Quality and quantity.
Most Germans look forward to Euro 2012 with great optimism. And why not? Their revolution in young player development has already delivered some amazing results. Never in history has Germany had such deep talent pool for the national team. World Cup 2010 marks the year of the emergence of Germany's young talents. Neuer, Boateng, Kheidira, Ozil, and Mueller were unfamiliar to most people, but they stunned the world with their exceptional performance and Germany did fantastically well until the eventual champions Spain stopped their march. Two years later, those talents have grown in quality and quantity. The youngsters have improved in skills and are more experienced. They were great players, but now they are appproaching world class. To add to that, Germany has even managed to add to the depth of the squad with new emerging talents like Howedes, Hummels, Aogo, Badstuber, Kroos, and Gomez. And under guidance of senior players like Lahm and Schweinsteiger, Germany is among the top contenders of Euro 2012 and perhaps even World Cup 2014.
Quality and quantity. Germany has it both. It was the characteristic which Spain possessed when they reigned supreme in the world, winning Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. Spain had enormous number of talented players (especially in the midfield, where even the likes of Arteta remain uncapped), so much so that even their Team B could compete in International championships. Now, with Spain more or less stagnating, it seems Euro 2012 will mark the shift of power to Germany.
Good players alone don’t make a good team. Ask the Argentineans. The Albiceleste always had the talent to win any championship, but ever since Carlos Bilardo stepped down, the nation has never tasted any major success apart from Copa America in 1993. Germany has Joachim Loew, who understands the national team inside out. He was Klinsmann's assistant in World Cup 2006 and since then has been managing the hot seat.
2006 was a refreshing year for German football. After a disastrous Euro 2004 which saw them failing to qualify from the group stage, the Germans faced World Cup 2006 with a lot of pessimism. It seemed that the team wouldn’t bounce back from the Euro 2004 debacle and furthermore the new coach was an unexperienced one. But to the surprise of most, Germany played attractive football, showed glimpses of some young talent, and advanced to the semi-final only losing to eventual champions Italy in extra time. Klinsmann was hailed as the hero albeit the team did not make it to the final. When he resigned from the national team, he recommended Loew without any doubt or hesitation. Under Loew, the young talents began to emerge even more. Klinsi paved the way for a few young players, but Loew did it at a much larger scale. Klinsi played offensive football, but Loew nurtured more creative players and took the offense to another level. What Klinsi did, Loew did it even better.
That’s the brief introduction of the coach who is guiding the German national team to a bright future. With a great coach on the bench and some great players on the pitch, it seems Germany are a strong contender for Euro 2012. But, even the most powerful have a weakness and so does Germany. And surprisingly, the weakness lies on Loew himself! No kidding, the weakness of the German national team lies on the much-heralded coach. How is that, you may ask.... Germany today is a contrast to what Germany were before Klinsi-Loew era. The Panzer was known for its stability, pragmatism, and champion mentality. The last aspect is the most important quality which Germany had since 1954. With their renowned mentality, they defied logic to win the World Cups in 1954, 1976, and 1990. Year 1954 saw Germany defeat the legendary Magic Magyars, which consisted of the best players of that generation like Puskas, Kocsis, Hidekguti etc. Year 1976, Germany defeated the much-adored Total Footballers of Netherland. Both events had similarities in that the opposition was a much more favoured side, but some unexpected circumstances favoured the Germans. In 1954, Hungary dealt with a muddy pitch after heavy rain. Then came Adolf Dassler, greatest German hero in World Cup 1954, who put in the screw-in stud on each German player’s boot. Hungary couldn’t cope with the pitch, the players couldn’t play their usual techinical football. On the other side, with the help of the stud, the Germans controlled the pitch better and won the final.
Fast forward 22 years later, the Netherlands also faced a strange problem that they could never think of. Night before the final, the Netherlands were struck by a rumor of a wild party in the team’s camp. The rumors were notoriously spread by a German newspaper The Bild and its wide disruption worked. Netherlands, especially Cruijff, could not play their ideal game and ultimately lost.
