Camaraderie key to Germany success
The German FA had initially planned to stay in a luxurious resort near Salvador during the World Cup in Brazil. But there was one problem: It was too big. "We didn't want the players getting lost in the hotel," general manager Oliver Bierhoff explained. "It wouldn't have been good for the team spirit."
Campo Bahia, the German-built complex that Joachim Low and his team eventually settled on, is much more modest in size. The bungalows are situated fairly closely to one another on the site next to the sleepy fishing village of Santo Andre.
"When I saw the blueprints, I thought it might be too small," Bierhoff told reporters a few days ago. "But then our [team] psychologist Hans-Dieter Hermann said, 'It can't be small enough.'"
The base camp could be described as an experiment in social engineering. Bierhoff and Low were at pains not to repeat the mistakes of 2012, when the team had broken into different cliques. The idea this time was to force them to live together in close proximity. The 23 players were assigned to a total of four bungalows and carefully mixed to avoid the developing of any factions along club or age lines. For example, Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger's Wohngemeinschaft (German for commune), is also inhabited by hardcore Borussia Dortmund supporter (and player) Kevin Grosskreutz, two players from BVB's fierce local rivals Schalke 04 (Benedikt Howedes and Julian Draxler), Bavarian goal machine Thomas Muller and Matthias Ginter of SC Freiburg.
The television sets in the rooms only have two channels (ARD and ZDF, the two German public broadcasters), which encourages the players to talk or to go to the main bar area near the swimming pool to watch with others. Bierhoff said life in the camp was like the "village of Asterix," the French comic. Everything happens out in the open; everyone sees everyone the whole time.
It doesn't sound like everybody's idea of paradise, but the players and staff have had nothing but praise for their accommodations. Ahead of their departure to Rio de Janeiro on Friday night, a sense of melancholy set in. Nobody, it seems, wants to leave Campo Bahia after four blissful weeks without a hint of trouble.
"We are incredibly happy that we have had these facilities," said Howedes at the penultimate news conference. "We have developed a team spirit that has been very good for us. It's been perfect."
Apart from rumours about one or two drinks too many after the 4-0 win against Portugal, nothing remotely controversial has happened. The players were allowed a glass of wine or a beer in the evening, Bierhoff explained, but unlike at past tournaments, where sheer boredom had often led to players and coaching staff resorting to quite a few nightcaps, the beautiful landscape, slow pace of life in North Brazil and early sunsets seem to have everybody in a supremely relaxed, easygoing mind.
"I see how respectfully everyone is treating each other," striker Miroslav Klose said. "That goes for the training pitch, too. That's the most important thing. The team that plays against the first team in training, always works really well. The team spirit is there, but nobody pulls out of tackles. Everyone is always totally alert."
That was another coded reference to Euro 2012, when a lack of respect had been a bigger problem than any newspaper reported at the time. Players who didn't play were aggressively agitating to be picked, upsetting the team's emotional balance in the process.
One exception was Per Mertesacker. The Arsenal defender had just returned from injury and couldn't get past Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng in Poland/Ukraine.
"It was a new experience for me," he told ESPN in October, "but I promised myself to do anything to support the team from the sidelines."
Others were less supportive. Tensions continued to fester right through the qualification; real togetherness only came about when the team travelled to Brazil, Low's assistant Hansi Flick admitted.
"The development since [the training camp in] South Tyrol has been sensational," said the 49-year-old. "Campo Bahia has been the key."
"Sensational" was the word Mertesacker used after the 1-0 win over France in the Maracana. He had found himself on the bench once more after starting the first four games of the tournament. But the 29-year-old encountered a very different attitude among his fellow reservists than two years ago. Everyone was pulling in the right direction.
"We are happy and thrilled," he said. "What I experienced today was sensational. I wouldn't like to miss it. Everyone is involved, everyone is ready. We should keep this extraordinary thing going."
The romantic notion of "11 friends" on the pitch has long been consigned to the history books, but there's a good chance the class of 2014 will be able to keep it going beyond Brazil and Sunday afternoon. They just need one more small detail to make it last.
"It doesn't matter who you meet from the 1990 team, we are always pleased to see each other," former Bayern defender Klaus Augenthaler told Elf Freunde magazine in May. "A fundamental feeling of togetherness has remained".
It's what a World Cup trophy can do for you -- even more so than the most idyllic holiday resort.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian. Twitter: @honigstein.