Football interview with Angela Merkel: "Be fully fit at the right time –and anything is possible"

Monday, January 9, 2006

In an interview with the German newspaper "Bild am Sonntag" the Federal Chancellor explains the offside rule, talks about Germany's chances in the World Cup and about the similarities in politics and sport.

BILD am SONNTAG: Mrs. Merkel, do you know Carmen Thomas?
ANGELA MERKEL: Yes, of course. Schalke 05 ...
Why do you look so surprised?
To be honest, we didn't think you would know about the legendary slip of the tongue our female TV colleague from the German sports show, "Aktuelles Sportstudio", made in 1973.
That's just typical!
What do you mean?
Well. You start with Carmen Thomas. Along the lines of that's what happens when women stick their noses into football.
Now that a woman has driven a man out of the office of Federal Chancellor, are men also faced with the prospect of women becoming better football pundits ... ?
Our women are at the very top in football. When I recently heard that two German teams are in the next UEFA Women's Cup Final, I thought: Our men can only dream of that.
Pope Benedict XVI. didn't recognise Pele at a recent audience ...
I don’t think that’s a big deal. I doubt that I would recognise Johan Cruyff if I met him on the street. I did meet him at the World Cup draw in Leipzig. He has changed a lot from the days of my youth when he was a hero of mine.
Who is top of the table in the Bundesliga at the moment?
Come on, that's enough of that! I know that, of course. Bayern by a good way.
Now all we need you explain the offside rule to us ...
Do I really have to? When I was brushing my teeth this morning I wondered whether you would ask me something like that.
It occurred to me that you wouldn't ask a male Federal Chancellor that. I'm pretty sure many of them wouldn't have a clue.
You have made clear these clichés but still haven't explained the offside rule...
OK. I'll draw it on a piece of paper - with best regards to the Bild am Sonntag readers.
(Merkel takes a blank piece of paper from a file and starts to draw with black and green felt pens)
Not bad. We did suspect that your interest in football might be rather superficial. In a World Cup year it's useful for a Federal Chancellor to know about football ...
I don't want to exaggerate my knowledge of the game. I am not an expert in this field but I do try to keep up to date with the Bundesliga. And I do follow World Cups and European Championships more closely.
Do you do that sitting on the sofa in front of the telly with a bag of crisps?
I like to have company when watching football. During EURO 96, when I was Minister for the Environment, we went into a pub in Bonn to watch games on TV.
Is your husband interested in football?
He's not as keen as I am. We don't have a TV in our holiday home. During the 2002 World Cup Final I had to ask the people in the village if I could watch the game with them.
Will your husband be sitting next to you in the ground at this year's World Cup Final?
He will definitely be watching the game, either in the ground or at home.
What do you find fascinating about football?
It fascinates me that it can be so exciting right up to the last kick of the game. I think that politics is just the same. Footballers need fitness and stamina - as do politicians. Again and again you are presented with opportunities that you have to make the most of. On top of that you can indentify a wide range of characters in football. You can win with completely different teams. Some are technically perfect and fail because of their greediness on the ball while others play more effectively.
What's your most memorable football match?
That makes me think of the 2002 World Cup Final above all else. Nobody thought at the time that our team would get through to the Final against Brazil. We should remember that this summer.
What did you feel when the ball rebounded from Oliver Kahn and landed at Ronaldo's feet?
I felt really sorry for Oliver Kahn. Up to that point he had made lots of saves for the German team. Of course he could have caught the ball but it just happened. It was bad luck. In that situation, you need to be very strong psychologically to carry on.
You just made a comparison between football and politics. What does your grand coalition and the German football team have in common?
In the German football team players from different clubs need to get on with each other both on and off the pitch. In the grand coalition Christian Democrats and Social Democrats sit in the same boat and need to pull in the same direction.
If your Cabinet was a football team, who would be on the left wing?
That sort of comparison doesn't work!
There are other positions we could to allocate: sweeper, the hard man, the exquisite technician, the substitute, the blind man...
Up to now everybody in the Cabinet is multi-talented ...
... but they earn a lot less than professional footballers. Michael Ballack earns about 20 times more than you. Do you think that's fair?
You can be a politician up until a ripe old age. As a football player that’s not possible. To be serious, if we were only interested in earning big money then a politician would have to go and work in industry. Whoever decides to dedicate their life to politics knows that earning money isn't the top priority. What I do care about though is the comparison with many other sports. I feel sorry sometimes for these sportsmen and women who put in just as much effort as the footballers. For example, athletes train at least as hard as footballers but have to be happy if they can earn enough to finance a decent education.
Do these huge salaries pose a danger to football in the long term?
It certainly is dangerous that there are only a few clubs left in Europe that can afford to pay millions. At the end of the day however, the spectators decide the rates of pay - by watching the games and consuming the goods and services advertised on sports TV programmes.
Do you think the World Cup ticket distribution has been fair?
I understand the disappointment of the fans when so many haven't got tickets. And I would have liked more German companies to have the chance to present themselves in the framework of the accompanying programme - but FIFA rules don't allow it
Jürgen Klinsmann frequently visited your predecessor to talk about football. Can you imagine him asking you for advice?
Of course I am looking forward to getting to know Jürgen Klinsmann soon. It doesn't bother me that he supported Gerhard Schröder during the election campaign. And I think it's good that he is sticking with him after the election when things aren't going so well.
How well do you think Klinsmann's team will do at the finals? We are going to win the World Cup, aren't we?
All I know is that you have to be fully fit at the right time. Then anything is possible. That holds true for football and politics.
Would you bet on winning the World Cup?
No. I only bet on things I can influence.
Finally, something completely different. If Germany wins the World Cup Final will you go and congratulate our players in the dressing room like your predecessors?
Of course I will go there at the appropriate moment... (Merkel laughs) - and if we finish runners-up too!
(First published in Bild am Sonntag on 1/1/2006)