Jul 3 1:24 PM

The Germany team's diversity is paying dividends

Germany's Mesut Özil embraces his teammate André Schürrle.
Patrick Stollarz / AFP / Getty Images

Though Turkey did not make the long journey to Brazil for this summer's World Cup, one of its most famous sons was on hand to send Algeria home. Mesut Özil, a third-generation Turkish-German immigrant, scored Germany's second and decisive goal against the North Africans, calming his country's nerves on a tense evening in Porto Alegre. Ozil's parents, and millions of others like them, have long since made homes and lives for themselves in Germany, the beneficiaries of a relationship between the two states that goes back centuries.

Germany does not keep official records of the number of its citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds, but somewhere in the region of three million Germans are of Turkish descent.

Recently, the German government has taken a further step down the road of assimilation, announcing proposals that would allow any German-born child of foreign parents to retain citizenship both of Germany and of the country of his or her parents' origin. Under the current law, the child needs to make his or her choice at 23 years of age; the suggested changes have upset Turkey's government, who feel that they exclude those prior migrants who never had such an option.

Beyond this tension, though, Germany's expansive approach to immigration looks set to reap further dividends for its football team. Alongside Özil in the 23-strong Germany squad to face Algeria were a range of players with foreign heritage both near and far afield. There was Sami Khedira (Tunisia), Jérôme Boateng (Ghana), Shkodran Mustafi (Albania), and Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose (both Poland). It was notable, too, how on the eve of the Germany-Algeria game it was only asked of Algeria's Muslim players, and not those Muslims playing for Germany, whether their presumed observance of Ramadan would affect their performances. Perhaps the presumption in some quarters was that, as "Western" Muslims, Skhodran Mustafi and Mesut Özil would be less likely to fast than their Algerian counterparts; in the event, none of them did so.

In recent years, whilst xenophobia has been the standard fare of many a media headline throughout Europe, Germany's press has largely avoided such widespread scaremongering. This could be because its economy is healthier than those of most of its continental peers. Yet perhaps there is more to it; perhaps the country has managed to foster, of itself, a spirit of inclusivity that is far above average. There was an impressive indication of this in 2010, when Michael Becker, the agent of the former Germany midfielder Michael Ballack, spoke derisively of the secretly homosexual footballers who he felt were undermining the national team's hopes at the World Cup. However, instead of Becker's comments provoking an avalanche of media hostility – as was presumably his intention – he was apparently met with shrugs, both literal and metaphorical. Meanwhile, the Germany coach Joachim Löw commented that he "would not stoop so low" as to react.

That 2010 World Cup squad, which saw Özil first emerge on the world stage as a truly elite playmaker, was hailed as the most diverse in the country's history. Indeed, that group remains the gold standard in this respect, with almost half of them (11 out of 23) being of foreign heritage. In this context, it is easy to see why Özil feels so comfortable in a Germany shirt, even if he still encounters a degree of resentment from those who feel that he has turned his back on his true country (http://www.goal.com/en-gb/news/2914/champions-league/2013/04/09/3889584/i-will-always-be-turkish-why-ozil-is-worshipped-in-istanbul). Of course, there would not be nearly so much disquiet were Ozil not the pre-eminent attacking talent of this Turkey generation, and a man once eligible for a country who could only finish third in their World Cup qualifying group, behind the Netherlands and Romania.

Germany's approach to immigration is not merely enlightened but pragmatic. It is born of a recognition that, in an increasingly globalized world, the margins for success are growing ever slimmer, and so it makes sense to draw upon the most gifted individuals, wherever they may hail from. Never have those margins been more stark in their slimness than at this current World Cup, where matches are being decided in the very depths of extra time if not beyond. It is thus that Germany, both against Algeria and in the challenge yet to come, should be grateful for the relative welcome with which they greet their foreigners.


World Cup

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