Ten years. That’s how long the German team, their head coach, and the entire backroom staff have worked – worked hard and determined, that is – to reach the ultimate goal: World Champions.
We have seen it before. In the late 1990s France began to dominate the European and World scenes. Then Spain took over. Now the cycle has got Germany’s name on it. As with France and Spain, so in Germany: It all began with small revolutions within the youth development systems. If Brazil 2002 and Italy 2006 were “coincidences” (but still beautiful events, of course), France 1998, Spain 2010, and Germany 2014 were the results of organic developments that culminated in the World Cup finals. It may be that Germany will be dominating the scene in two year’s time, maybe even in four year’s time. But then evolution will probably see another country come to the fore. Teams always have their own cycle, as Sir Alex Ferguson once remarked – rise and fall are inevitably linked.
Joachim Löw must be given a lot of credit for Germany’s triumph. I was disappointed with the tactical finesse of Luiz Felipe Scolari (too naïve) and Alejandro Sabella (too dependent on Messi), whereas I was impressed – hugely impressed – by Löw and Louis van Gaal. Those two managers were among the main reasons why Europe eventually triumphed over South America, in South America, since they always had a tactical masterplan. Löw showed adaptability during Germany’s campaign, for example when replacing Mario Götze (as a “false” number 9) with Miroslav Klose (a traditional number 9), which also meant a slight change in tactics, and when moving Philipp Lahm from midfield to his old position as right back. Adaptability was not Löw’s only strength, though. If he showed flexibility, he did indeed also stand by his basic philosophy, a philosophy that has characterized the German team in recent years. Inspired by Spain and executed by the “new generation” of German soccer players, Löw (and Jürgen Klinsmann) has prioritized ball possession, flair, and fluidity (but in contrast to Spain, the German team has been more physical and direct in their approach). In short, we have seen a red thread in Germany’s World Cup campaign, a soccer identity. This identity can be traced back to the World Cup in Germany in 2006, and it is a proof of how successful the Germans have been in their “re-branding” that the German team has become the favorite team of many non-Germans.
The German victory was a result of team effort and a collective approach. In a way, no German player is a star. In another way, they are all stars. Eleven (Germans) showed that they were more than Messi plus ten (Argentinians). I have written about this difference in style and approach before, but let me repeat it: Germany and the Netherlands are teams without a Messi or Neymar, and in a way this sets them free tactically – or, in another way, it obligates their manager to actually work hard with team tactics in order to get the best out of every player. Messi and Neymar can be sedatives for a manager. The German team has been set up by Löw to function as a team, to work like a team, to defend like a team, and to attack like a team. We see it, sometimes, when the “automatisms” suddenly work and the epiphanies of form materialize. All the players are in it together. Of course some players incarnate this quality more than others. Thomas Müller may be the epitome of German collectivism, but even Mesut Özil is part of it.