Glory beckons for Die Mannschaft

by Ciaran Kelly

As Germany went out of Euro 2004 with a disappointing tournament haul of two points, after drawing with the Netherlands, Lativa and losing to the Czech Republic in Group D, a very public root-and branch overhaul of the Bundesliga’s and Germany’s academy programmes, fitness regimes, tactics and playing styles took place.

After all, despite the success of reaching the 2002 World Cup final, Rudi Völler’s tactics and selections for the Euro 2004 campaign were indecisive, outdated and uninspiring. Völler had no previous coaching experience before managing the national team and from this, was the Teamchef  with Michael Skibbe the Bundestrainer with coaching experience. Skibbe had worked under both Ottmar Hitzfeld and Nevio Scala at Borussia Dortmund between 1995 and 1998, but then had an unsuccessful spell as manager of Dortmund (1998 and 2000) before he joined Völler’s set-up. The use of a Teamchef  in tandem with a Bundestrainer  was not a new phenomenon with German national teams and it had worked brilliantly with Franz Beckenbauer as Teamchef  between 1983 and 1990, and Horst Köppel (1983-1987) and Holger Osieck (1987-1990) as the Bundestrainers.

However, Skibble’s tactics and Völler’s indecision meant that Euro 2004 was a massive failure for Die Mannschaft. In the opening game against the Netherlands for example, Völler was the only manager in the tournament to use a sweeper, in 30 year old Jens Nowotny, and with the narrow quadrant of Dietmar Hamman, Bernd Schneider, Torsten Frings and Michael Ballack ahead of Arne Friedrich, Christian Wörns, Frank Baumann and Philipp Lahm, Germany badly lacked natural width and support for the isolated Kevin Kurányi. Even though Germany managed an admirable 1-1 draw, their conservative and one-dimensional playing style, centered on set-pieces and crosses, was of stark contrast to the fluid Netherlands.

Criticised by the media, Völler switched to 4-4-2 for the game against Latvia – dropping Nowotny for the extra forward Fredi Bobic. An inspired performance from Sarkanbaltsarkanie forward Māris Verpakovskis almost led to Latvia winning two penalties and Latvia looked the more inspired of the two teams (Lahm’s marauding performance apart). Völler’s decision not to play the then 20 year old hotshot Bastian Schweinsteiger, the exciting 19 year old Lukas Podolski and the prolific Miroslav Klose was heavily criticised but he stood firm on the overall team selection for the must-win group game against the Czech Republic – Nowotny replaced Baumann, while Schweinsteiger came in for Bobic to form a 4-1-4-1. Facing an under-strength Czech team, who had already qualified for the quarter-finals, Germany missed a host of chances and were ultimately punished, with the Czechs winning 2-1.

Rookie manager Jürgen Klinsmann, along with his assistant Joachim Löw, replaced Völler and sought to regenerate the national team to give it a new identity. The Teamchef  model was used again, with Klinsmann having no previous coaching experience while Löw had managed a host of teams between 1996 and 2004 (VfB Stuttgart, Fenerbahçe, Karlsruher SC, Adanaspor, FC Tirol Innsbruck and FK Austria Wien). Klinsmann and Löw had met on a coaching course earlier in the decade, had become good friends and shared a similar philosophy. They wanted to play a fluid, dynamic and attacking style of football that would be of stark contrast to Völler’s stagnant set-up.

With the vocal aid of the German Football Association (DFB), who realised the necessity in rebuilding and developing a new philosophy, Klinsmann put pressure on Bundesliga and Fußball-Bundesliga clubs to build academy programmes to ensure that young talent was coming through to the national pool. Klinsmann, in his now trademark unorthodox and ‘modern’ managerial style, held workshops with German coaches and players and asked them to write down three things: how they wanted Germany to play, how they wanted the rest of the world to see Germany play and how the German public wanted to see Die Mannschaft playing. The results backed up Klinsmann’s and Löw’s plans to play a fast-paced, attacking and proactive (rather than reactive tactics to how a particular opponent played) game.

