Sunday, 18 July 2010

Raphael Honigstein

Rafa the gaffer

Anglo-German relations are extremely healthy here at European Football Weekends. Germany is unquestionably our favourite country for watching football and we've made scores of friends on our many travels there. Now, to further cement that relationship, ta da....Raphael Honigstein has agreed to be the latest star name to talk to us *punches air with delight*.

Honigstein writes about German football here in England and about English football for the German media. His work can be found in The Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 11 Freunde (influential magazine in the style of WSC) and he not only appears on the fabulous Football Weekly podcast but is also the go to man for German football news for Sky and Setanta.

Mentioning no names *cough* Alan Shearer *splutter* Alan Green, football is awash with awful pundits. You don't have too delve to deep to find quality elsewhere though. Rafa certainly slips into the quality bracket, he's one cool cat and, that's why we're delighted he agreed to speak to EFW:

Hi Raphael, thanks for talking to EFW, how did you enjoy your time in South Africa? I enjoyed the people (incredibly nice and helpful), the food, a bit of Texas Hold'Em, the stadiums, Cape Town and Durban and most of the football. Didn't enjoy driving past certified "hijacking hot-spots" on a daily basis, lack of street life, cold evenings and slight sense of isolation.

What was your favourite moment both on and off the pitch? Favourite moment on the pitch was Germany v Argentina. Off the pitch: BBQ in Durban on the eve of Spain v Germany in a beautiful setting.

Sounds splendid, did you learn anything new from this World Cup? Hard pitches, weird ball and altitude make bad teams even worse. Tactical formations expressed solely by numbers are meaningless. Japan can play a bit. England are still England under Capello.

There were expecting 2m fans from overseas but in reality around 400,000 turned up. Did you notice a different class of fan at the tournament? Affluent rather than passionate maybe? I think the real affluent ones stayed away, that's why there were lots of empty corporate boxes everywhere. I mostly saw South American fans where I was based (Pretoria) but most of the time, you didn't really see any fans at all because they had nowhere to go apart from the stadiums on match day.

Did you experience a game at any of the fan parks? I've heard that they were largely empty. I drove past the one in Sandton (Johannesburg) before the final - 90 per cent empty. The South Africans didn't really see the point of standing in front of a screen in the freezing cold, apparently, unless SA or Ghana were playing.

Talking of the locals, they were priced out of attending and there were empty seats at every game more or less. FIFA will have learned a few harsh lessons from this right? I'm not sure they're too bothered. It's all about TV. A few hundred empty seats don't make any difference to them. I'm also not quite sure that cheaper tickets would have made that much of a difference. The locals were very proud that the World Cup was there but their interest to see Slovakia v Paraguay live was strictly limited, I felt.

Germany returned from the tournament as both likeable and popular. Who'd have thought? I had a feeling that they would play in a more open, entertaining style but wasn't quite sure if they could do it successfully. The rapid progress of the team has surprised me along with everybody else, including the players and managers as well, probably.

It's a shame they were Müller lite (sic) in the semi final though eh? Big shame. And for such a minor offence. The ref in the Argentina game was actually very lenient, a fact that made Müller's yellow even harsher. He would have made a difference, for sure. But the real problem, if you want to talk individuals, was that Mesut Özil had nothing left in the tank against Spain. He was a virtual passenger. I also think that Löw got the "Trochowski instead of Kroos" bit wrong.

Who is the bigger star in Germany post World Cup: Thomas Müller or that bloody octopus? Müller. Paul the octopus will retire now but Müller could have three (THREE!) more World Cups ahead of him. Frightening.

If Frank Lampard's 'goal' had been awarded in the Germany match, England would have gone on to win the game and the tournament. Agreed? No. I agree that they would have had momentum and that the game could well have finished differently. Where England really went wrong wasn't Bloemfontein but in the group stage. One shitty little more goal in any of the three games, and they would have muddled through to the semi-final at least, past Ghana and Uruguay. I honestly believe that. But perhaps it's better for English football in the long run to have failed in this manner rather than to celebrate another false 1990 dawn.

Our 'root and branch' reform after not qualifying for Euro 2008 was to blow £6m a year on a foreign manager. Germany promoted from within for a fraction of the price. And he's wears nice clothes. England really are a sorry state compared to Germany no? I wouldn't go that far. The main problem is the adversarial nature of English football and culture on a whole - it's all about fighting it out. It's club vs country and the media against everyone. There's very little taste for compromising and doing things for the greater good. The FA alone can't change too much unless clubs are willing to do their bit, too. Apart from that, it's obvious that England needs more qualified coaches. They have about a tenth of the numbers that Spain and Germany have. Not good.

EFW is no Zonal Marking. We don't have a clue about tactics. That said, even we know that Chile did well with their 3-3-1-3 formation and Spain's two (two!) holding midfielders squeezed the life out of other teams. Is it the case that everybody - Maradonna aside - is so tactically aware now that games cancel themselves out and are becoming *ahem* a bit boring? I'd say that most teams are now fit and tactically astute enough to make life difficult for most teams. Those who practise attacking moves extensively and/or play with a fully functioning team of good to very good individuals will still find a way , generally. It might just take a bit longer.

