Ten years have passed since the German national team crashed out of the European Championships at the group stage after a defeat by the Czech Republic. It signalled a new low in German football history, and led to soul-searching and the quest for change within the German game.
After the inquest that followed, former striker Jürgen Klinsmann replaced Rudi Völler as manager of the national team, and swiftly appointed Joachim Löw as his assistant. The indignation of a first-round exit from Euro 2004 meant that something had to give. Klinsmann and Löw immediately set about transforming Germany into an entertaining unit, ridding the team of the rigid, defensive strategy for which they had become renowned.
The DFB’s new management team quickly established a new philosophy focused on attacking football, which laid the first foundations of German football’s new era. The fresh approach seemed to pay immediate dividends, as a rejuvenated Germany side reached the semi-final of the 2005 Confederations Cup, breaking the record for goals scored with 15 in just five games.
Adhering to their new attack-minded approach, Klinsmann’s side slowly began to turn heads, with the likes of Lukas Podolski, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger becoming regular fixtures in the starting XI. They impressed as Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, reaching the semi-final again with fluid, attractive football before eventually succumbing to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of eventual victors, Italy.
The new era was clearly underway for the Germans, and as their plaudits began to grow, there was an excitable buzz about what a new crop of players could achieve. While Klinsmann was the big character, the popular motivator who garnered support for the rebirth of the German game, Joachim Löw was working quietly in the background; the assistant gaffer was widely considered to be the tactical genius behind Germany’s impressive performances. It was a transformation to watch with excitement.
So then, when Klinsmann decided that he’d played his part in the turnaround, it seemed a sensible, natural fit that Löw was his successor following the 2006 World Cup. It was a seamless succession for a process that was already underway, as Löw made his intention clear to continue to develop his team using the same attacking philosophy which he helped to establish over the previous two years.
“Jogi,” as he is known, brought in former German internationals Oliver Bierhoff and Hans-Dieter Flick as PR manager and assistant manager respectively. A national ‘B’ team was also established as the new man in charge sought to build on Klinsmann’s foundations and take the German team to the next level.
Each and every manager has a particular approach to the game. One of the integral facets of Löw’s philosophy since taking over in 2006 has been to work on the Germans’ midfield play, drastically reducing time on the ball and therefore increasing the pace of the game whilst they are in possession.
With Löw’s tactically astute methods of dictating play, Germany once again had a good showing at Euro 2008. They showed tangible progress as they reached the final, only to once again stumble at the last hurdle, as they went down 1-0 to Spain. However, while the international football community lauded the rise of tiki-taka football that came with the success of Vicente del Bosque’s side, Löw stuck to his guns.
Germany did not suffer a single defeat as they comfortably breezed through qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. After gliding through the group stages, they went on to exorcise the ghosts of that now-infamous 5-1 defeat in Munich by thrashing England 4-1 in the next round, before brushing aside Argentina with a polished, sophisticated 4-0 victory. Ultimately, it wasn’t to be as they bowed out in the semi-finals, again losing 1-0 to Spain.
Nevertheless, the positives were there; alongside the established heads – Lukas Podolski, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger – Löw introduced new blood into his team. Sami Khedira, Mesut Özil, and Thomas Müller all took to the stage with natural ease in South Africa, whilst Manuel Neuer burst onto the scene with some excellent performances. It was Germany’s youngest squad in nearly 80 years; those green shoots that first sprouted after 2004 were growing into something good, and the natural progression of this young team was in full pace.
But after another semi-final defeat at Euro 2012, fears spread that Germany would forever be remembered as the ‘nearly-men’ of the modern era.
This World Cup was Germany’s time to shine. Löw’s outfit enjoyed a stunning start, as they crushed Portugal 4-0 in their opening game, courtesy of a hat-trick from Thomas Müller and a Mats Hummels effort. However, they disappointed against Ghana, before struggling to overcome a determined USA side – managed by former gaffer, Jürgen Klinsmann. Löw’s persistence with a high line was questioned as Germany needed extra time to see off Algeria, with a resurgent France side facing them in the quarter-finals.
In the end, there was no need for concern; Les Bleus never really turned up, and Germany’s superiority in almost every area of the pitch shone through. France were never really fancied this time around though; the biggest challenge lay next, against hosts Brazil in the semi-final.
Brazil had an expectant crowd behind them, the stage set for a fantastic game of football. Yet, nobody saw what was coming. Brazil buckled, and Germany delivered. It wasn’t just the weight of that 7-1 score-line that impressed so emphatically; it was the talent that Germany oozed as they humiliated a nation once considered the pace-setters of the game. Miroslav Klose’s 16th World Cup goal, making him all-time top-scorer, seemed befitting of the German master plan.
The final may have lacked the flair and visceral feel that we come to expect of such a fixture, but it was a fascinating battle of tactical attrition. Germany sacrificed some of their own capability, shutting down to deal with Lionel Messi, and it worked. Höwedes and Boateng were immense. Schürrle and Müller excelled, and once again, Neuer was outstanding. Following Mario Götze’s late goal deep into extra time, die Mannschaft became world champions once more. They weren’t superb in every game, but they rose to every challenge, and they were deserved winners. After years of progress, all of the pieces of Joachim Löw’s jigsaw slotted into place perfectly.
After their victory, Löw talked of the 10-year project he began with Klinsmann after Euro 2004. This victory was the culmination of a radical overhaul of the German game – the adoption of a new philosophy and adhering to it until success came. But the Germans still have more to give. In the past, references to the German machine had negative connotations – that their football was effective, but rigid and unattractive. Now, it’s a whole lot more positive. The German machine is fluid and attacking, nice on the eye and seemingly unstoppable at times.
The average age of Germany’s winning squad is 26; everything about them from their attacking of the ball, to their guard of honour after the game, has a classiness to it. The majority, including Neuer, Schürrle, Müller, Boateng, Khedira, Özil, Hummels, Höwedes, Kramer, Kroos and Götze are all likely to still be around in 2018; this is a squad that will continue to get stronger.
Joachim Löw’s project hasn’t reached its conclusion. It’s only just beginning.