Cold War National Teams in 2019: East Germany

Howdy lads, it’s that time of year again – the time of year we cast our minds back to the 1980’s and attempt to envisage the socialist utopia that was the east of Germany, and wonder what a team of East German footballers could achieve on the international stage. At least it’s the time of year your humble narrator does such a thing.

Now for those of you who don’t know, the former German Democratic Republic, commonly referred to as East Germany, was, well, the east of Germany, but in glorious independent state form. Except it was a puppet state of the Soviet Union after none of the Allies could agree on which bits of a defeated Nazi Germany belonged to who, so the US & UK scampered off with the West and the Soviets claimed the East. In 1962 the Berlin Wall was built, cementing (literally) the divide between east and west. But then David Hasselhoff brought the wall down in 1989, Germany became fully unified in 1990, and everything has been JUST FINE ever since. Long live capitalism, or so I’m told.

Since unification, West Germany’s footballing history is regarded as part of the history of the modern-day German national team. And why shouldn’t it be? With 3 World Cups, 2 European Championships and players such as Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Andreas Brehme, Fritz Walter and Sepp Maier, of course you’d want that as part of your history. In the meanwhile, East Germany’s footballing achievements have been largely forgotten about. Mostly because they have none to speak of. The East only ever qualified for one major tournament, the 1974 World Cup (which was hosted by the West), and, all credit to them, they beat the hosts 1-0 in the group stage thanks to a Jürgen Sparwasser goal, before going on to be eliminated in the second group stage, because the tournament was weird like that back then. 

East Germany did produce some decent footballers, but the West dominated in terms of footballing ability. Hardly surprising, given the East German government’s almost complete passivity of the sport. Even though sport was a major propaganda tool in establishing their international pedigree, it was decided success at the Olympics was more important, and football became a tool for public entertainment, and even then every club was controlled by a division of government. And with 153 gold medals from 5 Summer Olympic participations (including one for the 1976 football tournament), you can clearly see where the government’s ambitions lay. It didn’t help that that the East German league was almost completely dissolved upon reunification, and the modern-day Bundesliga remains dominated by clubs from the West, with the exception of RB Leipzig (Oh, the irony) and Union Berlin, who have literally only just been promoted to the top tier. I could say so much more about this, but I should probably save it for another day.

Jürgen Sparwasser successfully crushing capitalism, 1974.

Anyway, the effect of footballing negligence in the Cold War is still felt today, and it will soon become apparent by looking at the Eastern team that’s been assembled for you today. If you came looking for a shitshow, you’ve found it. For a country that’s since produced players such as Michael Ballack and Carsten Jancker, it’s pretty incredible that in an alternate timeline this team actually plays international football. I don’t know a thing about half of these players, and in some cases I’ve really had to scrape the bottom of the barrel here.

As you may have guessed, this team is compiled of players born in what would have been East Germany, but I should address the issue of Berlin quickly. The German capital is located in the East, but under division, West Berlin was part of West Germany and East Berlin was part of the East. So it gets a bit tricky when current players born in Berlin post-unification are thrown into the mix, because I can’t really go about discovering which hospital they were born in for the purposes of this article. So, for logistical purposes and to avoid the angry comments, I’ve left players born in modern-day Berlin out of the team. Which is a shame, because you’ll soon realise that the inclusions of Antonio Rüdiger, Nico Schultz and Karim Bellarabi would drastically improve this team. And it pains me to have to leave out Norwich City legends Tom Trybull and Dennis Srbeny, because they could literally be regulars for this team, and their lives just wouldn’t be the same. But alas.

On with the team.

West Germany

Before I start on the East German team, I can hear some of you keyboard warriors shouting “If there’s an East German team then there must be a West German team too!” You’re right, Susan, there is a West German team. However, I’ve opted not to do a separate article on them, because it would literally just be the current German national team, with the exception of one key player. And the Berliners, I guess. They’d probably play at either the Allianz Arena in Munich or the Olympiastadion in (West) Berlin and Joachim Löw would obviously be the head coach, as he will be for the rest of time. So, here’s your obligatory look at a contemporary West German squad:

Told you it wasn’t exactly ground-breaking. But can you spot who the missing key player is? No? Well keep scrolling to find out!

Goalkeepers: Ralf Fährmann, Markus Schubert & Alexander Walke

We start off, logically, in goal, and it’s actually slightly competitive. Considering the hours of research that I put into this resulted in me finding about 32 current players born in the East, it’s impressive that Kevin Müller, who plays for 1. FC Heidenheim in the 2. Bundesliga, should feel unfortunate to miss out. I know, someone who plays in Germany’s second tier has a legitimate claim to be playing regular international football here. We’re setting a high bar here, people.