Even though Germany did well, most fans there would rather see their team win the league than the national team win the World Cup presumably? I'm not sure that's true, I guess it very much depends on the teams involved. If you asked a Bayern fan, another championship means little. For 1860 supporters though....

Did you return to England with a couple of souvenir vuvuzelas and some oversized comedy spectacles? Certainly not. I was flirting with the idea of bringing home a zebra hide but then thought my two little girls would probably cry. Was not sure about HM Customs' position on this, either.

Do you prefer covering English football in German or German football in English? I really like both but not at the same time, preferably. England v Germany at the World Cup was a little bit hectic.

A lot of fans I know have turned their back on the Premier League and now watch their football abroad in Germany. Can you get your head around that? Of course. Bratwurst, beer, terraces, cheap tickets... what's not to like? (Oi, that's our catchphrase - Ed.) It certainly makes for a very good "second" league.

What do you think is the main difference in fan culture between the English and Germans? I'd say the similarities are bigger than the differences but the whole Ultra thing is getting quite strong in the Bundesliga, with choreography, constant singing etc. Also gentrification and the crowds getting older is less of an issue.

In light of the fans ownership and history of German football, what's your view on the enormous debts English clubs have saddled themselves with? We've had plenty of clubs in Germany who nearly went bust as well over the years. What we don't have are leveraged buyouts, the worst possible thing that can happen to any club. That should never be allowed. Stadium debt and (merely theoretical) debt to sugar daddies is less problematic in my view.

Do you watch any English and German football other than the Bundesliga or Premiership? You're always welcome at Lewes FC you know! Thank you for the kind offer. I used to watch the championship (old division one) on the telly when I was at uni, that was a great way to wake up on Sundays. Now it's strictly Buli and PL.

Which teams do you actually support? Germany, naturally. I've never hidden my club affiliation too much but wouldn't like to repeat it here for fear of losing the last smidgen of my journalistic credibility. I can confirm that I have no team in England though. I like/dislike them all the same. Honestly.

We are unapologetically obsessed with football grounds at EFW. Do you know how many you've been to and futhermore what are you favourite stadiums? No idea about numbers, actually. I'd guess about 100? My favourites - in no particular order - are: Old Trafford, Westfalenstadion, St James' Park, Cape Town, Durban, Soccer City, Bernabeu, Estadio da Luz, Allianz Arena, Anfield (on CL nights), San Siro, Craven Cottage, St Jakobs Park.

Do you just go where you're sent by editors to football or do you often attend matches just for the fun of it? I'm mostly able to chose the games I go to, or they're kind of the obvious ones, like Man Utd v Bayern at Old Trafford. I very rarely go without the need to report though.

How much football do you watch a week? If it's a CL week, it can be easily ten full games. Mostly on the box.

Who is the most famous person in your phonebook? Mila Jovovich. I also have Evil Knievel's number somewhere but he's sadly passed away.

Is it difficult to extract award winning copy out of mundane footballers press conferences? Award-winning copy? What award was that? (Oh sorry, that was us, silly me - Ed.) Press conferences are mostly useless, of course, unless Mourinho's in town or JT gets the hump. I'm lucky because I don't have to churn out previews and match reports on a weekly basis but can often concentrate on wider themes instead.

Have you had a run in with any footballers? Jens Lehmann was once not very nice to me, but I think he confused me with a colleague at the time. The rest of them have been well behaved. Or simply oblivious.

Always the ones you least expect. Talking of run-ins. What was it like to be patronised by Nicky Campbell live on national radio? I didn't take any offence and didn't feel patronised. He obviously didn't know me so there was no "intent". It did throw me a bit, however. "When did you move to England?" was the one question I wasn't prepared for.

Twitter. Useful journalistic tool or hideous time waster? Hideous journalistic tool and useful time waster. And very addictive.

That's it Raphael. Thanks once more for taking the time to talk to EFW and keep up the very good work old chap.. Thank you, Danny. You too, matey.

Follow Raf and EFW on Twitter

You can read his work HERE and if you haven't downloaded the excellent and free Football Weekly podcast then you're a silly goose.

- Feel free to comment below -


Danny Last said...

And for the German speakers amongst you, this article was translated and appeared - in part - on the 11 Freunde website today:

That magazine is the German equivalent of When Saturday Comes.

Chaz33xxx said...

a nice EFW gem… very interesting…I noted Mr. Honigstein mentioned Allianz Arena as a great atmosphere whereas Michael Stoffl, 1860 supporter, seemed to hate the milieu there…

…Are there any major football stadia shared by three clubs as a home ground?

PS…Please have Mr. Honigstein send me Mila Jovovich’s number, just for a text…I just found her reading glasses in my martini shaker... thanks

Anonymous said...

I find him inaccurate and very condescending on English football as demonstrated by his woeful book on the subject.