How soccer explains the World

In UEFA Champions League 2013, two German teams, Bayern Munich and Borissia Dortmund, will face off for the European title (an equivalent of the Super Bowl over here in the States) at London Wembley stadium on May 25.

Two Spanish powerhouses, Real Madrid and Barcelona, that mostly make up the Spain’s national team, the current World champion, took a nasty beating from the Germans. Especially Barca, having in its ranks Lionel Messi, for many, the best soccer player ever, was humiliated with 4:0 in Munich and 0:3(!) on home turf.

Germany's coat of arms

Germany is sitting on top of Europe, viewed not only with resentment, but with a mixture of envy and admiration (photo: The Wall Street Journal)

So what’s the secret of Germany’s success in soccer, and not only soccer? A game is just a game, but victories in sports tend also to be viewed as a test for the health and strength of nations.[2]

Defeated badly twice in recent history, Germany rose from ashes and is now Europe’s strongest economy. It demonstrated brilliant results, even against the current global crisis, showing strength and resilience no one could rival.[3]

Somehow, it looks that Germany cracked the code of how to compete and win. But, little is known about the Germany model. What is its secret? It must be some sort of remarkably effective strategy.

The Germany model

The company is the heart of economic strategy and social integration. The German system works because it is founded on a dense network of many competitive companies. In Game theory parlance, each company is a player that adds a certain value to the game, thus increasing the total pay-off for Germany.

“The Mittelstand, the true center of the German economy, means middle sized companies: employing between 250 and 5000 people and making turnovers from €50 million to €1.5 billion. These companies have been in the hands of their founding families for several generations; they pursue financial accumulation goals, which make them extremely strong, which in turn helps them withstand the dangers of capitalism by way of innovation, investment and export. This helps them maintain a financial structure that protects them from economic shocks. Germany undertakes a long term growth strategy, demonstrating indifference with regard to short term threats and uncertainties.”[4]

“Unlike the AngloSaxon and French models in which, to a certain extent, economic performance is in conflict with social protection – it is one thing or another – the German economic model aims, in a false kind of paradox, not only to reconcile, but beyond that – to create a dynamic balance between competitiveness and the need for social protection.”[4]

German teams and businesses, are farsigthed and built for stability. “Instead of trying to stimulate activity, they are designed to pursue the goal of stability,” [4] set for a long time to come.
Chess cartoon by M. Muchikova, "64" Magazine, 1985

Chess strategy: Building structures for long-term stability. By the way, where is the opponent? Already turned to dust? (cartoon by M. Muchnikova, Magazine 64 #9, 1985)

How chess explains the World

The above analysis has a striking resemblance to what was said in the last post about prophylaxis in chess.

The grand, leading principle, toward which every chess move dealing with strategy and positional play should converge, is the absolute importance of building up a strong and stable structure on the board, designed to keep you secure and unharmed against the hostile forces (showing activity, or as Nimzovich put it, “the obsession of amateurs to be forever doing something,” either attacking or defending, as well as Steinitz’ positional elements and the accumulation of small advantages theory are of a lesser significance for the highest-level strategic thinking).

You should spread out your men in an ordered arrangement (=piece coordination, “the main principle throughout,” Capablanca) based on their individual abilities and roles to ensure security and achieve team’s strategic objectives. Only this may give you freedom to launch possible attack from the position of strength at the right time and place.

Now compare the above with Nimzovich’s My System:

“Positional moves are in general neither attacking nor defensive ones, but rather moves designed to give our position security in the wider sense, and to this end it is necessary for our pieces to establish contact with the enemy’s (and our own) strategically important points.”[5]

“The contact established between the strong point and “the overprotector” can only be of advantage for both parties. The strong point because the prophylactic induced by such a process affords it the greatest imaginable security against possible attack; to the overprotector, since the point serves him as a source of energy, from which he may continually draw fresh strength.”[6]

What “attacking, or forever doing something” is for Nimzovich is “stimulating economic activity” in Alain Fabre’s article.[4] And they both agree that stability, or standing firm, is the backbone of any successful long-term strategy.

What is Nimzovich’s “Law of overprotection” if not giving your position firmness and stability? — to help it become immune and indifferent to threats posed by phony tactics of blowers of bubbles.

© 2013 Momir Radovic


1. Franklin Foer, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, Harper Perennial, 2004.

2. The New York Times, One More Field Where the Continent Trails Germany.

3. “The country has come roaring out of the global financial crisis, boasting one of the strongest economies in the West and seemingly poised for years of rising exports ahead.” Is Germany Turning Into the Strong, Silent Type? The Wall Street Journal.

4. “This formula is a major guarantee for the protection of jobs, notably in times of crisis. The workers have know-how which is built up within the company. Dismissing them simply in response to an economic downturn comprises a major risk for the company that might witness the disappearance of this precious know-how.” Alain Fabre, Robert Schuman Fondation (The French think tank on Europe),The German Economic Model: a strategy for Europe?

5. My System: Winning Chess Strategies, 21st Century Edition, Hays Publishing, 1991, p. 104.

6. Ibid., p. 153.

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