Anyway, at least we have a comfortable first-choice keeper in the guise of Ralf Fährmann. Fährmann is incredibly unfortunate to have never won a full cap for Germany, because even though he’s a quality shot-stopper, he’s sadly been playing in the same era as Manuel Neuer and Marc-André ter Stegen have. If there were any reason to wish the former GDR still existed, it’s that this lad would probably have well over 100 caps for the football team. Over 200 appearances for Schalke, including in both the Champions and Europa League, is pretty impressive. What he’s doing languishing in the wilderness of the Norwich City bench at the moment I’m not exactly sure, as he’s arguably one of the best players the club have on their books right now, and Tim Krul, whom he’s stuck behind, is a decent goalkeeper at best. Oh well, even though he can’t find a game in East Anglia right now, he’s more than at home in the East German team.

On a quick side note, Fährmann is also about as East German as they come, born in Karl-Marx-Stadt when the country was still around. And no, I haven’t just made that name up, that’s legitimately what East Germany was like back then.

Literally if you went to Karl-Marx-Stadt today (now called Chemnitz) you’d still see this massive statue of Karl Marx’s head. You couldn’t make this stuff up

Providing “competition” for Fährmann we have two players at opposite ends of their careers; young upstart Markus Schubert and golden oldie Alexander Walke. Schubert was signed by Schalke in the summer of 2019 (the club currently sentencing this side’s number one to a year-long holiday in Norwich), and is currently battling for the number one jersey with Alexander Nübel. Not very successfully, mind you, he hasn’t made an appearance for the high-flying Gelsenkirchen-ians (if that’s what people from Gelsenkirchen are known as). But he’s only 21, and has a long time to make an impact for them yet. He’s a certain back up for our national team though. And in behind him, providing some experience for the team, is Red Bull Salzburg’s Alexander Walke. Salzburg are currently unstoppable in the Austrian league and are even making a name for themselves in the Champions League. None of this is due to Walke though, who hasn’t made an appearance for them this season and is most likely to retire some the season’s close, when he’ll be almost 37. But he still has 229 Red Bull appearances under his belt, so he should be able to teach Schubert a thing or two before he hangs up the gloves.

Full-Backs: Tony Jantschke, Marcel Schmelzer & Chris Löwe

The area of East German full-backs is as good to a barren wasteland as you can come, because these are the only three who have a shot at getting anywhere near this team. I’m pretty sure I wrote someone else down, but I think they were playing in either the 2nd or 3rd tier of German football, so I most likely quickly dismissed them from consideration. 

At right-back we have the indomitable Tony Jantschke. And even then we’re stretching things a bit, since he’s technically a centre-back who can also play at right-back. But we’re going with him anyway. Jantschke has been playing for Borussia Monchengladbach since 2008, and still gets semi-frequent game time for the current Bundesliga table-toppers. With over 200 appearances for the club, he may not be the tallest or quickest defender, but he is one of the first names on this team sheet. Mostly because I could find literally no other East German right-backs to give him cover. I think he’s the only one. If anyone out there knows another East German right-back who could give Big Tone a run for his money, please don’t hesitate in hitting me up.

Fortunately, at left-back, we not only have an actually decent player, but also a back-up option! Huzzah! Our actually decent left-back is, of course, Marcel Schmelzer. Someone who was actually once good enough for a spot in the German national team, Schmelzer might be 31 now, but he has made over 350 appearances for Borussia Dortmund and is showing no signs of slowing down at the highest level, which is pretty incredible. A one-club man with 2 Bundesliga titles and 3 DFB-Pokals, Schmelzer is one of the star men of this team. He does have some “competition”, however, in the form of former Huddersfield Town left-back Chris Löwe. Remember him? Well, the GDR’s second-best left-back has been plying his trade in the 2. Bundesliga for former Eastern powerhouses Dynamo Dresden since relegation with the Terriers. Yup, he’s really the best we can do for a back-up full-back. What a mess.

Obviously if we were including players from Berlin then Nico Schultz would be a shoe-in for first choice. But we aren’t, so he isn’t. Sorry Nico, sometimes it be like that.

Centre-Backs: Julian Börner, Toni Leistner, Jordan Torunarigha, Felix Uduokhai & Marcel Franke

If you look at the West German starting line-up, you’ll notice they have two of Europe’s finest centre-backs, who play week-in, week-out for two of Germany’s top clubs in Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen. In the case of Süle at Bayern Munich, one of the best clubs in the world. Compare that to the East German team, whose two starting centre-backs play regularly for (drum roll) … Sheffield Wednesday and Queens Park Rangers. May the Gods have mercy on us all.