Crucially, the under-21 German team adopted the same principles, just like Spain’s youth teams have over the years, under Dieter Eilts (2004-2008), Horst Hrubesch (2008-2009) and Rainer Adrion (2009- ). Klinsmann and the DFB also requested that Bundesliga clubs would carry out fitness tests every three months, which controversially led to Klinsmann questioning certain coaches’ methods, in order to fit into his fast and dynamic system. While it seemed Klinsmann was given free reign and incredible support, without any qualification games, friendlies became important for the DFB in judging Klinsmann’s methods and progress. After losing 4-1 to Italy in a friendly in February, 2006, Klinsmann’s job was under huge threat with the DFB unsure on whether his and Löw’s philosophy and controversial techniques would pay short-term dividends.

Klinsmann’s fallout with Bild  newspaper, who criticised Klinsmann for commuting from his home in California and which led to Klinsmann refusing to give his teamsheets to the paper a day before a match and prohibiting Bild’s traditional 24/7 access of the team, did not help his cause either. As pressure mounted, public relations officer Oliver Bierhoff proved a key ally for Klinsmann in diffusing the situation and a 4-1 win over the USA in March saved Klinsmann’s job. From this, and with an intensive four-week training camp before Germany’s home tournament, the players were united and well integrated into the system. Germany never deviated from an attacking 4-4-2, despite doubts from the German media about its strength and accommodation, and although it was a basic formation in comparison to Löw’s future 4-2-3-1, it was the first step towards rehabilitation.

Germany finished top of Group A, winning all three matches against Costa Rica, Ecuador and Poland, and scored 8 goals – conceding just 2. Only Lahm, Friedrich, Ballack, Frings and Schneider had survived from Völler’s Euro 2004 first XI and the introduction of under-26 year olds like Podolski (21), Per Mertesacker (22), Schweinsteiger (22) and Christoph Metzelder (26) set the tone for future years. After an impressive 2-0 win over Sweden in the second round and a penalty victory over Argentina in the quarter-finals, showing that the Germans even when young still had incredible mental strength, Die Mannschaft  progressed to the semi-final. A brilliant and well-contested match against Italy, which went to extra-time, was won at the death when Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero scored for The Azzurri  on 119’ and 121’ respectively. Klinsmann had set the wheels in motion and it was left to Löw to make the next step.

A swift, fluid, dynamic and attacking style has now become Germany’s trademark after six years of Klinsmann/Löw’s coaching. Euro 2008 and the under-21 European Championships of 2009 proved big turning points in Löw’s shift in tactics. Deploying ‘Klinsmann’s 4-4-2’ in the Euro 2008 tournament in Austria, where the 4-3-3 was finally growing in prevalence on the international stage, Germany reached the final, beating Portugal and Turkey before losing to a Spanish outfit that on paper, for the most part, was better player-for-player than Löw’s Germany. It was in the semi-final against Turkey that Löw bravely took the project up to a new level, setting Germany up in a 4-2-3-1 – a formation the national side had never played in its then 108-year history. Dropping the underperforming Clemens Fritz and Mario Gómez, the steel of Thomas Hitzlsperger and Frings propped up the trio of Podolski, Ballack and Schweinsteiger in midfield. The formation helped Germany earn a hard-fought 3-2 win over dark horses Turkey but they were outclassed by the supremely talented and well-drilled Spain.

The 2009 under-21 European Championships saw Germany, led by coach Horst Hrubesch, set out in a similar 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 tactic and attacking playing style throughout the tournament. The squad featured the likes of Manuel Neuer, Andreas Beck, Benedikt Höwedes, Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels, Gonzalo Castro, Dennis Aogo, Marcel Schmelzer, Sami Khedira, and Mesut Özil – who have all become part of Löw’s senior squads, with Neuer, Boateng, Khedira and Özil playing huge roles in Germany’s third-place finish at the 2010 World Cup. Ditching Die Mannschaft’s near decade-long talisman, Michael Ballack, was a tough decision for Löw, although it was made easier by Ballack’s ankle injury before the 2010 World Cup and his shin injury in 2010/2011, but it has since allowed Germany to develop a vibrant, balanced and hungry young team. Amazingly, Löw has managed this transition with an incredible and near-flawless qualification record for Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and now Euro 2012: 23 wins, 5 draws and 1 loss in 29 qualifying matches.

