Brazil 2014

Age Matters: Why Some World Cup Teams Opt For Oldies

Argentina and Uruguay have the highest collective ages in the tournament. In Africa, youth is treasured. Experience? Energy? A demographic snapshot of Brazil 2014.

Argentina tends to opt for veterans
Argentina tends to opt for veterans
Giulia Zonca

TURIN — The players that some of the South American traditionalists have called up to their World Cup squads are pretty old in soccer terms.

These teams proceed cautiously. They keep track of players who were sent abroad when they were young, sending them Christmas cards every year and awarding them prizes at the end of each season.

And so when the World Cup is on, they bring them home and rarely try out new talent. Not even Lionel Messi escaped this fate in 2006 when, at the age of 18 and already one of the world's top talents, he was just a World Cup benchwarmer.

Argentina and Uruguay are nostalgic, loyal to well-known names. Three rust-proof 33-year-olds have been called up: Martin Demichelis, Hugo Campagnaro and Maxi Rodríguez, cornerstone players who have tipped the Argentine team's median age to 28.5 — the oldest in the competition.

The Argentines like to stay on the safe side and keep the rookies as training partners. Eight years ago, Ángel di María — today one of the safest wingers — was left in training camp with the under-20s.

At each World Cup, a bus with young, new players follows behind the champions and helps the team to prepare. It's a supply chain in which the veterans are respected.

For Africa, it's quite the opposite. Each new team arrival who shows courage with the ball merits his place in the sun, and it only takes a moment to become one of the greats. Ghana and Nigeria have the youngest teams (24.9 and 25.3 years old, respectively), and that's even including Ghanian superstar Michael Essien"s 31 years.

They're fast, dynamic and mature quickly because they have to move to succeed. It's not by chance that the African teams all have similar formulas: One experienced player is enough for Ghana and the Ivory Coast, two each for Cameroon and Algeria. They leave their hometowns, play around the world and come home when they retire.

The masters of the tournament are the Spanish, who are not the oldest team but have the most collective appearances (1,375). They are also the most expensive team, as La Furia Roja is packed with 490 million euros worth of players. Of course, Spain won the last World Cup, so it will be defending its title with an ostentatious sense of royalty, in every sense.

Then there are the Belgians, who are bringing plenty of fresh meat to Brazil — a lot less "elderly" than usual. Most of their players have come up through soccer schools. With a population of just 11 million in Belgium, it's easy to monitor the best contenders. Before they even get to high school, talent has been spotted and is quickly fed into an intense training program.

The project began in 1989 and has morphed into what is known as the "golden generation." Seven of the Belgian team's World Cup players have emerged from this system.

Even Germany is leaving several veterans at home, although obviously not Miroslav Klose, who at 36 has his sights set on becoming FIFA's all-time top World Cup scorer. It's not a massively difficult challenge for him either: With just two more goals, he'll beat Ronaldo’s (the Brazilian one, that is) current record of 16.

Plenty of players — 16% of those called up, to be exact — play in England, and not just in the Premier League. The leagues there work so well that even in the lower divisions the players are world-class. Australia called up Bailey Wright from Preston North End, in the third division. But that’s another world.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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