The aftermath of Germany’s wholly catastrophic World Cup showing is not over. Sure, the players are starting to decompress and go on holiday before returning to their club teams, but what happens next for the once-finely tuned German Football Machine will remain a fierce debate for the months to come.
The most striking – and disappointing – aspects of Germany’s awful group stage flame-out were the arrogance emitting from the manager, the complacency and lack of urgency that infected the squad, and the overall absence of determination and class. These are things that cannot easily be remedied, nor things that will be forgotten.
All the signs were there
Since convincingly establishing itself as a talent-producing, system-driven juggernaut of a squad at the 2014 World Cup, Jogi Löw’s Germany instilled something more powerful than fear into their opponents: doubt.
How would Löw align his fantastic arsenal weapons? Did he even need to put them on display, or merely just rely on his role players to take care of the light work? The man took a glorified reserve team to the Confederations Cup and soundly won the competition!
Something was different, however, once this roster was set. There was no bravado. There was no real “glue” core of players to meld the old and new roster. There was just talent. Talent that could not find a way to gel in time from being embarrassed on the world’s greatest stage. From unconvincing friendlies against Spain and Brazil in March to embarrassingly bad performances earlier this month against Austria and Saudi Arabia, Germany never looked complete or even interested. Yet somehow, there was a wide belief that things would fall in place and the machine would keep going.
It did not.
Pride came before a fall
Whatever “expert” feel Löw once had for his roster betrayed him. He no longer was the man with all the answers, just the man with a worried look as if he knew he could not contain himself from wrecking this squad.
Mesut Özil is a wonderfully talented player, but one whose lack of passion and urgency from his central position drove a stake through the heart of the team. Sami Khedira does not have the inherent talent of Özil, nor the fiery leadership qualities to at least bring a winning presence to the field; essentially, Khedira brought nothing of value to the roster.
It was as if Löw refused to see what virtually everyone else following the squad could envision: playing Thomas Müller at the 10 behind Timo Werner; flanking them with Marco Reus and Julian Brandt; and backing those forwards with Toni Kroos and Leon Goretzka in the central midfield was the combination most likely to provide the results of a prototypical German offensive front.
Instead, he never went to that specific formation, leaving himself the chance to ask “what if?” repeatedly until he can shake his inevitable run of sleepless nights.
When Löw submitted his lineup featuring Özil and Khedira, along with (for whatever unknown godly reason) Goretzka on the wing, he truly wasn’t trying to show the squad how he believed he could win a potential elimination game, he was once again telling the world he was still the smartest damn person on the pitch. That arrogance was what ultimately betrayed Germany.
Löw’s refusal to evolve will haunt him
When it wasn’t his over-reliance on certain players, it was Löw’s own tactical gaffes that cost the team. Both Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector played so far upfield, they left the team perilously in danger to each and every counter-attack. The loss to Mexico showcased this more than either the Sweden or South Korea games respectively, but the blueprint for exposing this German deficiency was set and Low didn’t adjust enough to deter either Sweden or South Korea from trying to attack that way at will.
When it looked as if Löw acknowledged the issue by starting a true-to-life pivot in Sebastian Rudy against Sweden, the experiment was short-lived due to the Rudy’s unfortunate broken nose. Again, though, Löw had a chance to start the game against South Korea with a lineup to capitalize on the Germans vastly superior talent and athleticism…and he, again, failed to do what was best for the squad.
One could also point back to Löw’s roster omissions of Sandro Wagner and Leroy Sané as two players whose particular skill-sets could have (would have?) been assets in setting alignments to capitalize on the weaknesses of Germany’s opponents.
The final chapter
As the German story for this World Cup ends, Die Mannschaft will have to look at all aspects of its program from coaches to players to tactics. Top-to-bottom, there probably aren’t many – if any – teams with as deep or complete a talent pool as Germany remaining in the competition. How Die Mannschaft chooses to evaluate and evolve from this point will tell the tale on whether this was an aberration or the new norm. And also whether Germany can rebuild its aura of superiority – this time without the blatant arrogance.