Goalkeepers

Germany have had a host of brilliant goalkeepers over the years, including Sepp Maier (1966-1979), Harald Schumacher (1979-1986), Bodo Illgner (1987-1994), Andreas Köpke (1990-1998) and Oliver Kahn (1994-2005), but even though Jens Lehmann put in some good performances and managed to dislodge the 37 year old Kahn as Germany’s number one in 2006, there was little sign of a worthy heir to ‘King Kahn’, at his peak, after his retirement. Now, however, Germany have the best goalkeeping pool in world football.

Having made his breakthrough as Schalke’s number one at just 21 in 2007, Manuel Neuer (25) was Horst Hrubesch’s first-choice goalkeeper for the under-21 European Championships in 2009. Possessing great kicking, passing and one-on-one ability, Neuer starred in the tournament – making a series of brilliant saves and conceding just one goal. Neuer’s stock rose dramatically and ‘single-handed’ performances for Schalke became common in big matches, such as the UEFA Champions League second round second-leg against Porto at the Estádio do Dragão in 2008, where he kept out 11 shots on target and saved 3 of the 4 penalties in the penalty shootout. With Löw initially selecting Robert Enke, who tragically committed suicide in 2009, and René Adler (26), who suffered a serious rib injury before the World Cup, post-Lehmann, Neuer beat off Tim Wiese (29) to become Germany’s number one for the 2010 World Cup.

Neuer conceded just three goals in six games at the tournament and even set-up Mirsolav Klose for Germany’s opener against England in the second round. His performances in South Africa and a world-class display in the 2-0 defeat in the first-leg of the Champions League semi-final against Manchester United in the Veltins Arena won Neuer numerous plaudits, after he kept out 11 shots on target. There was even talk of Ferguson dropping his long-term interest in David de Gea but Neuer is not yet the finished article – as was seen in the second-leg at Old Trafford, where he made mistakes in Darron Gibson’s and Anderson’s goals, and his Bayern Munich debut against Mainz, where he had a critical defensive mix-up with team-mate Jérôme Boateng. However, the 25 year old still has at least ten years at the top and with tutelage from Toni Tapalovic, whom Neuer worked with at Schalke for years and who is now also at Bayern, and Andreas Köpke, Germany’s goalkeeping coach, Neuer will continue to grow in presence and maturity – to match his brilliant natural ability.

With Illgner, Köpke and Kahn never facing intense competition for the German number one shirt during their peak years, the brilliant shot-stopper and reaction save specialist, 26 year old René Adler, was very unlucky in losing out to Neuer as Löw’s number one. Having played in the majority of Germany’s World Cup qualifiers, Adler was clearly Löw’s first-choice after Enke’s tragedy but Neuer will certainly be kept on his toes by the classy Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper. Werder Bremen’s outspoken, bordering on erratic, Tim Wiese (29) is also an adept goalkeeper, who was unfortunate to miss out on playing in the World Cup third-place playoff against Uruguay due to injury. A horrific mistake against Juventus in the Champions League second round in 2006, where Wiese dropped an 87’ routine catch when he landed after leaping for a cross to allow Emerson to put Juventus through on away goals (4-4 on aggregate), scarred Wiese but he has since battled back remarkably well. It is likely the trio of Neuer, Adler and Wiese will be constants in Löw’s plans for Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014, with the likes of Kaiserslauten’s Tobias Sippel (23) and Bayern’s Thomas Kraft (23) having slow developments.

Right Back

Having relocated Wolfsburg’s 32 year old defender Arne Friedrich to centre back, rather than right-back where he played under Völler and Klinsmann, Germany’s right back slot has been up for grabs. 27 year old Philipp Lahm, Löw’s captain and one of the best right-backs in world football, is the obvious replacement but with a thinner pool of quality players at left back, Löw has deployed Lahm mainly at left back – a position he is also renowned for playing of late for Bayern, with Rafinha’s arrival. Jérôme Boateng (22) is naturally a centre back but he played at right back in all of Germany’s World Cup matches. After tearing a tendon in his left knee early into last season, Boateng’s time at Manchester City never took off and he has since moved to Bayern Munich. Löw is a known admirer of Stuttgart’s versatile 23 year old Christian Träsch who, in Boateng’s absence, appeared at right back in the recent 3-2 friendly win over Brazil.

