When Sami Khedira and his Under-21 team‑mates held aloft the European Championship trophy last summer, after humbling England 4–0 in the final, they dreamed of changing the face of German football. Little did they know that their opportunity would come so quickly.
This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com
After Euro 2008, Joachim Löw, the Germany manager, accepted the need to "rejuvenate" a squad that had become too heavily seasoned in parts. He has done so in spectacular fashion. Germany have only nine survivors from that tournament here. (It is worth remembering that they were runners-up in Austria and Switzerland.) And once Löw had done with filleting his squad, the players he turned to were almost all from the next generation.
Khedira, the U-21 captain during that heady campaign in Sweden, and five of his team‑mates, including Mesut Ozil, who had orchestrated the destruction of Stuart Pearce's England, were given the call and so were four other youngsters who were eligible for the U-21 finals. Two of those, Thomas Müller and Holger Badstuber, were not selected for Sweden simply because they had not yet emerged from Bayern Munich's reserves. Their progress over this past season has been startling.
The youth of this new Germany, however, is only part of the story. The country has changed greatly over the past decade or so, with its society becoming more integrated, and Löw's squad reflects what the tabloids like to call German "multi-culti". Of the six players promoted from Horst Hrubesch's U-21 champions, five are of immigrant backgrounds. The exception is the goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Khedira's father is Tunisian and Ozil is of Turkish descent. Jerome Boateng's father is Ghanaian, Dennis Aogo's is Nigerian while Marko Marin was born in Bosnia. In addition, Serdar Tasci, one of the group that was eligible for Sweden but did not play, has Turkish parents.
The German government oversaw a liberalisation of its eligibility laws in 1999, which made it easier for foreigners and the children of immigrants to gain citizenship. The stand-out case in Löw's squad is the striker Cacau, who came on as a substitute against Australia to score the fourth goal. The 29-year-old was born and raised in Brazil and came to Germany, initially, to play lower-league football. But as he has worked his way to the top, so he has passed the requisite tests to become a German national. One of his examination questions concerned the names of former German chancellors; Cacau has consequently earned the nickname of "Helmut" from his team‑mates.
The challenge that faced the German Football Association (DFB), though, was to make sure the likes of Khedira, Ozil and Boateng did not declare for the other countries for which that they were eligible. Boateng's brother, Kevin-Prince, the Portsmouth forward, has pledged himself to Ghana – in a quirk of fate, Germany face Ghana in the final group game, pitting the brothers against one and other.
Driven perhaps by their lack of young talent, the DFB made a conscious effort to court and groom players from the immigrant community, even employing a dedicated integration officer. They can now enjoy the fruits of those labours.
"We are aware that it's something new to have German national players with Turkish, Ghanaian, Nigerian or Tunisian roots but for our generation, it's very normal," said Khedira, who is the DFB's poster boy for the liberation generation. "We have some players called Khedira and some called Müller. We don't know any differently."
Ozil's case is considered as being particularly significant. Turkish-Germans represent by far the largest ethnic minority in the country and, in the past, many of them, like the Altintop brothers, have opted to play for the country of their parents. Ozil, a third generation immigrant, could inspire the community to follow in his footsteps.