Weiß und Blau: Players from the former GDR
The analysis of the number of Eastern German players in the national squad after the absorption of the DFV into the DFB in 1990 tells an interesting story, and is something that clearly deserves greater study. From my own fairly small-scale investigation of the records, statistics and team line-ups, it would appear that for all of the talk, no real integration ever took place. Although the number of players born in the former GDR appeared to rise – reaching a peak in between 1998 and 2000 – the figures are somewhat deceptive.
Following the World Cup victory in 1990, Nationaltrainer Franz Beckenbauer had – in an admittedly off-the-cuff remark – suggested that with the flood of talent from the East, the German side would be more or less unbeatable in the following years. This would not turn out to be the case.
Beckenbauer’s prediction of the flood of “talent from the east” proved to be little more than a false dawn; as the statistics show, only eight full GDR internationals would go on to wear the Schwarz und Weiß. Of these, there were only two who could be classed as international class: Matthias Sammer and Ulf Kirsten – both products of the once-famous Dynamo Dresden club. Both players suffered from injury problems throughout their careers; when fully fit, the squat, ruddy and somewhat Müllersque Kirsten was as good as any in front of goal, and the flame-haired Sammer – European Footballer of the Year in 1996 – was a truly world class player who would have walked into any international side.
Both Kirsten and Sammer won fifty-one caps for the post-1990 German team, but none of the other six former GDR internationals won more than twenty. Kirsten’s one-time international strike partner Andreas Thom had played in the first post-unification fixture but only managed nine further appearances; the talented but fragile Thomas Doll could only gather eighteen caps in a short career that had ended before it had truly begun, while “little genius” Dariusz Wosz played seventeen games over three years and could never hold down a permanent place in the side. The others were little more than stop-gaps: lumbering centre-forward Olaf Marschall collected thirteen caps when everyone else was either unavailable or injured, and I doubt very many fans can even remember either Heiko Scholz or Dirk Schuster.
From the appearance of Matthias Sammer and Andreas Thom in the first post-unification fixture against Switzerland in 1990 to the final appearance of Dariusz Wosz against Denmark a month short of a decade later, these eight former GDR internationals collected a total of 164 caps between them. It was hardly the “flood” that Beckenbauer had anticipated.
The integration of the second line of GDR talent appeared to be more positive, but once again the figures don’t tell the real story.
The final fixture of 1998 – a friendly against the Netherlands in Gelsenkirchen – had seen sixteen players take the field during the course of the ninety minutes, almost half of whom were born in the former GDR; at first glance this would have appeared to suggest the development of an overall squad in which a degree of parity had finally been achieved between East and West, but the reality was that this apparent equalisation was more down to a serious lack of depth of quality in the West rather than higher standards being set in the East.
Perhaps the most problem was with the forwards: after a line of great goalscorers – Seeler, Müller, Rummenigge, Völler, Klinsmann, Bierhoff – there appeared to be nobody available, let alone good enough, to carry on the tradition. With the retirement of Klinsmann in 1998 and Bierhoff’s recurring fitness problems, Beckenbauer’s successors found themselves turning to the slowly dwindling resources in the east in looking for a workable strike force. Willing recruits ranged from ex-GDR elder statesmen such as the talented but perenially-injured Ulf Kirsten and ageing journeyman Olaf Marschall – both of whom had made their debuts in the Weiß und Blau of the GDR in the early 1980s – to a younger generation epitomised by the enthusiatic but profligate Carsten Jancker. With the possible exception of a fully-fit Kirsten, none of these players had the sort of strike rate to terrify opposition defences.
The problems were not only to be found up front: the gradual retirement of defensive stalwarts such as Jürgen Kohler, Andreas Brehme, Guido Buchwald and Thomas Helmer had left big boots to fill, and with no obvious talent coming from the west the places were quickly filled with the last batch of graduates from the GDR’s youth system, most of whom were already in their mid to late twenties. The likes of Marko Rehmer, Thomas Linke and Jens Jeremies were hard-working, dependable and tactically astute players, but it is highly unlikely that they would have got a sniff of a chance had they been competing against their early 1980s counterparts or those even on the extreme fringe of today’s squad.
It therefore turned out that rather than adding an extra dimension to an existing pool of talent as Franz Beckenbauer had glibly predicted, the first line of GDR internationals provided nothing of substance while the second line provided little more than a band-aid to a team that was experiencing a gradual decline in both form and morale. One could argue that these two generations of East German players produced just one star each: the gifted but tragically injury-prone Sammer and the man who would prove to be the Mannschaft’s beacon of light at the turn of the decade, Michael Ballack.
From 2000 onwards, the number of players from the east slowly began to dry up; the last graduates of the training academies of the late 1980s and early 1990s were starting to retire, and the almost complete absence of eastern clubs from the top flight of the Bundesliga meant that with the exception of stand-out players like Ballack – who left his club side Chemnitzer FC for the west at the age of twenty – nothing was being produced at club level. Rather than fighting for places in the top flight of the Bundesliga, the historic East German club sides – Dynamo Dresden, FC Magdeburg, Lokomotive Leipzig to name but three – were instead struggling in the nether reaches of the league in front of paltry crowds. Eastern German grounds were quite literally falling apart at the seams, and were often seen as gathering places for neo-Nazi gangs.
The change in direction by the DFB after the dismal first-phase exit at Euro 2000 saw an increased focus on the development of young players, and while this kick-started a revival in the west there was little change in the east. This was reflected by the make-up of the German squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa: of the twenty-three players, seventeen were born in the west and five outside Germany; only one – Toni Kroos – was born in what was once the GDR. Interestingly, Kroos was born after the wall came down, which meant that before he had even reached his first birthday, the country had ceased to exist. You can see a breakdown of all the teams from 1992 here.