THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

7 September ~ The Germans are sweeping across Europe again, and although no one’s out on the streets waving flags to welcome them, they’re for once being met with nods of begrudging admiration. Gone are those gritty, functional teams of the 1980s and 90s that always seemed to win without ever making themselves any new friends. No one liked them anyway, so they didn’t care. But now the country that’s increasingly seen as Europe’s political and economic kingmaker is also setting the trend for modern football. Attack is back, and Germany, for once, are looking young and popular.

Even the normally testy German press is singing psalms of praise for Joachim Löw and his thrusting, youthful team after Friday’s 6-2 demolition of Austria saw the team attain early qualification for Euro 2012 with eight straight wins. Last month’s stylish 3-2 victory over Brazil was greeted with similar eulogies. No one seems to mind that they conceded four goals in two home fixtures.

This team looks like scoring almost every time they go forward. If the price of that is the odd gap in defence, no worries – they’ll just nip down to the other end and get it back, as they showed last night in a friendly against Poland when they still managed to equalise after conceding a 90th-minute goal from a penalty.

Löw’s offensive strategy has been consciously and intensively cultivated over the past few years, as Jan Christian Müller wrote in the Frankfurter Rundschau this week. “Many [German] clubs have long since oriented themselves to this strategy,” he wrote, “and have loaned him the highly trained staff necessary for realising his vision of perfect football. This mutual pollination is resulting in beautiful blossoms. And soon there should be even more.”

So Mario Götze, 19, and Andre Schürrle, 20, the first two national-team players to be born in unified Germany, and who scored a goal each in both the Austria and Brazil games, are not lone prospects. The Under-17 team that finished third at the World Cup this summer in Mexico amid a frenzy of high-scoring encounters is also bursting with tomorrow’s front-line talent. Schürrle and Götze came off the bench against Austria, but their emergence is renewing the motivation of established players like Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger, the flag-carriers of the first wave of New Watchable Germany under Jürgen Klinsmann.

Even the superb Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil can’t afford to be complacent. Now that the team has qualified for Poland/Ukraine, Löw has announced he’ll be using the remainder of the qualifying games to rest his starters. If, or rather when, Germany reach the semi-finals or the final next summer with players injured or suspended, bench-warmers will be ready to step up without disrupting the system.

What could possibly go wrong? The biggest obstacle Germany now face is self-manufactured expectation. Despite the new era of dynamic, attractive football, the team hasn’t won a trophy since Euro 96. The quartet of second- and third-place finishes since would have made them national heroes in England, but in Germany this qualifies as a success drought. And there are mutterings of concern that, in a knockout competition, those defensive lapses could prove costly.

What this team maybe needs, say the doubters, is a Dieter Eilts, the hard-tackling ox who shored up the Euro 96 victors. Or the wonderfully named Herbert “Hacki” Wimmer, who did the grafting that allowed the artists such as Gunther Netzer free rein in winning the 1972 European Championship. Should a player like the comparatively ordinary, but defensively effective, Sami Khedira be allowed to start at the expense of one of the team’s numerous creative sparks?

There’s also the possibility of implosion from within. Whereas past German teams have often been swollen with an excess of Teutonic testosterone, the current generation has generally been characterised by its good-natured modesty, at least to the public eye. Löw seemed to show his intolerance for prima donnas when he banned Kevin Kuranyi in 2008 after the striker, who hadn’t been selected to dress for a World Cup qualifier against Russia, left the game at half-time and failed to return to the team hotel. Kuranyi has since apologized, but found no way back in.

On the other hand, captain Phillip Lahm, who shamelessly elbowed out Michael Ballack a couple of years back to take the armband, was given Löw’s (not quite full) support last month after publishing an autobiography (aged 27) aiming several pointed criticisms at previous coaches, including Klinsmann.

In the 1990s, when Lothar Matthäus was sniping at Klinsmann (and many others) on an almost daily basis, such bitching was par for the course. In more harmonious times, with PR lackies working night and day to prevent players from even thinking, let alone uttering, controversial thoughts, the mildest of comments seem to hit a nerve, especially at a time of obsessive media scrutiny. Can the other players trust Lahm not to publicise what they say in the changing room? How will the volatile Podolski, who once slapped Ballack on the training ground, react if he’s dropped for the up-and-coming Götze?

Still, these are minor question marks that fade to invisibility when you watch Germany play. It’s hard right now to see any other team with the depth and drive to sustain the kind of form that will win a major title. France are rebuilding, Italy are scratching out results and England are England. Spain – assuming they can motivate themselves to take a third successive honour – and Holland are again the main challengers. For the sake of the game, though, a win for Germany could be the most positive outcome, if the influence of Löw’s philosophy on the Bundesliga can spread its way across Europe too. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (12)
Comment by Janik 2011-09-07 11:54:55

Spain completely outplayed this German team a little over a year ago. That semi may have only finished 1-0, but it was a hammering and showed a significant gap between the sides. That game was more comprehensive and the gap was more significant than the Euro 2008 final, despite the score being the same.
Germany's attacking philosophy is always going to have trouble when it runs into a possesion based game like Spain play. They risk giving the ball away by trying to do something with it at pace each time they attack, and then don't see it again for five minutes.

