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How German Football Opened Its Mind And Won The World Cup

18/07/2014 12:55 BST | Updated 17/09/2014 10:59 BST

"Philip I'm in love with you, can I come in?" The greeting on the doorstep of the German captain's home had come from a male admirer. The same man possibly who would, according to Philip Lahm's 2011 autobiography The Subtle Difference, "wander around Cologne telling everyone who listens that he's living with me".

It's just one of the fascinating ingredients in a back-story involving sexuality and the German national side that has ebbed and flowed for as long as their grip on a major trophy has tightened. Lahm himself sparked the debate initially, receiving the Tolerantia-Preis for outstanding contribution against intolerance in sport in 2008 having been the first international player to speak out on homophobia a year previously.

Since then progress has been punctuated by a succession of villainous cameo roles. In March 2010 cigar-chomping Schalke boss Rudi Assauer, a fedora short of Malcolm Allison, announced there was no place for gays in football. For good measure he sacked the club masseur on account of his sexuality, wearily informing him in old school parlance "Look son, do me a favour, find another job."

The aftermath of the 2010 World Cup then brought about a baffling piece of scapegoating - football agent Michael Becker describing the national side as "a bunch of gays" to news magazine Der Spiegel. In an essay entitled New German Men he pointed to both a new elegant style of play and a third place finish as evidence - like these were bad things. Meanwhile Lahm married his childhood sweetheart Claudia Schattenberg in Munich.

Before the end of the year Lahm's Bayern Munich team-mate Mario Gomez was on the front foot urging players to be open about their sexuality, arguing the benefits of liberated players and calling for a radical re-think about homosexuality in football. When the DFB's Theo Zwanziger called for footballers to come out at the start of 2011 both players and authorities were on the same page and German football's path to progression gathered apace.

The national side continued to win matches and friends on their way to their ultimate date with destiny. Ethnically more diverse than any in German history and the youngest team in years, they secured another third place finish at Euro 2012. Soon, Pep Guardiola was describing Philip Lahm as "the most intelligent player I've coached".

The theory that Lahm and Gomez had been speaking out on behalf of more vulnerable colleagues gained some credence when retired international Thomas Hitzlsperger discussed his sexuality for the first time at the start of 2014. Six years previously he had broken up with his fiancée - another childhood sweetheart - shortly before their wedding. He was coming out now, he told German paper Die Zeit, "to further the debate about homosexuality among sports professionals".

Young, diverse, intelligent... and gay? Germany's football revolution - ironically triggered by a 5-1 humiliation at the hands of England in 2001 - may just have gone further than anyone could have dared hope. At the same time it holds an unflattering mirror up to the progress of the victors in Munich that night.

As former England players rush to fix their own national game fashionable solutions are quick to be wheeled out - Winter break. Check. Youth academies. Check. Grass roots. Check. Rio Ferdinand - perhaps the most revelatory pundit in Brazil - has even claimed "England can do everything Germany have done".

Yet to do this they would need to actually look beyond obvious clichés and address uncomfortable truths. Where are the Lahm and Gomez in the England team to speak out on sexuality? Who is England's "most intelligent player"? It's not immediately obvious. Is the usual line about parents shouting at their kids from the sidelines any more damaging to the game than a pool of talent being excluded due to their sexual preference? Even now the FA would rather opt for desperate solutions to combat the dearth of English talent (see Dyke's wacky B league proposal) than simply open up the game to all.

Yes, the Germans have successfully shifted their image from one of efficiency and aggression to elegance and youth but they've also added progression and inclusiveness as vital ingredients to their national game. It's difficult to know whether Podolski and Schweinsteiger's playful kiss at the final whistle on Sunday was designed to send out a message or simply tongue in cheek. A subtle difference perhaps - but one that remains lost on the English game either way.