Germany's five semi-finals in a row and a World Cup have not placated a vocal section critics
14 July ~ On Tuesday, Joachim Löw finally confirmed that he has every intention to honour his contract as Germany head coach, running until the 2018 World Cup. Not everybody is celebrating. In spite of guiding Germany to five semi-finals in a row (six, if you insist on counting 2006 in which Löw served as an assistant to Jürgen Klinsmann), with one World Cup trophy thrown in, Löw continues to polarise opinions: is he the tactical magician responsible for those triumphs, or an addicted tinkerer whose butt continues to be saved by the extraordinarily gifted bunch of players we currently are producing?
In marked contrast, every single one of Löw's predecessors in managing a World Cup-winning side – Sepp Herberger, Helmut Schön and Franz Beckenbauer – are universally revered for their success. In the case of Löw, a few lacklustre performances following Brazil 2014 was all that was needed for the interpretation (not the majority view, but surprisingly widespread), that Germany won the 2014 World Cup in spite of the manager rather than because of him. Indeed, people watching the Euros on German TV (usually prone to reckless cheerleading) witnessed a rambling outburst by ex-international Mehmet Scholl who, following the shambolic win on penalties against Italy, utterly refused to join the national victory party and viciously attacked Löw for a ludicrously wrong match plan.
Strangely, the semi-final loss created nowhere near that sort of an aftermath. It might be because, performance-wise, this was the way Germany have played for the last two years. Occasionally brilliant to watch, no discernible urgency at all trying to score goals. Shades of the Euro 2016 qualifiers, with its measly four points out of four encounters with Poland and the Republic of Ireland (in spite of dominating every single one of those matches from start to finish), and a team with an all-too-obvious tendency to suddenly look clueless and bereft of confidence as soon as an opponent somehow manages to take the lead. The initial enjoyment of roasting the French for 45 minutes, while at the same time waiting for the needle to burst the balloon, felt just about right.
What disunites supporters and detractors of Löw is rather the question of what to make of him and his team. The former are casual about current events: once, we merely won trophies, but now everyone adores the way we play. Anyway, what's so bad about exiting in the semi-final, as long as the world is seeing what a marvellously talented side we have? Löw himself has repeatedly stated that he sees no merit whatsoever in success if achieved without style: immediately following the loss to France, Löw reiterated that point by complaining bitterly about the uninspiring football played by the likes of Portugal.
People inclined to part company with Löw rather point out that, player for player, the current crop probably are the best we have had for the last 25 years. And that a succession of meek semi-final exits constitutes a poor showing for all the quality available. After all, Germany used to actually win tournaments with squads of a considerably inferior quality, and if that meant playing like Portugal this year, so what?
As of now, there still isn't much of an inclination to fundamentally question the path Jogi insists on taking. Criticism is louder than it used to be, though (Löw's insistence that experienced stalwarts should be trusted to overcome long-term injuries or a severe lack of league form can hardly be deemed a success this time, after all), and a wobbly start in the forthcoming World Cup qualifying group might rise it to a crescendo very quickly. Ultimately, Löw now has exactly one chance to conclusively win over the doubters: by being our first national team manager to ever win two World Cups back-to-back. And doing so with panache. Peter Schimkat