Andreas Beck (24) has found his home at Hoffenheim, following a mixed spell at Stuttgart where he made 28 appearances in two seasons, and has been linked with a host of European giants, from Real Madrid to Juventus. 24 year old Gonzalo Castro of Bayer Leverkusen is an exciting attacking right back and having made his debut at just 20 years of age under Löw in 2007, Castro has gone on to win six more caps. Another Leverkusen right back, Daniel Schwaab (22), will rival Castro at both club and international level in the coming years and it is surely only a matter of time before Löw hands him his international debut. Amazingly, Leverkusen have yet another highly-rated German right back in 17 year old Danny da Costa, who made his senior debut in the 1-1 Europa League Group E match against Atlético Madrid last season.

Left Back

Having appeared as a left back throughout his career with Germany, to accommodate Arne Friedrich and now Jerome Boateng, the naturally right footed Philipp Lahm (27) has looked as classy, threatening and natural in the left back position. Boosted rather than hindered by the German captaincy, since Michael Ballack’s acrimonious fall-out with Löw, Lahm, who has at least two World Cups left in him, is the most senior member of the squad and has inspired his team mates. Lahm’s eventual successor looks likely be Borussia Dortmund’s title-winning left back, 23 year old Marcel Schmelzer. Schmezler was the only member of the Dortmund squad to play in every minute of their title-winning campaign and has made four appearances for Germany since his debut in 2010. Hamburg’s Dennis Aogo (24), who declared for Germany over Nigeria for the 2010 World Cup despite the offer of a first XI place by Shaibu Amodu, is one of Löw’s squad favourites and has made seven appearances since his debut in 2010.

Centre Back

With the position of centre back being an area of weakness for Germany in recent seasons, Die Mannschaft are on the cusp of having a quality pool of defenders who have emerged from the Bundesliga. This has led to Wolfsburg’s Arne Friedrich’s (32) position coming under threat. Friedrich was selected as first-choice right back under Klinsmann but was moved into his natural central position under Löw. A lack of first team football, his rising age and the emergence of several quality alternatives in the Bundesliga has meant that even Friedrich’s squad place is now under threat. Werder Bremen’s 26 year old Per Mertesacker has been a mainstay in Germany’s first XI since his debut in 2004 and has won an impressive 75 caps for Germany. With his huge 1.98 frame, Mertesacker is naturally a big threat from set pieces, strong in the air and has a somewhat surprisingly clean record with regard to bookings. Although prone to the occasional lapse in concentration, Mertesacker’s place is unlikely to be under immediate threat due to his vast international experience.

Hamburg’s Heiko Westermann (27) has done well since his conversion from defensive midfielder but has lacked the consistency and presence to hold down a permanent place alongside Mertesacker. Having suffered an injury against Hungary in a World Cup warm up friendly, Westermann was unfortunate to miss out on selection – with the veteran Friedrich taking his starting spot. Borussia Dotmund’s 22 year old defender Mats Hummels was the Bundesliga’s star performer in helping his team to their first title in nine years. Possessing remarkably mature positioning and composure, as well as being a great outlet from the back, Hummels is sure to become a world-class centre back and having made eight appearances since his debut in 2010, will surely break into Germany’s first XI. Another remarkably mature performing centre back last season was Benedikt Höwedes (23), who has just been named as Schalke’s captain by manager Ralf Rangnick. It has been a remarkable rise for Höwedes, who has made 93 appearances for Schalke since 2008 and could form a magnificent partnership with Hummels for Germany in the coming years.

Having been Klinsmann’s first-choice centre back before being blamed for some poor German performances in the run up to the 2006 World Cup, 26 year old Robert Huth has bounced back.  After a brilliant season for Stoke in 2010/2011 and having only been on the fringes of Germany’s squads under Löw, Huth will surely be back in contention if he has another stellar season. Holger Badstuber (22), a highly-rated prospect who is also an adept left back, was part of Löw’s 2010 World Cup squad and has been used by Bayern and Germany as a centre back of late. 24 year old Serdar Tasci, whose parents are Turkish, made his Stuttgart and Germany debuts at 19 and 21 respectively and is another talented central defender. Uncapped Ömer Toprak (22), who also has Turkish parents, made a remarkable recovery from a kart way accident, where he suffered severe burns, and has just been signed by Bayer Leverkusen from Freiburg. Bayer Leverkusen’s 22 year old Stefan Reinartz has just broken into Leverkusen’s first XI and having already won a senior cap, will surely be a part of Löw’s future squads.

