted to work in Germany’s booming economy, which faced severe labor shortages in the last 1960s, many came and stayed. Today, slightly less than 2 million Turks live in Germany. Turks are the single largest group of immigrants in Germany, and have been for a long time. Today. Unsurprisingly, many of today’s young Turks (no pun intended) in Germany are actually German-born and raised. If anything, it’s surprising that not more Turks have made it to the national team.

And Klose’s, Podolski’s, and Marin’s stories are stories of vicinity and opportunity, but also of geo-politics. Their parents left Poland and Bosnia (Marin) to find better lives and better jobs in the West – they fled communist Poland before the end of the Cold War. Klose’s parents originally went to France – his dad was a professional soccer player, too – and eventually to Germany; Podolski’s parents immigrated to Germany in 1987. Marin’s parents left Bosnia in 1991 and settled in Germany. If I had to guess, and if you ask historians of the Bosnian wars of the early 1990s, they'll tell you that Bosnia wasn’t a great place to be in 1991, especially if you were young and had a young child.

So looking at the map, it’s clear that there’s a neighborhood effect. But beyond this, you can think of the players’ origins as testament to the Cold War (and its end), as well as a reflection of the histories of post-WWII war Germany and Europe.
Congrats to Germany on a convincing victory today!