Germany and the language of football

Posted on: 14 June 2018 by Veronika Koeper-Saul in 2018 posts

Frank Beckenbauer (AP)
Franz Beckenbauer lifts the 1974 World Cup in West Germany (AP)

Veronika Koeper-Saul discusses the linguistic idiosyncrasies that have arisen from perspectives of the beautiful game in Germany: from 1954 World Cup winning manager Sepp Herberger's blunt motivational words, to former Bayern Munich manager Giovanni Trappatoni's infamous press conference rant.

„Ja, gut, es gibt nur eine Möglichkeit: Sieg, Unentschieden oder Niederlage.”

(“Well, there is only one possibility: victory, draw or defeat.”)

— Franz Beckenbauer, aka ,der Kaiser', who scored in the quarter finals against England during the World Cup in Mexico 1970, securing victory for Germany.

Such wisdom makes Beckenbauer a true heir of Sepp Herberger, the 1954 German national coach, whose unforgettable words „Der Ball ist rund” and „Das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten” (“The ball is round” and “The match lasts 90 minutes”) even made it into film (Das Wunder von Ber (2003), dir. by Sönke Wortmann).

And the tradition continues. „Zitate sind das ,Salz in der Suppe' und gehören heutzutage zum Profifußball wie hochauflösendes Bundesligafernsehen oder die Simultan-Konferenz im Hörfunk” (“Quotes are the “salt in the soup” and are nowadays part of professional football like high-resolution Bundesliga-TV or radio broadcasts in conference mode”) — Grüne Zitate.

Sepp Herberger

Sepp Herberger celebrates winning the 1954 World Cup, dubbed the Miracle of Bern (

The crudest and most simplistic ones work best, not only because they get the best laughs, but usually they open up debate, whether there is not a deep truth hidden underneath seemingly obvious or “wrong” statements. Is it not better for the footballer to concentrate on the basics of their job, rather than giving high-brow TV-interviews? Or worrying unnessessarily? „Geht’s raus und spielt’s Fußball“ (“Get out and play football") is another Beckenbauer gem, given to the German team when he coached them during the 1990 tournament. Germany won the cup, so it can’t have been the worst advice.

Similarly, we Germans even love 'wrong' German in that vein, since sometimes it brings out additional meanings and phrases that just needed to be invented, as in former Bayern Munich coach Giovanni Trappatoni’s legendary words „Ich habe fertig“ during a 1998 TV interview. His brilliance lies in mixing the phrases „Ich bin fertig“ ("I have finished") with „Ich habe die Nase voll“ ("I am fed up"), since when you are really fed up you finish, and that’s what he actually does:

Sancta simplicitas! Or as Goethe, Germany’s most famous writer put it in Das Sonett: „In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister“ (The master truely proves himself by his restraint). In their successful simplicity, footballers and football coaches are loved as philosophers, even if they are not taken 100% seriously, as this video shows from an episode of TV series Zeiglers wunderbare Welt des Fußballs

What is Dettmar Cramer (70s Bayern Munich coach) saying here? Well, the most important bits are:

  • „Es gibt überhaupt nur zwei Probleme im Fußball, das sind Zeit und Raum. Es geht heute darum, dass man auf engstem Raum in kürzester Zeit gut spielt.“ ("There are only two problems in football: time and space. Today’s task is to play well in in the most confined space and the shortest of time.“)
  • „Die Spielzeit dauert 90 Minuten, geteilt in zwei Halbzeiten, und das Spielfeld ist 105 Meter lang und 70 Meter breit, und auf beiden Seiten stehen elf Spieler.“ ("The playing time is 90 minutes, divided into two half times and the playing field is 105 meter long and 70 meter wide, and there are eleven players on either side.“)
  • „Rache ist Blutwurst.“ – "Revenge is a blood sausage.“ (Revenge is cruel, but sweet and satisfying.“)
  • „Das is ja schon raffinistisch [raffiniert]!” (“That’s really elaboratorious [over-elaborate]!”)

Well, I hope this year’s teams have taken all this to heart, and there will be a fair result. To quote Lukas Podolski: "So ist Fußball. Manchmal gewinnt der Bessere.“ (“That’s football. Occasionally the better team wins.”)

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