Joachim Löw had a lot going for him as Germany entered World Cup 2018 in Russia. Ultimately, the national team met its fate due to the Bundestrainer’s predictable mistakes.
Before I go ahead with my arguments, past achievements cannot be ignored. I publicly asked for Löw’s sacking before World Cup 2014. At the time, I felt he was not suited to keep coaching the Nationalelf in part due to his tactics. He found the correct path to win, proving me wrong.
That is a fact, but Löw’s annoying habits have sunk the German ship although stars were aligned to stage an honourable title defence.
A golden run
Let’s go back to Confederations Cup 2017 to get a clear view of that potential. In that minor tournament, Löw put a slate of “junior” players under the spotlight. The likes of Joshua Kimmich, Sebastian Rudy, Leon Goretzka, Niklas Süle and Timo Werner fought for the title and grew with the win. Julian Draxler was one of the rare senior squad members on the team.
After the Confed Cup success, a second straight golden generation of German players seemed to take shape. It would soon take over senior duties and possibly lead Germany to victory down the road. Could that potential have been realised in 2018? Nobody knows for sure, but a passing of the torch was underway. Löw mined deeper than expected, and he found gold.
First howler: the pets
It was a sweet dream. Instead of ensuring a transition to a new generation, Löw stuck to the players who served him well in the past. Putting loyalty ahead of performance backfired.
Kimmich and Werner were the only “juniors” who played significant roles in the 2018 edition. Goretzka only played for 63 minutes. Süle played only once although he is currently more consistent than Jérôme Boateng. Would he have started, had Boateng avoided a red card in the second match?
Among the 2014 veterans, only one has done a great job since reporting for duty. That’s Manuel Neuer, who spent a year away from competition due to a broken foot! Even Toni Kroos was poor although he scored a great goal to save the day on Matchday 2. The others were lifeless. Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira have done little, but have remained go-to guys. Inexplicably, the inefficient Mario Gomez featured in all three matches. Mats Hummels was nowhere near previous form.
Löw’s favouritism has been evident during his tenure, so nobody is surprised. Miroslav Klose was one of his pets, and his selection sometimes criticised. The Polish-German certainly had patchy runs of club form during his career, but he always delivered with a high level of motivation for Germany.
Can we say the same about Mesut Özil, for example?
Players who have won World Cups tend to underperform in the next tournaments. Not rebuilding the team despite perfect conditions was a massive mistake.
Second howler: weak collective and tactics
As if squad composition needed an uglier counterpart, the Nationalelf did not look like a team in Russia. Without strong leadership, the players did not gel. Miscommunication led to misplaced passes at the worst possible time. The Germans were collectively weak. They had no sense of purpose.
Going further, Löw’s tactics were stale. The entire game plan revolved around possession and control. It was mostly deprived of runs and creativity. There seemed to be no intention to switch gears to favour direct passes and unpredictable shots on goal. Uninspired attacking with a high line of defence usually is vulnerable to the counterattack, and Germany got burned by such counters.
Löw did not have a Plan B. Ahead of the match against South Korea, he sarcastically said: “it would be helpful, on the whole, if we lose the ball less often.” That is an open admission that your team cannot play without the ball. Let’s have the ball because we cannot defend. The Pep Guardiola at FC Bayern mindset.
The Germans also shot 67 times, more than any team so far. A third of those shots were blocked…. more than any team so far. Why? Because opponents knew where the shots were coming from and were in the right position to get in the way.
How come? Germany was predictable.
Joachim Löw had every right to resist pressures to change his ways. The quiet tactician who helped initiate a renaissance with Jürgen Klinsmann in 2006 has an incredible track record. His national selections have earned third places, finals and a World Cup. Germany’s previous tournament embarrassment (2004) happened before his tenure.
Although he earned the right to do whatever he wanted, Löw overplayed his hand in Russia. A lack of fresh ideas suggests that he should consider dipping toes in another pond.
Is everything lost for Germany? No. The country has a deep talent pool and several young players who could become superstars. Perhaps do they need new leadership to reach the greatest heights.