90 minutes which could decide Jogi Löw’s legacy

The transformation that happened to German football from the mid-00s and onwards has been staggering. At the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 00s watching the German national didn’t tend to be a pleasure to say the least. Back then the team could still grind out a result in most qualification matches, however, at times it was truly painful to watch. Germany’s weak performances at the EUROs in 2000 and 2004 and at the World Cup in 1998 clearly showed that new and fresh ideas were needed(despite the national team reaching the World Cup final in 2002).

German football clubs and the DFB managed to find new ways to improve their youth systems after Die Nationalmannschaft’s embarrassing performance during the EUROs in 2000, which saw Germany lose to both Portugal and England and only drawing against Romania. Germany’s coach Erich Ribbeck was of the older guard, and so were his players. Lotthar Matthäus was 39-years-old at that stage, and the system of a three man back-line being guarded by a sweeper which Ribbeck opted for was outdated(mildly put).

Six years later one could see Germany starting to reap the rewards of their new youth system when Jürgen Klinsmann included a few young players like Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker and Bastian Schweinsteiger in his squad. From there on out admirers of the Bundesliga have had the luxury of seeing several young players emerge from Germany’s youth academies year after year. The array of talent has been so great that Jogi Löw has managed to give the staggering amount of 72 players their national team debut since he took over back in 2006.

Klinsmann and Löw taking the job nobody wanted

However, after Germany’s early exit from the EUROs in 2004 even the sternest of optimists wouldn’t have dared to predict such a development over the next decade. When the DFB formed a commission to find a new coach that could take over the team and transform it ahead of the World Cup in Germany many options were considered and weighed. Ottmar Hitzfeld, Morten Olsen, Otto Rehhagel, Arsene Wenger and Guus Hiddink were approached, but none of them were interested to take over the German national team.

It is fair to say that Jürgen Klinsmann wasn’t on the top of the list over the potential successors to Rudi Völler. However, the former striker made life difficult for himself when he issued a number of demands which had to be accommodated. Former DFB greats like goalkeeping coach Sepp Maier were let go, and a number of new training exercises and new training regimes increased the public scepticism of many fans and journalists alike. The Bild Zeitung in particular continued to be critical of Klinsmann(the former striker and the paper had been odds even back in Klinsmann’s playing days).

Germany’s 4-1 loss in a friendly against Italy in 2006 sent further shock waves through the press. Many journalists questioned at this point if it wasn’t better to sack Klinsmann and to bring an experienced coach. To its credit, the DFB decided to stick with Klinsmann.

The arrival of a new style

The story of Klinsmann’s tenure at the DFB had a happy end. Germany performed better than most journalists had feared, and the nation itself was enjoying a fairy tale of a summer during the 2006 World Cup. In the end it is fair to say that Klinsmann should be credited by ringing in the much necessary change which the DFB needed.

Jogi Löw took over from his former boss after the World Cup and continued in the same vein of form. Löw emphasised the attack minded football and continued to bring new and exciting players into the national team. This philosophy has served Germany well over the last few years, seeing the team always progress deep into every competition in which they participate.

Compared to what fans had to see in 2002 and 2004, there has been a massive change in how the national team plays. Löw was credited in Philipp Lahm’s autobiography with ringing in a new era of focussing on tactics and small details that could decide the outcome of a match. Germany are once again amongst the nations who have scored the most goals at the current World Cup. It has become a trend which many take for granted, but it is easy to forget that this wasn’t the case for most of the 90s and the early 00s.

What’s Löw impact on German football history?

This question might get answered on Sunday night. Löw has so far managed to get his team to the final of the EUROs in 2008, he has reached the semi finals of the World Cup in 2010 and the EUROs in 2012. 8 years have passed since Löw took over for his former boss Jürgen Klinsmann and Germany’s national team are still without a title since 1996. At this stage Löw is certainly regarded as a man who has been involved in shaping the careers of several key players of the German national team, in addition to allowing his players to put cultured football on display whenever they enter the pitch. The tactical transformation and the steps taking forward by the national team over the course of these 10 years under Klinsmann and Löw have seen Germany fans finally being proud of their team.

However, there’s little doubt that the history books are also going to judge Löw by the amount of silverware(or lack thereof) which he has managed to win during his tenure. Never mind the fact that Löw’s win percentage in charge of the national team is 69%, trophies do define how history judges a coach. It doesn’t help that Germany have won 3 World Cups and 3 EUROs before Löw took over. In the space between 1966 and 1990 Germany reached the World Cup final on 5 out of 7 occasions and winning it twice. Even Jupp Derwall, one of the least popular coaches in the history of the national team, has won a trophy after all.

Most fans are likely to remember the tactical blunder Löw made at the 2012 EUROs. Furthermore, the way in which the national team has lost these important matches in the semi-finals and in the 2008 final of the EUROs has been disconcerting for many fans. Should Germany win tomorrow night, Löw is certainly going to be given credit for learning from the mistakes which he made at earlier tournaments. One could certainly see that he has already done so during this tournament. Löw has never been one who has bowed to public pressure, but when it turned out that both Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger could be trusted to play 90 minutes Löw decided to pull Philipp Lahm back to right back.

Both Löw and his players are going to be judged by how they’ll measure up to the previous greats playing for Die Nationalmannschaft. Context and nuance often times gets lost over time, and the fact that Germany were in a dire crisis at the turn of the century might just be a side note in most history books 20 or 30 years from now.

Matt Dickinson pointed out in article for The Times that Germany have planned for success through the measures taken after the EUROs in 200o. However, they haven’t achieved it, yet. Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller and the rest of this team have stood for attacking football, for creating moments of magic on the pitch. Their coach has at times been adamant about playing attacking football. Still, there is a massive difference between being a World Cup winning legend and being remembered for playing football which is pleasing to watch.

Currently only the last part rings true about this addition for Die Nationalmannschaft. The final on Sunday has the potential to change that. Germany have gotten agonisingly close on many occasions in the recent past, now would be as good a time as any to change the image of the team from being a team that chokes at the vital moments of a tournament to all time greats.

Most of the players on the pitch have managed to win everything there is on a domestic level, some have even won European titles with their club teams. The tactical evolution of the team under Jogi Löw has been tremendous, but the German national team has not seen the rewards of the hard labour so far. It would be a travesty if this generation of players and their coach make it into the history books as the team that choked whenever the vital moment came around. A win against Argentina at the Maracanã could see Löw and his players get the praise that they deserve when the history books about this era of the German national team are written.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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