This year’s World Cup final could be the most ironic ever. Before this World Cup qualifying campaign, Germany were a sight for sore eyes. Their unglamorous but efficient style brought them plenty of success but few admirers across the globe. Players like Michael Ballack, Torsten Frings and Bernd Schneider carried on the German tradition of solidity and proficiency into the early and middle part of the noughties. But at the same time a revolution was brewing in youth football.


The players we have seen swagger effortlessly around South African pitches in the past few weeks were learning their trade. Take Sami Khedira, the man who has filled in easily for Ballack, was captaining the German youth teams to success and forcing his way into the Stuttgart first team. The Germans were learning a different brand of football—one that would be of use in the not-so-distant future.

Across the border in the Netherlands, the Dutch national team were continuing their tradition of underachievement. In 2006 they were knocked out in the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup by Portugal. However, for as long as the World Cup has been in existence, the Dutch have won admirers for sticking by their free-flowing, attractive style of ‘Total Football’.

When Bert Van Marwijk arrived as head coach of the national team, he signalled a change. It was quite obvious that the ‘sexy’ football that neutrals enjoyed so much was not going to win the Netherlands a big tournament any time soon. Instead he changed the Dutch philosophy. Armed with this new pragmatism, the team may have lost a few fair-weather fans but stand just 90 minutes away from their first World Cup final for 32 years.

Changing a country’s style of football is not an easy thing to do. One may have sacrificed style for substance and the other vice versa, but the two countries outlined above have adapted to the constant evolution of international football. Germany needed some sexing up, Holland needed a chill pill. England, at the very least, needs to start developing technique at an earlier age and rectify the power that clubs have over the national team. Maybe the FA should take notice before England fall even further behind.