The Daily

World Cup 2014

Schadenfreude

July 14, 2014 | by

Gotze

Götze kicks the match-winning goal. Photo: Danilo Borges/Portal da Copa, via Wikimedia Commons

How apt that the Brazilians are living off Schadenfreude: after the debacle against Germany and a little extra humiliation from Holland, all Brazil’s fans seemed to want was for Germany to prevent Argentina from victory dancing on the beach at Copacabana. Believe me, I get it. As a lifelong supporter of Tottenham Hotspur FC in the English Premier League, much of my soccer pleasure in the last half-century, sadly, has derived only from misfortunes experienced by Arsenal FC, Tottenham’s arch rivals. In the years 1960–1962, Tottenham was clearly the superior team—since then, not so much. Like Brazil and Argentina, the two clubs are neighbors, and Arsenal, like Brazil, has the larger fan base and more money.

But I want to tell you, Brazilians: Schadenfreude (yours and mine) is unhealthy. It mocks the meat it feeds on. Brazil (population two hundred million) is in a much better position that Argentina (population forty-one million) to do something to transform its lackluster team into world-beaters. They need look no further than Germany, where, over a twenty-year period, an entire system from youth soccer up was revamped in the wake of defeat and disappointment to produce the superior team that yesterday won the World Cup in style: a triumph that not a soul would deny they deserved. Is this why the U.S. keeps spying on Deutschland? Looking for the blueprint that will take us to number one? Or are we simply after Angela Merkel’s recipe for Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte?

The sun set behind Christ the Redeemer, and then Argentina went down, too. Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball for best player in the tournament (not that he cared), but it could just as easily have gone to Arjen Robben or Bastian Schweinsteiger or Javier Mascherano. After two overtime games in five days, Messi looked, at times, as if he were walking through treacle. When, as the final minutes ticked away, he stepped up to take his last do-or-die free kick, he was already a forlorn figure; that ball was going wide, or over the bar, and everyone in the Maracanã knew it. Messi’s problem? He was too much on his own, dropping ever deeper, as if a retreat into the shadows of his own half would conjure a Di María to run back up the field with him. In his most successful years, Pelé was surrounded by players of great genius—Garrincha, Tostão, Jairzinho, and Rivelino—individuals with talents that didn’t quite match the master’s, but enabled them to provide stellar support. While Mascherano was a beast in the Argentine defense, Messi had no one quite at the level required for his game to shine at its brightest. He’ll have to return to Barcelona for that.

Of course, there’s always the feeling that he should have been able to do it on his own—a feat Maradona is believed to have accomplished in World Cup 1986, when he scored or assisted on ten of Argentina’s fourteen goals. But, even with the great Lothar Matthäus on board, the West Germany that Argentina beat in that final was not at the same level as Germany 2014, the first team to win a major international championship since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Where Germany is concerned, everyone reaches for the engineering metaphors—it’s knee-jerk—and, this time around, it doesn’t apply. Okay, Germany is well coached: Is this why Ian Darke, the English ESPN/ABC commentator, described Jogi Löw as resembling a Bond villain? Baffling. The team played with a smoothness not like that of a well-oiled machine, but more like that of the movements of choreographed dancers. It looked like art out there, not industry. Certainly Mario Götze’s lovely goal from André Schürrle’s cross was full of grace: one swift movement, chest to foot to back of net. Götze’s father is a professor of computer science at Dortmund University. His son’s goal may be the best thing that has happened to academia this century.

I’ve watched fourteen World Cups, and 2014 is the best I can remember since 1970, bites and all. And now we move on to Putin-land, where Russia (population 146 million) will take on their greatest rivals, the eleven courageous young women of Pussy Riot.

Jonathan Wilson’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, and Best American Short Stories, among other publications. He is the author of eight books, including Kick and Run: Memoir with Soccer Ball. He lives in Massachusetts.

4 COMMENTS

2 Comments

  1. Pete Morris | July 14, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    This doesn’t really change the story, but Germany did win Euro 96, which was both a “major international championship” and subsequent to the fall of the Wall.

    As Brazil and the rest of the world looks to Germany as a model of success to emulate, they would be wise to look beyond the work of the DFB itself and also look at the role played by the Bundesliga and, especially, FCB and BVB, in developing this generation of players, physically, technically, and psychologically. So while Jogi and Jurgen certainly deserve their fair share of credit, I don’t think Germany adds its fourth star without the work of Jupp and the other Jurgen, Herr Klopp.

  2. e n | July 16, 2014 at 4:02 am

    Nitpick: The 1990 win was, in fact, after the Berlin wall fell (in November ’89), only the official re-unification wasn’t completed until 11 months later, after the cup.
    The intent here is clear, but the metonymic usage doesn’t quite work in this case, sorry!

2 Pingbacks

  1. […] “How apt that the Brazilians are living off Schadenfreude: after the debacle against Germany and a little extra humiliation from Holland, all Brazil’s fans seemed to want was for Germany to prevent Argentina from victory dancing on the beach at Copacabana. Believe me, I get it. As a lifelong supporter of Tottenham Hotspur F.C. in the English Premier League, much of my soccer pleasure in the last half-century, sadly, has derived only from misfortunes experienced by Arsenal F.C., Tottenham’s arch rivals. In the years 1960–1962, Tottenham was clearly the superior team—since then, not so much. Like Brazil and Argentina, the two clubs are neighbors, and Arsenal, like Brazil, has the larger fan base and more money.” The Paris Review – Jonathan Wilson […]

  2. […] This doesn’t mean that the backend of the tournament was bereft of excitement. But Germany’s disposition toward offensive football was, in the end, hardly contagious. The consensus seems to be that Argentina had plenty of chances, but they only managed two shots on goal. And Leo Messi found himself playing in an Argentina side that chose similar tactics to those he plays against with FC Barcelona: keep things compact, go for broke on the counter. Divorced from the ball, hoping for a glimpse of it as he defended some game-planned space on the field, he must have felt like he was playing in an alternate universe. In 2018 he’ll be thirty-one. A better ending then, maybe in a Moscow final, isn’t beyond his abilities. But the difference between Argentina winning and losing this year’s World Cup was never about Messi’s abilities. […]

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