German luxury all part of elaborate, expensive World Cup 'dream'
SALVADOR, Brazil -- As room and board goes, you'll be hard-pressed to find a World Cup more defined by chaos.
There is the tarantula, several inches long, which parked itself by the air duct inside Australian forward Ben Halloran's hotel room in Vitoria. ("Not sleeping tonight," the player captioned his Instagram post of the arachnid.)
There are the three British fans who slipped past the armed guards at England's hotel in Rio de Janeiro and managed to take selfies with manager Roy Hodgson and at least six players. ("It was all a bit of fun but makes you think about how seriously the authorities are taking security," one of said lads advised the Daily Mail.)
There are the 86 pounds of delicious, apparently undocumented dulce de leche that the Brazilian government confiscated from Uruguay when the team arrived at the airport near their camp in Sete Lagoas. ("They can pick it up on their way out of Brazil," an agriculture department official told Reuters.)
There is the Croatian tabloid that bought -- and published -- surreptitious pictures of the Croatian players skinny-dipping at their hotel in Praia do Forte. ("The world has seen the photos," said Croatia's manager, Niko Kovac, explaining the subsequent and indefinite media boycott.)
And then -- on the other end of the spectrum -- there is Germany.
Germany, which sits calmly astride this entire tournament, far away from that perhaps not coincidentally winless quartet of aforementioned countries. Germany, which rooms, boards and trains at a custom-built, multimillion-dollar complex in secluded Santo Andre, here in Bahia. Germany, which somehow managed to construct an expansive, fully operational soccer Xanadu before June, when the Brazilian government was still scrapping to fasten seats to arenas. Germany, which successfully imported no less than 23 players and coaches and 33 dedicated support staffers -- doctors, video guys, physiotherapists, press agents, information-technology consultants and cooks among them.
The name of this facility is "Campo Bahia," but that first word is fundamentally problematic. Campo Bahia -- the ambitious by-product of a Munich design firm and startling due diligence -- is only a "campo" in the way that the White House is, well, a house. "I am absolutely confident of two things. One is that we have a first-class team. And the other is that the top team will have the best training camp," Campo Bahia co-owner Christian Hirmer says in a translated video on its elaborate website. (Yes, it has an elaborate website.) "With combined efforts, we will become champions."
Billed as a sustainable "sport and nature resort," the beachside, palm-lined grounds span approximately 161,000 square feet. To date, that has been enough for -- deep breath -- 14 two-story villas containing 65 residential units; original pieces by seven Brazilian and seven German artists; a 7,500-square-foot outdoor swimming pool; a spa; a lounge and dining area; a FIFA-regulation grass practice pitch; a fitness center; a modern auditorium that could conceivably host the unveiling of the iPhone 6; and, according to Agence France-Presse, 23 tons of luggage and equipment -- including mountain bikes and billiard tables -- that was shipped across the Atlantic by the German Football Association, which engineered this initiative.
Rest assured: German emissaries had also scrutinized a range of conventional lodging options -- you know, how the rest of this tournament field is sleeping -- and deemed them decidedly sub-optimal for a member of the so-called Group of Death.
"Due to the early kickoff times and the heat and high humidity expected," general manager and ex-striker Oliver Bierhoff said in December, "we looked for a base where the players could adapt effectively to the kind of things they can expect to encounter during each match." At Campo Bahia, all three of Germany's first-round sites -- Salvador (vs. Portugal this past Monday), Fortaleza (vs. Ghana this Saturday) and Recife (vs. the United States a week from Thursday) -- sit no more than a two-hour flight away, making life that much simpler for a manager, Joachim Loew, who already manipulates one of the deepest, most talent-rich rosters in the world.
No, the eco-friendly amenities of Campo Bahia didn't keep Loew from leaving five eminently useful players -- Ilkay Gundogan, Marco Reus, the Bender twins and Mario Gomez -- across the Atlantic due to concerns of either injury or fitness. But heading into Monday's lunchtime fixture against Portugal, for instance, the coach had his team strategically embrace high-pace practices on their field under the Santo Andre midday sun.
Then, on the grass of the Arena Fonte Nova, Die Mannschaft revealed itself to be the substantially better-conditioned side, steamrolling a potential contender 4-0 as Cristiano Ronaldo repeatedly tugged at his shorts. "The aim was to play economically and keep control of the ball," Loew explained after the rout. "We knew it was going to be hot and it might even be hotter in the next two matches."
Which is, per Hirmer's wife and fellow co-owner, Christiane, all part of the Campo Bahia plan. "It is a force field of nature," she says on the website. "A place where dreams can come true."
That weird part about the force field, incidentally, isn't entirely metaphor. Given all the investment in and hype around the facility, I'd asked Barbara Schicke, a press agent for Campo Bahia, if I could fly down and tour the grounds and facilities myself. "Unfortunately, due to the guidelines of the FIFA and the DFB (German Football Association)," Schicke replied in an email, "it is not possible for anyone, except the players and their entourage, to enter" during the World Cup.
Quite unlike England and Croatia's porously defended five-star base camps, in fact, the problem may not be a shortage of security but the exact opposite. Last week, a group of roughly a hundred indigenous Santo Andre residents held a meeting protesting the influx of guards now patrolling their formerly sleepy village. The German response? "We have asked our head of security, Hendrik Grosse-Lefert, to make sure the necessary security passes are given out," Bierhoff told AFP. "We don't want the people living here to be disrupted."
Which is not a new sentiment, at least according to those in charge of Campo Bahia. Read through that elaborate website and you'll find lengthy, proud statements about how the trees used to build the facilities have been transplanted, not cleared away. You'll find multiple videos featuring indigenous children clapping, drumming, learning and playing soccer. You'll find plans to help develop a neighboring orphanage. You'll find wind turbines. You'll find an animated logo, featuring a dreamcatcher and a The-More-You-Know-esque shooting star that underscores an ambitious slogan: Catch a Dream.
It applies to Germany's soccer team, yes, but also to the rest of us -- Australian, British, Uruguayan and Croatian players included. Because whenever this World Cup ends for Campo Bahia's inaugural residents, the gates to soccer's training Xanadu will finally open. And yes: it, too, will become yet another luxury resort.
The exact rates for room and board are not yet listed, but when Schike tells me that they'll "possibly" price each villa at around 1,500 to 2,000 euros, per night, I can already hear the ad campaign.
Anyone, they'll soon declare, can sleep in the same exact rooms as Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller and Jogi Loew and Oliver Bierhoff. Anyone, they'll soon declare, can dream like a champion. For a price.