Right Winger

Thomas Müller (21), who has undergone a remarkable conversion from a youth team striker at Bayern to an international winger and second striker, is a reliable creative and goalscoring outlet for club and country and played a huge part in Germany’s third-place World Cup finish. Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 22 year old winger Marco Reus is a mazy dribbler, who netted 9 goals and 10 assists in 31 games last season, and while he is a year older than Müller, it is surely only a matter of time before Reus wins his first cap. Werder Bremen’s Aaron Hunt (24), who has an English mother, has been a constant in Bremen’s starting XI in recent years but has not been able to add to the two caps he earned between 2009 and 2010 for Die Mannschaft. Bayer Leverkusen’s 23 year old winger, Sidney Sam, has impressed as a potent inside forward and will surely be an option for Löw’s Euro 2012 squad and World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign.

Left Winger

While Lukas Podolski’s (26) recent club career has never hit the promise and consistency he showed as a striker for FC Köln, before a frustrating spell at Bayern between 2006 and 2009, Podolski has been one of Germany’s most consistent performers in recent seasons – scoring 42 goals in 90 games. Having been converted to the left wing by Löw, Podolski has adapted brilliantly to his new position and his controversial choice as the World Cup’s best young player in 2006 may not seem as questionable as it once did. Podolski’s position does not seem under any immediate threat, given that he is one of the first names on Löw’s team sheet, but 22 year old Marko Marin has impressed for Werder Bremen.

Even though he failed to impose himself at the 2010 World Cup, it is important to remember that Marin is still young but his hope of becoming Podolski’s replacement is under threat. André Schürrle (20), an inside left forward, had a great season with Mainz, scoring 15 goals and setting up 5 in 34 matches, and has just joined Leverkusen. Having already appeared in six games under Löw, scoring three goals, Schürrle is one of Germany’s rising stars. Hamburg’s 25 year old Marcell Jansen is a more experienced option for Löw and like Podoloski, had a disappointing spell at Bayern but has since reinvented himself as a potent left winger, who can also fill in at left back.

Defensive Midfielder

Bastian Schweinsteiger (26) had a remarkable conversion from an erratic and flashy right winger to a tough-tackling defensive midfielder under both Louis van Gaal (2008-2010) and Löw. One of the reasons why Michael Ballack’s talismanic presence has not been missed is down to Schweinsteiger’s maturity and rebirth and without him, the 4-2-3-1 would not have its important foundations. Bayer Leverkusen’s 29 year old Simon Rolfes is a solid option to partner Schweinsteiger, having been unlucky to miss out on the World Cup and the start of the Euro 2012 qualifiers due to an injury picked up in a warm-up match against Hungary. Sami Khedira has since taken the mantle and has made the position his own in Rolfes’ absence, with his dynamic play, aerial ability and strong shot leading to a move to Real Madrid – where he has become one of Jose Mourinho’s most important players.

Bayern’s talented midfielder Toni Kroos (21) is naturally an attacking playmaker but proof that Löw wants a defensive contribution from every single individual, and would not change his system to suit a player, was visible in the recent friendly against Brazil where Kroos performed admirably as a regista. Borussia Dortmund’s 20 year old İlkay Gündoğan is yet another quality deep-lying playmaker, who was signed by Jürgen Klopp to replace the highly-influential Nuri Şahin. Gündoğan has been called-up by Löw but is yet to make an appearance. Stuttgart’s 25 year old Christian Gentner, while only making three appearances for Germany since 2009, has proven himself as a useful option in the squad with his goalscoring displays for Stuttgart. Not since Erwin and Helmut Kremers in the 1970s have Germany had twins play for them but the Bender twins (22) could be about to change that. Sven (Borussia Dortmund) and Lars (Bayer Leverkusen) are promising tough-tackling midfielders, who have both become regulars for their respective clubs. Sven made his debut in the 2-1 friendly defeat to Australia in March but there is certainly no circus-effect or celebrity factor for Löw selecting one or either of these talented players.

