It should come as little surprise to discover that Shaun Maloney was cheering on Germany during this summer’s World Cup, the midfielder having enjoyed something of a Teutonic touch throughout his career.
After all, his first European goal came in a 3-1 win for Celtic against Stuttgart, he scored the winner for Scotland’s Under-21 side in Germany a few months later when Rainer Bonhoff was manager, and now, at Wigan, his boss is Uwe Rosler, a former East Germany internationalist.
And now, of course, he has his fingers crossed he’ll be part of Gordon Strachan’s starting line-up as Scotland’s European Championship qualifying campaign gets under way tomorrow night in Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion.
Plenty of reasons, then, for Maloney to lend “Die Mannschaft” his backing throughout their charge to glory in Brazil. However, he revealed today he cheered on Joachim Low’s side simply because they were the best on show in South America, describing their 7-1 humiliation of the host nation as having left him in a state of “awe and shock.”
He said: “As the tournament progressed, I probably did want the Germans to win, not from a selfish point of view because we are playing them. It was more that I enjoyed watching them and they were the best team. The media spoke a lot about all the teams seeming to have major players and individuals –but Germany have a number of them and a work ethic.
“They are focused on the team and I and a few others started to root for them on the basis that they were the best team. There was that 20-minute spell against Brazil where it was as good as you will see. You were just in awe and a bit of shock. I don’t think anyone expected that to happen. It was a pleasure to watch.
“That period was just devastating and the result sent shockwaves through everyone watching.” While there may be a general acceptance that Scotland will do well to get anything at all from tomorrow’s match, Maloney pointed out how the Tartan Army had enjoyed major shocks in the past, most notably James McFadden’s winners against France in Paris and Holland at Hampden, although he did admit a victory would be as big a result as Scotland will have enjoyed over the past 15 years.
Although adamant no-one in the Scotland camp will be fooled by Germany’s 4-2 defeat to Argentina in Dusseldorf in midweek, Maloney is upbeat about the Scots’ chances, claiming that, under Strachan’s command, the national side has come a long way from those dark days 18 months ago when they lost at home to Wales and saw their bid to make the Brazil World Cup come off the rails just half-way into the campaign.
He said: “Coming into the qualifiers we are in as good form as we could have hoped for. There were times under Walter Smith and Alex McLeish that we got very close. They were opportunities missed, looking back now. But we are in good form and that is a real positive. Wales at home was a real low in terms of how we got beat. To come from that match and show the form we have in the last 12 months, we couldn’t have asked for much more going into this qualifying group. I didn’t see the Germany game in midweek but it was their first game after the World Cup. They had four or five changes and I’m not sure of their mindset or how they played.
“But when it comes to qualification, they will be switched on and ready to go. I’m not sure they will have much to prove. It’s the start of qualifying and they will want to do as well as we will, they’ll be at full tilt.
“It would be as big a result as this group has had. It is similar to the France game. They were flying at the time and I remember the play-off game against Holland, that was a huge result.
“Being away will make it even harder for us. In the last 15 or so years, maybe longer, this would be as big a result if we manage to play as we can, and it would be as big as this group [of players] has had.”
Maloney has only visited the intimidating Westfalenstadion once before, as a spectator the night after his winner for the Under-21s in Ahlen back in 2003, but he was keen to play down both that moment and his UEFA Cup quarter-final strike against Stuttgart as being “a long time ago.” He said: “Me and Darren Fletcher came on with half an hour to go. I don’t think any of the German squad that night will play tomorrow. It was great, we had a German manager [Bonhoff] who we were all very fond of and we came close to qualifying.
“It was a brilliant night for the 21s at the time. We were going through a purple patch and a good bunch came through like McFadden, [Gary] Caldwell and Darren. The first team played in Dortmund the following night and that has always stuck with me. The stadium is fantastic. I think the crowd is a bit smaller for internationals but we went as a group and some of the club managers. The hospitality was great, they were really nice to us considering the result the night before.
“I don’t think the stadium can faze you before a ball is kicked. If you are a younger player, it could play on your mind, but the majority of the squad have played in some pretty big stadiums in England and Scotland, so I don’t think it will be an issue.” Bonhoff, Maloney revealed, made a lasting impression on him, saying: “He was the first manager that I had known to be calm at all times, in games, at half-time, in training. He was very demanding but he wasn’t as intense as the managers I had worked with.
“He was a different character. I loved it. I found his way of managing really enjoyable and I seemed to play well under him. He was the first foreign manager I worked under and there was a cultural change from what I was used to.”
Much water has flowed under the bridge since those days. Aged 31 and with 32 caps to his name, Maloney is a much more experienced player today but, he admitted, the prospect of playing Germany has barely been far from his thoughts for some time now.
He said: “In pre-season when you are training, these games stick out as a night to be involved in and you are desperate to get picked for the squad.
“It is very motivating to have to be at your best to play against some of the best players in Europe and the world. It is brilliant, I am very fortunate to be involved, not everyone can be. It is something to look forward to.
“For me, there are nerves at some point before the match but they disappear as soon as I get on the pitch to warm up. It’s something I am accustomed to. You get in a routine of getting ready for a match and the nerves disappear.
“It is a brilliant occasion. Any Scotland match is motivating and it is only heightened when you are playing against the world champions.”