It’s been a few days now since Germany deservedly won their fourth World Cup title. The team is back in Germany, was celebrated live by over 500,000 fans in Berlin and is now off on vacation. So now that we’ve all calmed down a bit (it might take me a bit longer), it’s time to reflect on this accomplishment, how the national team got to this point and what it all really means.
The first kick-start to what we witnessed on Sunday actually transpired in the summer of 2000. Germany had just been knocked out of the Euros in humiliating fashion by, of all teams, Portugal. It was an unmitigated disaster. It was time to act, and not just simply in a knee-jerk “let’s sack the manager” type of way as is the case in many nations, but in a “we need to change how we do everything” type of way.
German football simply wasn’t talented enough anymore. Too long had the DFB (German FA) been wresting on the laurels of the 1990 & 1996 generation of teams that had won World Cup and Euros titles. But it wasn’t simply a matter of the DFB changing it’s methodology, the German clubs were the ones that truly had to change. Developing a single national academy and training complex, along with changing the coaching schooling would do nothing. The clubs had to make immense contributions to the development of young German players, otherwise it would result in nothing (please take note of that England). They also needed to tap into the new immigrant generation of dual-nationals. But such a massive change would not happen over night. But as with anything Germans set their minds to, it would be done methodically, not with haste and to perfection.
Each club in the top two tiers of German football would be required to invest into youth academies and youth coaching to develop more and better German talent. The question still remained as to what type of talent; old school or new school? A second place finish at a weak 2002 World Cup glossed over some still existing short-comings, but another horrible Euros campaign in 2004 put the final nail in the coffin of the old ways. It ushered in the era of Klinsmann and Löw. They saw the possibility for a more attacking and technical brand of football. The first great talents of the new academy structure began to emerge at this time (e.g. Schweinsteiger, Lahm, Podolski), combined with already existing talented players (e.g. Ballack and Klose). In the much maligned lead up to the 2006 World Cup on home soil there were no expectations and many critics of this new way of doing things but the critics were wrong, dead wrong. The only thing stopping this new Germany from winning the title that year was a much more experienced and clever Italy side.
When Löw took over after that tournament, he continued the previously established vision of a more technical and attacking Germany, but the side was still developing. Their problem was that they ran into a Spain side in 2008 that was climbing its own summit of footballing rebirth, and Germany just weren’t ready yet. In 2010 it was once again the Spanish that ended Germany’s title dreams, but the continued development of world-class youth talent was clearly evident, as many members of that squad had won the 2009 U-21 Euros.
Löw was beginning to sense that Germany could begin to completely dominate opponents much like the Spanish, and changed his philosophy from a fast counter-attacking one, to a more “tiki-taka”-esque style. But he too was still learning and in 2012 he out-thought himself against Italy and his squad didn’t have the mental fortitude just yet at that time.
So now we reached this World Cup and what happened on Sunday. Germany were one of the early favorites heading into the tournament, but most “experts” favored the likes of Brazil (fail), Argentina (slight fail) or Spain (massive fail) over Germany, especially after difficult performances against Ghana and Algeria. But what we saw in this tournament was exciting from Germany and also a bit extraordinary. Both Löw and his players matured right in front of our eyes. After Algeria, Löw changed his philosophy mid-tournament, this is a massive feat for us stubborn and always self-assured Germans. He went away from the “Pep System” and instead played a system much more adapt to German players’ skills and attitudes. It was power-possession football with a ruthless and efficient mind set (plus he moved Lahm back to right back). This team, after facing some psychological blows before and during the tournament (the 4-4 vs Sweden in qualifying, losing the best German player Marco Reus just prior to the start, almost losing to Algeria, plus the near misses since 2006), was not going to be stopped by anybody anymore. They dismantled Brazil (and sent them into their own footballing rethink) and ruthlessly outlasted Argentina to win the World Cup.
They were the most complete team of the tournament and nobody deserved it more. It was a process born out of the ashes of failures in 2000 and 2004. But these exact failures have created a true footballing powerhouse in Germany once again, much like in the 1970’s. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are some of the most dominant and exciting clubs in the world. Germany also develops some of the most astute and intelligent young coaches in the world. And Germany churns out the best and most exciting young talent. Proof of this is found in the fact that of the 2009 U-21 Euro champions, six players that destroyed England 4-0 that day featured in Sunday’s final (Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Höwedes, Özil, Khedira). As a contrast, only James Milner made it from that England squad to this World Cup and only played 76 minutes in the meaningless draw versus Costa Rica.
So what does this mean for the future? Will Germany repeat the mistakes of past champions by clinging to their past heroes for too long (like they did in 1994 and 1998)? The answer is: not likely. While other nations need to go back to the drawing board and systematically change the infrastructure and philosophies on their possible roads to success (e.g. Brazil, England and Italy), sit down and reshuffle the deck for the next step (e.g. Spain, Argentina, the Netherlands) or simply mature and grow into a possible contender for titles (e.g. Belgium and Colombia), Germany are most likely only going to grow in their ambition and success.
They want to win the Euros again and become the first repeat World Cup champion since Brazil in 1962. Some will fade from the side in the next 2-4 years (e.g. Klose, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Podolski), but others will only be getting to their best years in that time (e.g. Reus, Hummels, Neuer, Müller, etc.), with many more still to come (e.g. Draxler, Durm, Ginter, Volland, etc.). Systematically rooting out their endemic problems and methodically building to a future goal set Germany on this road to success and with the continued development of this system, Germany will be absolute top title contenders for many tournaments still to come and will, most assuredly, overtake Brazil as THE country one thinks about when one thinks of soccer.