As German as Özil and Boateng

Germany can be proud of its multicultural football team and how it's helping change the country's national identity, writes The Local's Marc Young. But sport alone won't be enough.

As German as Özil and Boateng
Photo: DPA

Despite playing some of the most dazzling football of the tournament, Germany’s grasp for World Cup glory came up short this summer.

Turfed out of the semi-finals by a much more mature Spanish side that would eventually go on to hoist the trophy, it was a bittersweet end to a German Sommermärchen, or summer fairy tale, for coach Jogi Löw’s young team.

Still, Germans took heart as exciting new players like Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Jerome Boateng stepped on to the pitch and made the world take notice. Others, like the immensely impressive Bastian Schweinsteiger, filled the vacuum left by the national team’s injured captain Michael Ballack with aplomb. Playing a combination of stylish and effective football, they are certain to be a force to be reckoned with at the European championship in two years’ time.

But even more importantly, Löw’s multicultural team – 11 players have foreign roots – have come to reflect the diversity of modern German society. Just years ago it would have been unthinkable for Die Mannschaft to be made up of players with Polish, Turkish, Ghanaian and Tunisian backgrounds. That they are now considered “German” enough to take to the pitch for their country proves that more and more Germans are realizing theirs is a land of immigration.

On Saturday morning, I saw two little blond boys head back from a Berlin corner shop with milk and the newspaper for their parents. They both wore self-made German football jerseys – white t-shirts with player names and numbers in black ink. The older boy, maybe six, had “Neuer” in honour of Germany’s equally blond goalkeeper. But his younger towheaded brother was proudly sporting a misspelled “Ösil” on his back.

Considering Özil and Boateng probably would have chosen to play respectively for Turkey or Ghana only a few years ago, such heartwarming scenes can only help speed the integration of foreigners into German society. For only when immigrants feel both wanted and accepted will they have a real incentive to become happy and productive citizens. Unfortunately, it appears many still don’t.

That’s because amid all of the positive headlines about the diversity of the national football team, two worrying developments also came to light in recent weeks.

First, it was announced the number of foreigners becoming nationalized German citizens is dropping. Clearly people either don’t want a German passport or the government is not doing enough to encourage foreign residents to apply for one. Both should worry proponents of integrating immigrants into German society and encourage Chancellor Angela Merkel’s right-wing government to drop its antiquated opposition towards dual nationality. By the same token, hysterical leftists need to stop harassing patriotic immigrants for supporting the German national team by displaying the country’s colours.

Second, a survey showed the overwhelming majority of immigrant children face severe disadvantages in the German school system. Though it’s always tough for newcomers to adjust to a new country, education is the key to ensuring their children can improve their lot while giving something back to society. Naturally, not everyone can play dazzling football for the national team like Mesut Özil.

But people like Özil and Boateng can still be immensely important role models to kids from both German and immigrant families.

Their message? It doesn’t matter where you come from – everybody in Germany is playing on the same team.

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Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.