Germany were kind of destined to be a great team and proved the world they could fight anything and win anything with such strong mentality. People complain how beautiful football lost to an ugly one, but they forget Germany were beautiful in their own way. Year 1990 was the final seal of Germany’s pragmatism and a champion's mental strength. It was a poor World Cup with dull matches all over the tournament. The final was Germany versus Argentina. Although Argentina had Maradona, Albiceleste played very ugly football and won ugly matches to advance to final. And they certainly lost because ugly football was Germany’s game. Don’t ever try beating Germany with ugly football. As Lineker said,”Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany always wins.”
That’s what missing from Joachim Loew. So far, his achievements are becoming the champion of DFB Pokal in 1997 and Winner Cup runner-up in 1998 with Stuttgart. And then, Austrian championship with FC Tirol Innsbruck in 2002. With national team, they are 3rd in the Confederation Cup 2005, 3rd in World Cup 2006 (both of them as Klinsi assistant), 2nd in Euro 2008, and 3rd in World Cup 2010. See, he only won small scale championships such as DFB Pokal and Austrian League. He never won any prestigous tournament.
You could say,”Give him time and he will bring success for Germany”. I am afraid not. World Cup 2010 semifinal underlined his lack of champion mentality. Germany met Spain, the strongest team back then and considered as one of the best national teams ever. From the very first match of the World Cup, Loew always played offensive football, but that was not the case in the semifinal. Everyone had anticipated an attractive match, some said it was an early final. But the match was dull, all thanks to Germany’s defesive approach. Tactical flexibility is always good, strategy involving surprise is also good, but fear isn’t. When they met Spain, it was as if Loew cowered under Spain's superior passing ability. And a great coach is one who doesn’t fear his opponents. If the coach himself already felt inferior, how could he rally his players to perform well?
The match was won by Spain against a very un-German team. Boring match, but the winner wasn’t Germany. And conceeding by a setpiece which has been their strong point ever since? And, although Spain was the strongest team in the world back then, it was not an excuse. Remember, in 1954 and 1976 Germany showed nerves of steel. Against all odds, they defeated the current strongest team of those eras in Hungary and Netherland. In 2000, the national team didn’t have such a mentality and failed to replicate that feat.
By now, the Germans should realize the deep pit under the bed of roses they lie on. A coach without a champion's mentality would fail. Raynald Denoueix of Real Sociedad 2003, Christopher Daum of Leverkusen 2001, and Hector Cuper of Inter Milan 2002 are some examples. Without a champion's mentality, they managed to lose the trophy although they faced the easiest of scenarios. And worse for Germany, despite the array of immense talents, many of them are still untested at the big stage. Hummels’ performance in UCL is below the standard he sets in Bundesliga. Goetze, albeit of his magnificent talent, is now injured, missing many games of the season, and is only a youngster who could succumb under pressure. Of course you cannot rely on him to perform consistenly like the senior player does.
And the worst is Ozil. He has an obvious weakness, that’s his stamina. And since his move to Madrid, Ozil has always failed to deliver good performances in El Classico. Let’s combine these seemingly unrelated factors. The greater the game, the greater the pressure, and the quicker the stamina will run out. He is the main source of Germany’s creativity. Without him, Germany’s offence will decrease by a level or two. Every German player is adept in launching quick pass to counter attack, but only Ozil possesses the key to open a tight defence. The worst scenario is that the opponent take the lead and park the bus. Germany cannot launch counter attacks because the opponent is sitting back. Ozil is already tired and ineffective for the rest of the match and Germany do not have anyone on the bench who can create that killer pass. Doom.
If I am wrong and Loew succeeds in leading Germany to Euro 2012 triumph, great. And in that case, unless Loew himself resigns, looks like DFB will allow him to stay as the coach. But if he fails and only achieves 2nd or 3rd place like before, which is the more likely scenario, that’s when the dilemma begins for Germany... keep him or dismiss him. Keeping him as the coach means safety and satisfaction. The common sense is, ”Why would you replace the coach who almost guarantees the minimum required result (semis)? He also brings bright prospects into Germany's football future.”
But replacing him means taking the gamble of winning, although the decision will meet resistance of most people. Well, good luck for finding the solution, Germany. Just hope somehow the champion's mentality is instilled among the players, just like the older generations.