I won’t pretend that I know anything in depth about Sheffield stalwart Julian Börner or QPR’s socialist psychopath Toni Leistner, all I can tell you is that they have easily the most experience out of the centre-backs on offer, and they both appear to actually get game time for their clubs. It’s not exactly a glamorous pairing, but in this universe the English Championship is, inexplicably, home to two bona fide international superstars. Sort of.

If anything were to happen to either Börner or Leistner, the team wouldn’t be entirely buggered, since I’ve actually managed to find 3 (yes, that’s THREE) other centre-backs who can fill in for them. Again, I can’t go into much detail about them, since the first time I heard of them was when I was doing research for this article, but if any Norwich City fanatics remember Marcel Franke, please let me know if he was any decent in the 8 games he played for your club. He currently plays for Hannover in the 2. Bundesliga, so I’m going to assume his career hasn’t progressed much since then, but he still makes the squad. As do promising up-and-comers Jordan Torunarigha of Hertha Berlin, and Felix Uduokhai, who is currently at Augsburg on loan from Wolfsburg. These two look to be the heirs to the spots currently held by Börner and Leistner, but this isn’t about how the team will look 5 years from now, because compiling a squad of current East Germans is hard enough as it is. On the bench they go.

SO MANY GERMANS

Central Midfielders: Toni Kroos, Arne Maier, Kevin Möhwald & Felix Kroos

BOOM! THERE HE IS! You were wondering who the star man was? Well, here he is, the comrade to end all comrades, it’s Toni Kroos. Far and away the best player the GDR has to offer, I’ll just remind you of some of Kroos’ credentials; Over 200 Bayern Munich appearances, over 250 for Real Madrid, just shy of 100 Germany caps, 3 Bundesligas, 1 La Liga, 4 Champions Leagues, 5 inclusions in the Champions League Squad of the Season, 3 UEFA Team of the Year inclusions, 3 FIFPro World XI appearances, an inclusion the 2014 World Cup Team of the Tournament, and the 2014 World Cup itself, where he provided the most assists. He’s only just about to hit 30. Mental scenes on toast here. Talisman, captain, leader, he’s literally the only player here who could waltz into the current German team, and he’s got a mighty job carrying this team to success.

As for the rest of the midfield, it leaves a lot to be desired. But in the form of Arne Maier, the GDR does have one of Germany’s hottest young prospects at their disposal. Aged only 20, Maier has represented the Germans at every youth level and has already broken into the Hertha Berlin first team. He looks set to become a competent and classy holding midfielder, and he could certainly learn a thing or two by having East Germany’s finest ever player alongside him.

Finishing off the squad’s midfielders we have Werder Bremen’s Kevin Möhwald and Felix Kroos, the lesser of two Krooses, who currently plays for everyone’s new favourite Bundesliga club (move over, FC St. Pauli), Union Berlin. All I can say is that both of these players are certainly footballers who occasionally play for their teams. And they’re from the East. And it’s nice that Toni can play alongside his brother. Shoutouts also go to Robert Tesche and Norman Theuerkauf, who are also supposed professional footballers hailing from the East, at least that’s what I’ve come to understand.

At least Felix has street cred

Attacking Midfielders: Maximilian Arnold, Leonardo Bittencourt & Thomas Eisfeld

It could be seen as a mistake to play a narrow trio of attacking midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 for this team (should probably have mentioned that’s what we’re playing), but given the limited options on offer, it’s what I’m going with and nothing can stop me once I start thinking about a semi-valid idea. So here we are, with Leonardo Bittencourt on the left, Thomas Eisfeld on the right, and Maximillian Arnold through the middle.

Arnold is certainly another standout player for the team. Currently a one-club man with Wolfsburg, he has over 200 appearances and 25 goals for the club, even earning himself a solitary Germany cap in the process. Creative and versatile, he’ll be right at home in the middle of our trio. Either side of him he has two once-promising once-youngsters whose career paths may not have turned out quite how they would have liked. In fairness, Bittencourt is currently affiliated with two of Germany’s biggest teams, playing for Werder Bremen on loan from Hoffenheim, where he has made a decent contribution to both teams’ fortunes. It may be a bit of a far cry from when he was a highly-touted young prospect at Borussia Dortmund, but he’s still got a sound career going and nicely slots in on the left hand side of midfield. If you needed an indicator as to how high a regard he used to be held in, I signed him for Arsenal in my FIFA 12 Career Mode and he was incredible. So there you go. Speaking of Arsenal, we also have Thomas Eisfeld in this team. Formerly of the Gunners’ academy (and Borussia Dortmund’s, coincidentally), it is safe to say Eisfeld’s career has nosedived a bit since leaving north London, and he currently plays for Vfl Bochum in 2. Bundesliga. He will of course play out wide on the right, but the likelihood is that he’ll be switching between our main right-winger, since I literally can’t find any other half-decent attacking midfielders from the GDR, and you’re about to find out who that is!

