Soccer World Cup

Brains over brawn could swing it for Germany at the Soccer World Cup

Intelligence counts for a lot when it comes to winning sports matches, writes Andrea Nagel

10 June 2018 - 00:00 By Andrea Nagel
German goal-maker Thomas Müller doesn't play in any traditional position. Instead he calls himself an 'interpreter of space'.
German goal-maker Thomas Müller doesn't play in any traditional position. Instead he calls himself an 'interpreter of space'.
Image: Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

There's an old joke about soccer that goes like this: football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball around a field for 90 minutes and in the end, Germany wins.

While this isn't strictly true - Germany has won the World Cup only four times - I'm confident they'll win it again this year. Why? Because I agree with what sports writer Ed Smith said in 2014 after the last World Cup about the winning German team. He commented that they were noticeably undamaged by the tattoo parlour.

Scientists have not yet proven a definite correlation, but, according to Smith, anecdotal evidence is mounting: tattoos are bad for the brain. It must be the ink sinking into the bloodstream and killing brain cells, he muses - because the intelligence of a team appears to be inversely proportional to the amount of skin they have inked, and that's before ridiculous hairstyles are taken into account.

Of course, this is all in jest, but Smith does make a very good point in his analysis of why some teams are better than others when push comes to shove - or lack thereof in the context of soccer. And that is that intelligence counts for a lot when it comes to winning games.

The imminent World Cup is a great conversation starter, and in various verbal peregrinations with fans I've chatted to, from my Argentinian electrician to my German father, most people think it's German discipline that's to thank for their successful, if somewhat methodical, play. But actually, it's more about intelligence than discipline.

German coach Joachim Löw will be hoping to win the World Cup.
German coach Joachim Löw will be hoping to win the World Cup.
Image: Gallo/Getty

Joachim Löw, the analytical head coach, is back for another tournament, as is goal-maker Thomas Müller. When Löw took on the job for the 2014 World Cup he said that above all else he wanted intelligent players. After beating Brazil 7-1 in the semifinal and Argentina 1-0 in the final, Löw will want a similar strategy this time.

And on the team side of things, Müller, for one, doesn't play in any traditional position - neither striker, wing nor midfielder. He calls himself an "interpreter of space", pulling players out of the positions of their carefully crafted formations.

Müller passed the prestigious German Abitur exam, his skills on the field are determined by his brain, not brawn, by grey matter over glamour, by thinking more than feeling.

And though the games are sure to be filled, as they always are, with spectacular stupidity - shoving, tripping, head-butting and even biting - when it comes to winning, Germans are more likely to use their brains to take out their opponents than their heads.


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