EURO2020: From the heights of glory in 2014 to the dumps; Die Mannschaft struggles explained
Breaking hearts, they've been mostly known for being masters at breaking hearts and crushing dreams. Now, you have to persistently pinch us to understand that Germany being a case of broken hearts and crushed dreams is no Matrix movie, it's almost as good as reality gets. But how did we seriously get here?
The Mineirão Incident
It might not be the beginning of Die Mannschaft's free fall but definitely a moment in history worth reminiscing, for neutrals that is. Back in the 2014 FIFA World Cup semi-finals, Brazil vs Germany, eight world titles between them; it was a fixture loaded with so much promise and had the world on its feet, anticipating to watch football entertainment at its best. It was supposed to be an edge of the seat encounter decided on fine margins and would have taken rocket scientists to study the performances and understand how one side outdid the other. But what happened? The churning German machine flipped the script! Only forty-five minutes into the match, they were 5-0 up and had already scored all sorts of goals. Long range shots, finesses, headers and you name it. Mesut Ozil in particular, had picked up his magic wand and reincarnated himself as a combination of Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Captain America and you get the idea. Almost like an Avengers movie. Rumors say, one of the main talking points during their half-time talk was a directive to tone it down a little bit, in bid to be more respectful to the hosts. It's no suprise how that worked out, the likes of Andre Schurrle came in and wanted in on the act. At the end of the day, Brazil had received seven digits! A 7-1 scoreline capped it all. A classic Germany side, ruthless and unrelenting. Now five years later, it looks like they used up all their vibranium on that day and in that championship. The cookie has crumbled.
The end of the line
Prior to their World Cup triumph in Brazil 2014, the Nationalelf had to dig, claw and climb several times with no success. It was almost poetic justice that they became world champions in Brazil. Under the guidance of Jurgen Klinsmann at home in 2006, Miroslav Klose scored a ton of goals and Lukas Podolski won hearts by pipping the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo to the FIFA Young Player of The Tournament Award, as Germany ran riot only to be denied by Italy in the last few minutes of a semi-final extra-time. They dusted themselves, Joachim Löw picked up the pieces and unleashed the likes of Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller in South Africa 2010. Once again, scoring goals for fun including a 4-0 thrashing of Diego Maradona's Argentina in the quarter-finals. You guessed it, history repeated itself and the then 3 time champions were outdone by a Carles Puyol header in the World Cup semi-final against eventual champions Spain. In light of all this, it’s hard to contest that the ever consistent Germany deserved to finally conquer the world in Brazil for the 4th time. However, the generation of players that had lived through the so near yet so far moments since 2006 which included Philip Lahm, Klose and Lukas Podolski; had inevitably come to the end of their lines. They had given it the sweat of their youth over the years and to expect them to give more past 2014 could have been a difficult ask. Much of Germany's early to late 2000s dominance was used up in Brazil. It went with the Lahms. Now the obviously next sensible thing would be to raise a new generation to pick up the mantle right?
How did that go?
The champions' curse
It's a thing. After Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the Azzuri failed to go past the group stages in 2010 and even totally missed out on the 2018 Russia finals for the first time in 60 years. So did Spain, after winning the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the coveted World Cup in South Africa 2010, for only their first time, they ran out of steam in Brazil 2014. Infamously humiliated by the Netherlands in the group stages as they lost 2-5 and like Italy, bowing out before the knock-out rounds. We all thought Germany's proven consistence would break the duck but "the champions' curse," proved stronger. Joachim Löw's men were also kicked out of the 2018 World Cup group men were also kicked out of the 2018 World Cup group stages by Mexico and Sweden, even losing to lowly ranked South Korea in their final group match. Clearly, their misfortunes post 2014 could be excused by the champions' curse. Maybe the fire just dies out after winning as complaceny sets in. But is that all?