Wingers: Patrick Ebert & Maximilian Wolfram

For those of you who guessed it was Patrick Ebert, congratulations! Get yourselves a Kinder Egg or two, you earned it. Ebert may be 32, lost a fair bit of pace, and also playing in the 2. Bundesliga for Dynamo Dresden, but the sad reality is, if it wasn’t clear already, this team is just a bit of a shitshow. It wouldn’t look out of place in the English Championship (except for the talented Kroos brother), but being one of those teams who finish in 7th and only just miss out on the play-offs because of goal difference. So when Ebert’s playing well, he’s in the team. When he’s not, it’s Eisfeld, with Eisfeld probably getting a bit more game time. That’s how it be. Ebert does bring a decent amount of experience with him though.

Joining him in/on the wings is Maximillian Wolfram. I don’t really know anything about this guy, except he seems a relatively exciting young talent and currently plays for FC Ingolstadt in the third (yes, that’s right, the THIRD) tier of German football. You see how much I’ve had to stretch to put this team together? He’s literally the best back-up I’ve found for Bittencourt, and even then the best you can say about him is that he’s decent! Jeez, I think it’s for the best this country doesn’t exist any more.

Strikers: Nils Petersen, Stefan Kutschke & Christian Beck

Rounding off this piss-poor excuse of a football team, we go with a lone striker in the form of Nils Petersen. And, in fairness to him, he’s actually got a goal or two in him. In fact, he has nearly 50 for SC Freiburg in the Bundesliga, not to mention a 25-goal haul for them in one season in the second tier. He also scored 6 in 6 for the German Olympic team as they won the silver medal in 2016, but I’m sure all you Olympic buffs already knew that. He also has 2 full Germany caps, unlike pretty much this entire squad, so clearly he’s the GDR’s beacon of goalscoring hope.

Petersen is a most assured regular in the first team but, again, “competition” is provided by the likes of Stefan Kutschke and Christian Beck. “Competition” in the same way that Pierce Brosnan and George Lazenby provide Sean Connery with competition over who the best Bond is. It’s obvious it’s Connery, but those two will always have to be considered for the spot, regardless of how shite they were. Kutschke appears to have had one good season of football in his life, when he scored 18 goals in 2016/17 for Dynamo Dresden in the 2. Bundesliga, and can currently be found milling about alongside Max Wolfram in Germany’s third division. The same goes for Christian Beck, who seems relatively prolific for Magdeburg, but, and I can’t re-iterate this strongly enough, he plays in the THIRD TIER. Yes, this team is so threadbare on attacking talent that we’ve had to resort to dipping our toes into the third division for actual legitimate places in the team if Petersen gets injured. I could give a spot to Florian Krüger, who plays for Erzgebirge Aue in the lofty heights of the second tier, but he’s only 20 and doesn’t appear to have done a whole lot with his career thus far, so I’m sticking with proven goalscoring pedigree, a phrase I couldn’t be using more loosely if I tried.

Thought some evidence was needed that this man is actually a full international

Well that was an ordeal. In fairness, this is probably the most interesting team to come out of this series, since you won’t find anywhere else that has Norwich’s back-up ‘keeper in goal, 2 Championship centre-backs and 3 (THREE!) players from Germany’s 3. Bundesliga playing alongside Toni Kroos (World Cup-less in this reality) himself. It’s in equal parts baffling, awe-inspiring and indescribably laughable, and at least we all had a good laugh with it along the way. In terms of a home stadium, the former GDR team played in Leipzig, so that’s where this team will play, at RB Leipzig’s Red Bull Arena. Except it won’t be called that at all because the day the socialist government of East Germany allows an energy drink company from the west to take over a football club and its stadium is the day hell freezes over. Long live the Stasi and all that. So they’d play at the Zentralstadion, as the stadium is known when it doesn’t have a winged sponsorship deal slapped across it. For a manager, assuming we’re gunning for a gaffer who also hails from the East, there aren’t many finer right now than Marco Rose, who is currently working his magic at Borussia Monchengladbach at the top of the Bundesliga. 

So does this team have a shot at international fame and stardom? No. It absolutely does not. They’d be lucky to even make it to the group stages of a major tournament. But you never know, Marco Rose is a talented guy with an absolute diamond in Toni Kroos to build a team around, so you never know, that could lead to Nils Petersen firing on all cylinders up front and Toni Leistner being their very own Berlin Wall.

Honestly, the absolute state of this team… Anyway, let’s put that mess of a squad behind us and move forwards with a look at a modern-day team of glorious, hard-working Soviets.

Thanks for reading, good night and good ebening.

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