Hidden away somewhere behind the rolling vineyards and striking valleys of South Tyrol, Germany's squad is preparing for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Behind the luxury of Germany's training camp though, lie some uncomfortable truths.
Germany are training at the Sportzone Rungg in Eppan, home to Italian Serie C side FC Südtirol (whose season is still ongoing). The facilities are superb, and certainly do meet the high standards of an international side such as Germany. Renovation work has seen the site improved further from the team's previous stay, in 2010. Two grass and three astroturf pitches, a gym and a rehab center make up the core of the site.
However, these facilities are wildly beyond the requirements of a third-division club. As local newspaper Südtiroler Tageszeitung reported, the renovations cost €8.34 million ($9.7 million) - nearly a million more than the estimated figure. While the area also hosts the three other football clubs that operate in Eppan, it seems difficult to ignore the fact that such improvements have been made just in time for Germany's stay.
The five-star Hotel Weinegg is a popular spot regardless of Germany's presence and so the improvements made for their arrival are perhaps more understandable. However, to get renovations completed in time for Germany's arrival, builders had to work through the night. As the Munich daily tz reported, in order to finish an entire new wing of 39 suites in six months, the town's mayor, Wilfried Trettl, lifted a ban on night work. Only between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m. was all quiet, which wasn't much consolation for those living in the area.
The same could be said for Germany fans, who have largely been kept at bay. Other than a light training session in front of invited guests — friends of partners and sponsors — Germany have closed themselves off. Upon arrival in the camp, the team bus drove straight past, the hotel has been fenced off and some fans have been left to hopefully ask visiting media if they know of any open training sessions. Naturally, sporting preparation for the World Cup takes priority and players can't constantly be signing autographs, but a little less distance to fans who have traveled to Italy surely wouldn't go amiss.
Team manager Oliver Bierhoff responded to the issue on Day 3 of the training camp. The former Germany striker raised the possibility of holding open training sessions — as is customary for German club teams.
"We'll make a decision depending on the situation," Bierhoff said on Friday, adding that arranging security was always a consideration. Between the lines though, comes the feeling that fans might be left hoping for a while longer.
South Tyrol and the German Football Association (DFB) have entered a marketing arrangement, which may well make sense in the modern football world. The bargain goes something like this: The region spends money on making sure Germany wants for nothing — according to numbers collated by German private broadcaster Sport 1, the training camp is costing the municipality of Eppan €550,000 and the region of South Tyrol €600,000. In return, 224 accredited media members deliver almost 24-7 coverage of the team — in Eppan, South Tyrol.
And yet it seems somewhat perverse that this autonomous province in the north of Italy uses tax revenue to accommodate a visiting football team when, a world away in the south of the country, unemployment and debt reign supreme.
Germany's World Cup hashtag is "#zsmmn," a social-media friendly version of the German word "zusammen", which translates as "together." While there's no denying that Germany are together, for now at least, the rest of the world seems to be a long way away.Jonathan Harding (Eppan)