Why Germany is no longer confident about Euro 2024 vote vs. Turkey
The concept of a big sporting upset is fresh in the mind when it comes to Germany. Their unexpected failure to defend their World Cup title in Russia this summer has introduced fresh doubt around the national team and Thursday's vote for the right to host Euro 2024 feels equally uncertain.
From the moment the two countries registered their intention to bid for Euro 2024 in March of last year, seasoned tournament operators Germany were widely seen as the no-risk favourites with hopeful first-timers Turkey seen as rank outsiders. But as the process draws to a close with UEFA's Executive Committee taking a vote in Nyon on Thursday, the German FA's confidence has been replaced by palpable trepidation about a last-minute upset. Their rivals, too, can sense a shift in momentum.
"It's going to be tight, very tight," predicted Servet Yardimci, VP of the Turkish FA, in an interview with ESPN. "Turkey is an advanced country that we'd like to show to the UEFA football family. We want to show how Turkey will do a good job."
Yardimci, like his German counterpart on the UEFA ExCo, FA president Reinhard Grindel, is ineligible to vote. And so, the 16 or 17 men who will convene on the shores of Lake Geneva -- there is some doubt over the attendance of Juventus and European Club Association president Andrea Agnelli -- will be faced with a choice between the tried and trusted, a tournament in the very heart of the continent by Europe's biggest economy, and Turkey's pitch of a "global Euro" that could take it to "places it has never been before," according to Yardimci. "Turkey is the only UEFA member that is a bridge between two continents, Asia and Europe, as well as a gateway to the Middle East and Africa. This is a new territory, a new area for UEFA to explore because there will be new supporters, new fans, better commercial opportunities."
UEFA's evaluation report, published last week, seemingly reaffirmed Germany's pole position. It noted its higher stadium capacity and contrasted the country's internal and external connectivity with Turkey's ambitious plans to enhance its existing infrastructure ahead for the tournament.
"The scale of works to be undertaken in the given time frame constitutes a risk, especially in combination with the dependence on a few airports for international and domestic travel," the report warned. UEFA also expressed concern that Turkey had not put forward a "specific project related to the EURO tournament to ensure the protection of human rights."
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has come in for international criticism in the wake of a failed coup attempt against Erdogan in 2016 and a resulting crackdown. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein declared in a March report that "the successive states of emergency declared in Turkey have been used to severely and arbitrarily curtail the human rights of a very large number of people." The numbers were "just staggering," Al Hussein continued: "nearly 160,000 people arrested during an 18-month state of emergency; 152,000 civil servants dismissed, many totally arbitrarily; teachers, judges and lawyers dismissed or prosecuted; journalists arrested, media outlets shut down and websites blocked."
The German FA, by contrast, announced that a "human rights strategy" would be introduced to its statutes on Monday, in an unsubtle attempt to keep the focus on politics.
Whether UEFA will be swayed by such considerations is unclear. The technical report is non-binding. President Aleksander Ceferin notably refused to be drawn on the human rights issue and Turkey's policies in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF. Instead, the Slovenian emphasised the need to maximise income. "For football's development and for UEFA, it's very important to earn as much money as possible in order to distribute the money to all the associations in Europe."
That comment will have had alarm bells ringing in the German FA (DFB) headquarters in Frankfurt, especially given Turkey's emphasis on the financial vision. "We provide tournament cost-savings for UEFA in excess of €165 million, which Turkey 2024 would like to see re-invested in UEFA Hat-Trick programmes to further develop grass-roots football in more nations across Europe," said Yardimci. "We are the only bid offering this level of government commitment and guarantees."
Germany's bid does project substantial profit but unlike Turkey's, it doesn't grant tax exemptions nor a free-of-charge use of the stadia. "We have of course raised the point that our competitors have made guarantees for everything but the kitchen sink," Grindel commented acidly.
Sources within the DFB have expressed worries that Grindel's bullish stance has done their cause more harm than good. Suddeutsche Zeitung called the 57-year-old administrator Germany's "weak link," outlining a series of gaffes that threaten to overshadow the technical advantages of the bid. Furthermore, their "United by Football" slogan rang somewhat hollow in the wake of the racism allegations made by Mesut Ozil, a German player of Turkish descent who retired from the national team after their World Cup exit, citing "scapegoating" and mistreatment by the German FA.
(The Turkish view of Ozil's allegations has been one of diplomacy. Said Yardimci, "We should not mix politics with sport so we have to respect that these guys should not be abused, should not be protested or receive dangerous messages. Whether they are in the public eye or not, we should support these players... There should be respect, respect for heritage is important for these guys and we have to respect what Mesut felt.")
Der Spiegel also revealed this week that Grindel attracted the ire of FIFA president Gianni Infantino when he criticised him in a letter for meeting with Erdogan. "I must express my surprise and disappointment over the tone and content of your letter," Infantino reportedly wrote back. The former UEFA president, classed as a "key influencer" behind the scenes by Germany's advisors, might well side with Turkey as a result, a person close to the bid said.
Grindel's position has weakened so much over the past few months, in the wake of Germany's stunning World Cup exit, the Ozil row and Turkey's persistence in the Euro 2024 race that failure could lead to a change in leadership if Turkey were to win the vote.
DFB strategists privately admit that they cannot be certain of attaining the minimum of nine votes required on Thursday (in case there are no abstentions). Their hope is that Turkey's difficult economic situation -- the Lira has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar in 2018 -- will discourage UEFA from seeking out the "new boundaries" Yardimci described and make them opt for the safer option instead. But the deep-seated confidence of March 2017 has all but evaporated in light of the closeness of this race.
As the 2014 World Cup winners found to their own detriment in Russia, upsets continue to happen in football. Especially when the criteria for winning and losing are a good deal more opaque than the amount of goals scored by each side.
Additional reporting by Tom Hamilton