A love for Germany: Made in China

Professor Simon Chadwick

Posted: July 14, 2014

Tagged: competitions / fans / nations / teams

It was entirely predictable that I, probably among many other people, recalled the famous Audi advertisement and its tagline ‘Vorsprung durch Technik‘, to describe last night’s epic German World Cup victory. In fact, using this tagline was as predictable as the German victory over Brazil was unpredictable: football history’s greatest sons, a team which was a bastion of the beautiful game, despatched into oblivion with ruthless teutonic efficiency.

In the United States, the American interpretation of the tagline used in the car advert was ‘Truth in Engineering‘. It was therefore entirely appropriate that I watched last night’s game at Purdue University in Indiana, where many people actually found the reality of football’s new truth somewhat difficult to comprehend.

The audience in Purdue’s Union Building was an interesting ethnic mix: large numbers of Asian students, particularly Chinese and Indian, with some Americans and various people from other parts of the world. The sense was of a group anticipating a feast of samba football – sunshine and smiles, with the glamour boys of Brazil progressing throuh to the World Cup Final.

If the audience had only read my earlier piece for The Conversation, on Brand Brazil, they would already have known that there would be no Ronaldinho to smile his way through the game, even in ultimate defeat. This has been a snarling, vengeful selecao, all elbows and crunching tackles. And with last night’s defeat, one has to acknowledge that the Brazil we have loved has finally been laid to rest.

By the time the final nail had gone into the coffin – when Andre Schürrle hit the seventh German goal – most of those present at Purdue had already gone home. There was, however, a sizeable group of Chinese people (both men and women) left in front of the big screen. Unlike the frustrated Indians, mildly disconcerted Americans and a couple of frantic Brazilians, the Chinese fans seemed unperturbed.

And no wonder.

Last year, we surveyed nearly 16,000 fans in China to find out which national team they supported. Just over 1,000 of them said Brazil, who were not even the most popular team in South America – that honour going instead to Argentina (with nearly 1,4000 responses). Europe’s teams did far better than their South American counterparts: England (remember them?), drew nearly 2,400 responses; Spain just over 2,400; Italy almost 2,500; with China’s favourite national team (even more popular than China itself) being Germany (registering more than 3,100 responses).

So, as you read this piece, the locals of Shanghai, Shenzhen and Shenyang will probably still dancing in the streets following ‘their‘ boys‘ triumph last night. Yet this seems like such an unusual alliance; why, when faced with a choice of Messi or Mertesacker, would the Chinese come over all emotional for the latter? And why, when they could have chosen the brooding Italian philosopher Andrea Pirlo, did the Chinese instead decide that they actually prefer the wide-eyed innocence of Mesut Ozil?

In general terms, our research found that the Chinese like teams with a history of success, and the Germans are arguable the most ruthlessly efficient World Cup performers of all time. Champions three times; runners-up four times; and third place three times. Plus, there is a very good chance that Germany could make the 2014 tournament their fourth win. Basking in reflected glory is also something that Chinese fans like: when the national team they support does well, it makes them look good among family, friends and work colleagues.

But there is also something for the Chinese too based on favourite clubs and favourite players. In our study, Arsenal was came out as currently being the most popular club team among football fans. Indeed, there were no German teams in sight of them – English, Italian and Spanish clubs are much more popular than the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. This might appear somewhat paradoxical: they like German players and the German national team, but not German clubs.

This is though where the Arsenal connection is important; after all, you get the glitz and the glamour of the Premier League, and the kudos as a fan of being associated with some of Germany’s leading players. The Gunners may not have intended Ozil, Mertesacker and Podalski (do not forget midefielder Gedion Zelalem, he is German too) as being the club’s point of entry into the Chinese market, but that’s exactly what they have become.

Perhaps even more surprising is the importance of Mesut Ozil who, among some female Chinese fans, is seen as being something of a sex symbol. While many football battle-hardened English and German males may struggle to see the attraction, it is exactly Ozil’s wide-eyed innocence that is appealling. When I quizzed some of my Chinese students about the unlikely perception of Ozil in China, one reply was: “he is now in China what Beckham used to be here“. One of the reasons China loves Germany is because of Ozil!

So it was a boy-like assasin and a club from North London that did for football’s most iconic national team. During those long winter nights later in the year, you can attribute your fading memories of Pele, Zico and Ronaldo to Arsene Wenger and Germany’s Gastarbeiter scheme. Keep in mind too, that while our notion of historic notions of Brand Brazil have now been laid to rest, so the enduring reputation of German efficiency, ‘Vorsprung durch Technik‘ and ‘Truth in Engineering‘ continues to grow.

Perhaps we might even see a remake of German band Alphaville’s 1984 track ‘Big in Japan‘. Retitled to ‘Big in China‘, thanks to a third-generation Turkish-German and an unsurpassed World Cup track-record.



About Professor Simon Chadwick

Professor Simon Chadwick set-up and edits The Scorecard. He is Director of CIBS (Centre for the International Business of Sport) at Coventry University, where he works as Professor of Sport Business Strategy and Marketing.  Simon tweets via Prof_Chadwick