The Spanish cycle will come to an end at some point, but there are little signs of Barcelona's standards declining, and they are the main source of players for Spain. In fact, Barcelona seem to be getting better...

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-09-07 12:39:35

Ah yes, Iain, this gifted young German side may well be among your favourites for Euro2012, BUT - can they hack it on a wet windy Wednesday night at the Britannia? ;-)

I note with some sadness that all these young German uber-stars are conspicuous by their absence from the Premier League, which is a crying shame for those of us who would love to watch some decent football. The same goes for the Spanish. Now Fabregas has gone back home we are rapidly running out of anything worth watching over here.

Why's that then? Why don't they want to come to England? What's wrong with the Prem? Best League In The World, so I'm told. I suppose it's possible that maybe the genuine artistes out there, the creme de la creme of European football, aren't that bothered about hacking it on a wet Wednesday night at the Britannia. Maybe they're above that sort of thing.

And to be fair, I can see their point.

Comment by imp 2011-09-07 15:05:23

Correcting my own error - Podolski slapped Ballack during a Wales v Germany game in Cardiff. No quips about that being the same as a training ground, please.

Good point from Janik. I wonder, though, if Germany lost that game by not playing their natural attacking game. That is, they thought beforehand that kind of game wasn't going to work, but tactically they had no alternative (or if they did, it didn't work), and were stifled by their own uncertainty. Even Scotland gave Spain a good game by at least trying to have a go (Scotland's alternative tactic when they don't play 4-6-0).

By next June, this German team will have had the benefit of two more years together, with the addition of some significant players. Spain v Germany at any point in the competition is going to be the most intriguing. Even though Spain play exactly the kind of football I try and preach to the kids I coach, I can't be the only one yearning to see tiki-taka take a thumping.

Oh, and Paul - you forgot Robert Hught! Though funnily enough he doesn't seem to be in the German national team picture right now...

Comment by G.Man 2011-09-07 16:59:49

I think it's not a useful exercise to measure the gap between Spain and Germany by one game, Janik. Germany played high-octane football in the preceding two games, beating Argentina 4-0 when Spain struggled to luck their way past Paraguay, and beating England 4-1 when Spain and Portugal eked out a pretty but rather directionless game (and IO;'m being kind here because having been at that game I don't want to soil my find memories).

No doubt Spain had the better team, but I dispute that the semi-final is the correct measure for the gap. Besides, who knows what might have been had Germany been given the penalty for the foul on Ozil?

Comment by drew_whitworth 2011-09-07 18:06:30

Very interesting discussion everyone: I think we can at least agree that Spain v Germany is probably the final we'd most like to see. I fancy Russia as dark horses, however.

Comment by jameswba 2011-09-07 20:37:10

Interesting to read about Germany's progress for sure but Euro 2012 is 9 months away, so speculating about likely winners at this stage seems a touch premature.

At least Germany have qualified though. Russia, mentioned in the previous post, are not even certain to get out of Group B. Ireland are still battling away, Slovakia (somehow) aren't out of it, and Armenia, 4-0 winners in Slovakia last night, play the best football of the lot. At this stage, taking one thing at a time and all that, I'm still wondering who's actually going to be in Poland and Ukraine rather than who's going to win the thing.

Comment by Janik 2011-09-08 01:02:29

Two matches, G-Man. The Euro 2008 final and the 2010 World Cup semi. Spain were clear and deserved winners in both. I was cocnentrating more on the more recent one as the gap in that seemed larger, which doesn't square with Ian's premise that Germany are favourites. Spain, surely, remain that. Germany and the Dutch are the next most likely after them.

Comment by jameswba 2011-09-08 07:03:28

Didn't someone (Jonathan Wilson, I think) write that the whole point about that Spain-Germany 2010 game was that Germany's game was essentially 'reactive'? I took him to mean that it depended largely on counter-attacks once the opposition had lost the ball and left gaps behind them, as England so spectacularly did so often. The problem with playing that way against Spain is simply that Spain hardly ever lose the ball. On the rare occasions they do,they quickly hunt you down and get it back again.

Whether you can take a game played over a year ago as a clear pointer to a Championship that's still 9 months in the future is another question.

Comment by Jongudmund 2011-09-08 12:36:58

Germany were my faourite team at World Cup 2010, simply for the way they played.

I know people raved about Spain, but I honestly thought they were boring to watch. And for all the guff about tiki taka their goal against Germany in the semi was textbook - a defender coming from deep heading home a corner. More of an English style goal really.

I'm not sure what kind of tinted glasses Janik was watching that game through but I recall it being fairly close with few chances for either side. Certainly not a hammering.

Comment by Jongudmund 2011-09-08 12:38:48

*should clarify - Germany were my favourite team once they got out of the group stage where they weren't anything particularly special.

Comment by tempestinaflathat 2011-09-08 12:39:15

"the team hasn’t won a trophy since Euro 96"

Aww, the poor things. How they must be suffering.


Comment by jertzeeAFCW 2011-09-09 09:07:36

good to see Germany actually using German born players in their team now.

Were fast becoming Poland Reserves.

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