GlobalPost, June 27, 2012
BERLIN, Germany — Joachim Loew, coach of Germany’s national soccer team, should be elated. His team is undefeated in the Euro 2012 tournament. It is now poised to reach the final, if it can beat archrivals Italy on Thursday, giving Germany a chance to claim its first major tournament victory since 1996.
Instead, the coach is irate. And so are his compatriots.
A mole with access to the inner ranks of his team has been leaking vital information to the press about the team’s lineup. That means hours or even days before each match, Germany’s opponents know who they’ll be up against.
The leaks are causing no end of frustration within the German camp. Team captain Phillip Lahm has branded the informant — who remains undiscovered — a “disgrace.”
Before the first game, against Portugal, the press knew that striker Mario Gomez would start, instead of star player Miroslav Klose. It was also revealed that midfielder Lars Bender would play against Denmark, replacing a suspended Jerome Boateng.
But the most blatant proof of a mole came last Friday as Germany was preparing to meet Greece, something of a grudge match due to tensions over the euro crisis.
On Friday at lunch time Loew sat down with his players and told them who was starting, and there were quite a few surprises. Instead of the winning combination of Gomez, Thomas Mueller and Lukas Podolski from the previous game, he took a gamble and opted to play Klose, Andre Schuerrle and Marco Reus. The fact that he has such a choice of strong players is of course one of the team’s great advantages. The idea was to make the German team more unpredictable for its opponents.
Yet within less than an hour Bild, Germany’s biggest selling newspaper, and football magazine Kicker had revealed these changes.
Of course, it turned out not to be such a huge disadvantage. Greece was defeated 4-2.
No matter. Loew had been carefully cultivating harmony and camaraderie in the team. The leak felt like a betrayal.
“The whole nation is behind us,” team captain Lahm said afterwards at a press conference. “So it’s a disgrace for the line-up to be in the public eye so early. The one with the problem is the guy who has done this because he is damaging the hopes of the entire nation.”
After all, Germans are hoping that this is their year for glory.
Loew has insisted he doesn’t think that it was a team member dishing the inside news to Bild.
“I am certain it doesn’t come from the players,” he said after the Greek game. “There are other channels, but they are unidentifiable.” He said that the members of the squad probably phone home and tell friends or family if they are due to play or not. “The players talk to their agents, perhaps it comes from there.”
According to Spiegel Online, the information about the team sheet was probably exchanged by an agent or adviser for positive coverage of his client in the press.
The leaks are disappointing to a manager who has sought to keep his players out of the media game as much as possible.
In doing so he is following the lead of former coach Juergen Klinsmann, whom he served as assistant coach before taking over in 2006.
Klinsmann, no friend of the tabloids, had sought to diminish Bild’s influence on the German team. He regarded the paper’s methods as “information corruption.”
In doing so he was taking on a relationship that had developed down the years. Big players like Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthaeus and Rudi Voeller all cultivated a particularly close relationship with the paper.
However, since 2006 there has been hardly any indiscretion from within the German team, which makes it all the more galling now that the squad has such a good chance of making it all the way.
To reach the final, they first have to get past Italy, which has been a thorn in Germany’s side down the years. The Mannschaft has never managed to beat the Italians in a major tournament, and in 2006 it was the Azzuri who prevented their German hosts from getting to the World Cup final on home turf.
If they are to break the Italian curse, then everything has to go perfectly and that includes no leaks.
“I think everyone now should be aware who he passes the line-up to,” Lahm said, with an eye on Thursday’s clash. “We must be extra careful now.”