I know it says something ugly about me that I still regard Harald ‘Toni’ Schumacher as the biggest footballing scumbag of my lifetime.
I know, also, that he’s apologised to Patrick Battiston (although only for his nonchalant attitude after nearly killing him). And I’m aware that some of you won’t even know who they are.
The scene is World Cup 1982. The first I’ve attended. My consiglieri, Graeme Runcie, and I are still in Andalucia a month after arriving there and it’s Germany v France in the semi final.
Scotland’s defeat to Brazil in the same city, Sevilla, (although in the Betis stadium) has foretold the climactic challenge. Though the game, just like Scotland’s group match, is at night the temperature is 90+ degrees and rising. Incredible.
It’s a game of such oozing, velvet excellence that it would knock all of the matches at this Brazilian festival, which are winning such orgasmic praise, into a cocked hat.
But there’s an act of villainy …
Germany’s keeper, Schumacher, deliberately leaps into Battiston as France’s substitute gallops through to try and loft a glorious Michel Platini through-ball over him.
With a twist of his hip he meets the on-rushing Battiston full in the face knocking him unconscious for half an hour, dislodging teeth and damaging vertebrae. Just as with Luis Suárez the crime is compounded a) by intent and b) by disgusting post-incident denial.
Platini later admits he thinks that Battiston has died on the pitch. (In reality, he recovers after months of rehab and two years later conquers Europe with Les Bleus.)
To my eyes, that fevered night, it was the worst player-on-player incident I’d ever seen on a football pitch and it wouldn’t be far from that now, despite playing in the Glasgow amateur leagues where a red-carded player sought out his car and drove it at the ref (missing thankfully)
France played utterly gloriously and led 3-1 in extra time but two of their defenders were injured, limping, Platini was evidently drained and because of Schumacher’s criminal behaviour they had used both their (then) two subsitutes. They wilted. Ludicrously the ref didn’t even book Schumacher, let alone send him off. If I’ve seen a worse decision then I can’t recall it.
Les Bleus pay the penalty …
And it cost France. West Germany, already vilified for their ‘let’s black-ball Algeria from our World Cup’ staged-result against Austria, also played splendidly but it was a bitter sight when they rallied to 3-3 and won on penalties. The two countries needed to engage their parliamentary leaders in order to calm the hostility which resulted.
What all of this dusts down, I’d say, is what, if any, part ‘revenge’ can, will, or should play when the two nations are paired again in an all-or-nothing World Cup tie so many years later. I think it’s an interesting concept.
They’ve played since, of course, but the fact that it has only been 10 times in 32 years makes this a relatively rare fixture and only once was it competitive – the World Cup semi final again two years after Schumacher’s infamy. The Germans won 2-0.
Deschamps, I’m not surprised to report, wants to divert attention away from the ‘revenge’ theme.
His stated view is:
It happened over 30 years ago so what am I supposed you tell the players, the majority of whom weren’t born? (exceptions Evra, Landreaü and Weidenfeller for Germany). You have to live in your own generation.
It’s the majority point of view whenever the concept of speaking publicly about using ‘pay-back’ as a motivational tool comes up. First of all: IF you are going to use it then why talk about it in public?
Motivational tools, of whatever hue, usually work best when they are stored up in private and then uncorked in a match.
Secondly: some just don’t believe in it.
On the ‘revenge’/’payback’ theme however, anyone who doubts its power needs to think back to the 1988 Euro semi final between Holland and Germany when it was so powerfully evoked that it became a 12th man for the Dutch who won, 2-1 in extremis and then went on to lift their first international title. Ditto the atmosphere when England played Argentina in 2002.
Anyone a little younger need only look at the fire in the belly of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben against Spain this tournament four years after Holland were publicly roasted for their brutality in the 2010 final and beaten to a title they know they might have won.
Payback time …
Revenge can work – it can give a good squad that extra little ‘jag’.
The ‘No’ camp tend to argue that training a squad, fine tuning tactics and handing everything to talent and discipline is anathema to introducing a rogue, anarchic, emotional gene like payback.
The ‘Yes’ camp know that it can be akin to a scientific theorem: talent and power plus extra incentive = determination to the power of intensity.
When I last interviewed Didier Deschamps he told me:
Leadership is something natural, something that you are born with. At birth some are made to lead, some not. Leadership can be developed, it can be worked on but I think that in a team sport, the leader is automatically recognised by those around him. You cannot wake up one morning and say: That’s it! Tomorrow I will be a leader and a captain.
What France benefit from is just that. Deschamps always has and always will be brave – someone unashamed to show total commitment to whatever cause attracts his determination.
My bet is that whatever he says publicly, he’ll use any psychological tool on which he can lay his hands if he think’s it’ll aid a given moment, a particular player.
If some of these French have been weaned by either parents, coaches or the media on stories of ‘that damn night in 1982’ how would payback NOT be in play??
A game for the future …
But where I’ll depart my theme is that in football terms this is a game for the future – not the past.
Germany has long been regarded as the healthy man of world football: a strong, well-balanced domestic league in terms of fan attendance, modern stadia, wealth distribution, wages, respect for the paying punter and, above all, player development.
A national team which has now been finalists, semi finalists, finalists, semi finalists and semi finalists in the five of the last six major tournaments.
Their coach, Joachim Löw (below) has always been engaged in an exciting project – blending the paradigm German footballing skills, mentality, power, pace, aerial ability with young, quick, technically gifted footballers in a playing style which, against Algeria, was based on two men at the back for much of the game. It’s Germany meets FC Barcelona under Guardiola.
Nobody remembers second place …
Yet he’s had loads of flak. Second place is nowhere in German football lore and their dictionary has no words for our phrase ‘third-placed’. For all the power of his soccer-lab experiment to blend Spanish and German philosophies the people want bread to eat. They want trophies.
Die Mannschaft hasn’t won a major tournament since Euro 96. Meantime France, with Ligue 1 in turmoil and a national commission finding that the famed development system oozes physique and pace but not technique, has won two major tournaments and reached the 2006 World Cup final.
France look better placed in this quarter final. More sure of their playing style, with a settled formation, terrific on the counter attack, well coached, physical and athletic.
So who is going to win …
Germany are unsure of who’s fit (flu bug) or match-sharp enough to dominate the ball. They’re unsure of whether Lahm is more important in midfield or right back, unsure how it is they haven’t yet won a tournament under Löw.
Thus, anyone of my age will tell you, it’s obvious who’s going to progress.
Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller to star. Germany in the semi final at 8/11.
And a curse on Schumacher the thug. Let his telly break down just as the game kicks off.