Square pegs, round holes
Forget the superstitions for a minute, Germany's issues can also be equally attributed to the way they've been setting up. The National Eleven gaffer clearly tried coping the winning formula from 2014, setting up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, employing the same personnel, howbeit with a few tweaks in one or two positions that had been vacated by those who had retired. He forgot to give a more keen eye to the upcoming talent and also fix some problems which had been overshadowed by the glory of 2014. For instance, one of their problem areas right now, the left-back position dates back to Brazil 2014. Löw had to use Benedikt Howedes, a natural center-back as a make shift option in that position. It worked then but was no permanent solution. Dortmund's Nico Schulz is the latest to be tried in that position, who has done well but likes to go forward more than is necessary. It is quite ironic that a second fiddle Germany team won the Confederations Cup in Brazil 2014 whereas the main side failed to progress past the group stages of the World Cup. The younger side had their own of the World Cup. The younger side had their own culture and rhythm which helped knit them as a unit. Borrowing the likes of Goretzka and Timo Werner to take up roles in the main side wasn't going to work straight away. The German technical team were naïve to think that Werner would just be the next Klose or Podolski and churn out goals. He would be the first Werner and it could have worked better if they studied his individual style of play and gradually fitted him into the team. That idea of direct transfer and replacement of talents is one of the reasons why players like Reus, Werner, Goretzka and Sane have done well at club level but not so much in a German shirt. In short, it's not a lack of talent to fill the shoes of the 2014 champions that they lack. They are just failing to organize and get the best out of them.
No one is above the Löw?
How do you question someone who has steadied the ship for close to 13 years and on most occasions produced results? It's very unlikely. Such is the case of the national team coach, Joachim Löw. An argument to phase him out together with some more experienced campaigners who departed cannot clearly be unfounded. Somehow, it’s almost treasonous in German circles. Essentially, a new team and generation work better with new set of eyes to identify it. That's what Kovac is doing at Bayern and Favre at Dortmund to keep the continuity. Controversially, retiring Boateng, Hummels and Mueller in the name of "fresh faces" looked like Löw dusted the mirror only to see his face looking back, straight at him. Nomatter how he has switched formations and personnel, the results have barely changed. Just recently, the Dutch embarrassed them to a 4-2 loss in the 2020 Euro Qualifiers. That was after they finished last in the League A of the inaugural UEFA Nations League tournament. Since October 2017, they won just 8 of 21 matches, losing a record 6 times in 2018 alone. They only beat a nation ranked 18th or higher once in that period. It's like they're stuck in a tailspin. For how much longer though and could Löw still be the man to turn it around?
When backstage, takes centre stage
It's a compound of issues surrounding the Germany national team, and not least the off-the-field debacles. In that same period where their struggles kicked in, Mesut Ozil, the five-time German footballer of the year retired in bizarre fashion. The mercurial playmaker released a long statement explaining how he felt racially discriminated against by the DFB who also spoke back sharply with a few other national players going for or against Ozil. It all started hinting at the possible division and unrest in the German camp which could have been a key factor also contributing to the poor results. Just recently, Bayern Munich President, Uli Hoenes spoke out threatening to stop sending their players for national duty if the veteran goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer was removed from the number 1 spot. Seriously, where does that happen? Barcelona shot-stopper, Marc Andre Ter Stegen has gained worldwide acclamation for Superman-like reflexes and sweeper role for the Blaugrana but still remains the second choice to the 32- year-old. Even after the former missed out the bulk of 2017-2018 season due to injury, only managing 3 Bundesliga appearance in before the World Cup, Neuer still surprisingly got the nod ahead of Ter Stegen. The German football house clearly needs to be put in order.
Rays of sunshine in dark clouds
We have talked all about the doom and gloom surrounding the National Eleven, but one thing we have learnt throughout history is that German Football is an institution. Quite capable of reinventing itself and bouncing back to glory. After crashing out of the 2002 and 2004 UEFA European Championships group stages, they remarkably revived to make the next four semi-finals. In addition, players like Serge Gnabry who has scored 11 times in his 10 caps for Die Mannschaft, the unblooded Jann Fiete Arp, Leroy Sane, the uniquely huge and quick Nicklas Sule and Joshua Kimmich are still 24 or younger and can only get better. More interesting to me is the creative Kai Havertz, one interesting to me is the creative Kai Havertz, one tipped not to directly replace Mesut Ozil but help carry on the creative mantle, seems quite special. The Bayer Leverkusen midfielder became the youngster player to reach 50 Bundesliga appearances and at 20 years of age, more is definitely coming from him. They are down and out, but still uniquely endowed with the talent and experience to conquer the world yet again.
The only real question is when? The German fans would be hoping its sooner rather than later!