It’s widely regarded by many football experts worldwide that Germany is the nursery for producing goalkeeping greats. Like a clinical production line at a Mercedes plant, Germany seems to release a new updated model to the market with monotonous regularity. The defensive focus of German football means that it’s a fait accompli that the final defensive line will be a powerful and impenetrable force in world football.
Germany’s dominance of World Cup football is on par with the likes of Brazil and Italy with three wins, but it is their consistency in finishing in the final four a record 12 times since the first tournament in Uruguay in 1930 is most impressive. Among the national teams, Germany have played the most World Cup matches, with 99, but surprisingly have played Brazil only once at the tournament in the 2002 final in Japan.
Germany’s history of fine goalkeepers continues with the likes of Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neur wearing the National shirt in 36 appearances to date. The German Football Association tradition of recognising and nurturing talent early, and its their emphasis on international exposure and experience that sets them apart from many. For all of Neuer’s vast 6ft 4in frame, he possesses great flexibility and athleticism in and around the box.
It is the quality of goalkeeping stocks in Germany have at their disposal that burdens the selectors with constant selection headaches that many of the world’s football associations crave when preparing for tournaments like the Euros and the World Cup. That internal competitiveness has always lifted the bar with great rivalries such as the one between Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann for the coveted number one shirt. Lehmann’s career was filled with many highs for Germany but it was his relationship with the Arsenal club and his membership of the famous unbeaten ‘Invincible’ squad of 2003-04 that will long live in the memory of many football fans.
The desire of German keepers to play for their country is what drives them to greatness, with their individual and team records speaking for themselves. Oliver Kahn is among the greatest German keepers to pull on the gloves and the endless vision of his fully outstretched go-go gadget arm deflecting shot after shot in club and international football would fill a highlight reel for weeks. Playing 86 games for his country and captaining 49, showed just what an inspirational leader he was. He is the first and only goalkeeper to win the prestigious FIFA ‘Golden Ball’ voted as the player of the World Cup, but sadly failed to win the ultimate trophy with his country.
The magic ingredient of success in German Football is difficult to pinpoint, but perhaps it was the direction the German Football Federation (GFA) took after their country’s disappointing quarterfinal elimination from the 1962 World Cup tournament. The professional Bundesliga concept was hatched and eventually formed in 1964 strengthening a competition and providing a path for young German players and keepers to hone their talent. The Bundesliga it must be said is a solid competition with a hugely loyal fan base that hardens players for the tough and physical nature of the Euros, Champions League and ultimately the World Cup. Germany’s return didn’t take long as they took on England in the 1966 final at Wembley only to go down in the controversial encounter 4-2. A tough match for keeper Hans Tilkowski who had to watch on in horror as the USSR linesmen advised the referee that the ball had crossed the line. To this day goal-line technology still dominates discussion after every tournament, and yet a modern solution still seems a way off.
1970 saw the German side take revenge on the English by sending them packing in the quarterfinals. The great Sepp Maier was in goals for the semi final against Italy that is commonly referred to as the “Game of the Century”. Josef ‘Sepp’ Maier was known as the “Cat from Anzing” for his sharp reflexes and had an amazing international career lasting from 1966-79 with 95 appearances and four consecutive World Cups including the very special home victory in 1974.
Germany rarely loses the skills and wisdom of their goalkeeping talent with many of the greats continuing their great work by coaching and mentoring young keepers long after ending their playing careers. Maier enjoyed a long and successful career as goalkeeping coach with Germany from 1988 up until his exit in 2004 following his much-publicised preference for his prodigy Oliver Kahn over Jens Lehmann.
What is for certain is the dominance of German keepers will continue long into many Euro and World Cup tournaments in the future. Germany’s emphasis on strong defensive principles backed with a forward line that is clinical in it’s scoring are two key ingredients but it is the often forgotten goalkeeper in my opinion that is the glue that binds the team together.