Attacking Midfielder

Like at centre back, Germany have an incredible amount of potentially brilliant attacking midfielders in their national pool. Already proven at just 22 year of age, Mesut Özil is Germany’s star player and creator, and had an impressive first season at Real Madrid – scoring 10 goals and setting-up 25 goals in 53 appearances. The 4-2-3-1 suits the free-roaming pint-sized playmaker perfectly and like Schweinsteiger, he has benefited from Ballack’s absence with the hard-working Khedira and Schweinsteiger behind him. Borussia Dortmund’s 19 year old Mario Götze has given Löw a real selection headache after his masterful performance in the 3-2 win over Brazil. With Özil injured, Götze seized his chance as the number ten and was the man of the match – scoring a goal and being at the heart of Germany’s attacking play.

With Özil and Götze also adept at playing on the left, it may prove tough for Löw to resist dropping his beloved Podolski to accommodate the mesmerising Götze. Götze and André Schürrle are the only German capped players to have been born in an unified Germany and in a way, their pint-sized, skillful and ‘continental’ style backs up this new type of German player. Yet another potential star in the number ten role is Lewis Holtby (20) who, like Aaron Hunt, could have qualified for selection by England. Holtby, who can play on the left like Özil and Götze, greatly impressed on loan at Mainz from Schalke last season and from this, Rangnick has implemented him into his starting XI this season. Even though he is captain of Germany’s under-21 team, Holtby has already made two appearances for the senior team and Löw is a known fan.

Striker

After initially struggling on the international stage, in comparison to his prolific displays for Stuttgart, 26 year old Mario Gómez began to live up to his reported £30 million transfer fee last season. Scoring an incredible 39 goals in 45 games for Bayern, Gómez has become a more confident and influential performer and after having a miserable Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010, his performances have dramatically improved for Germany – netting five goals for Die Mannschaft  in the year of 2011 so far. Desperate for one more World Cup to topple Ronaldo’s 14 World Cup goals and Gerd Müller’s record 68 goals for Germany, the ever-hungry Miroslav Klose (33) has joined Lazio in search of a starting berth at club and international level. Selected by Germany since 2001, Klose has netted an impressive 61 goals in 109 games and remains a brilliant ‘twelfth man’ game-breaker option from the bench for Löw.

Bayer Leverkusen’s 27 year old Stefan Kießling’s career has never really taken off at international level, failing to score in six appearances, but if he can replicate his 2009-2010 form for Leverkusen, when he scored 21 goals in 35 games, the giant striker will certainly put himself back in the running for that one striking position. Brazilian-born Cacau (30) symbolises the new age of multi-ethnic Germany, joining the likes of Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski (Polish); Ömer Toprak, Serdar Tasci, Sami Khedira, Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan (Turkish); Jerome Boateng (Ghanian); Dennis Aogo (Nigerian); Mario Gómez (Spanish); and Marko Marin (Bosnian Serb). Having been born in São Paulo and having come to Germany at 18 years of age, Cacau has absolutely no relation to Germany, instead qualifying through his German passport, but has been welcomed into the Germany set-up – given the nickname and common German name of Helmut by fans and repaying their support with a decent international return of 4 goals in 17 games (many as a substitute).

The Manager

With Joachim Löw’s (50) contract due to expire at the end of World Cup 2014, there is nothing to suggest that he will not be offered yet another extension before the World Cup in 2014 – just like his four-year contract renewal before the World Cup in 2010. In a way, the current German side is solely Löw’s dynasty with Jürgen Klinsmann having a much older and different group of players so he will surely want to coach these players into their peak years. After all, Germany have a history of long-reigning managers – having had just ten managers in their 85 year footballing history, with a selection committee choosing the squads before that period in 1908-1926. With Löw’s position under no obvious threat, after magnificent qualification campaigns, successful tournaments and a masterful transition of playing staff, it seems unlikely that he will not be offered an extension unless he decides to step down himself. If that does occur, there are a host of accomplished and upcoming German managers who could continue Löw’s project.

The Elder Statesmen

With the DFB having such success with the appointments of the young Klinsmann and Löw, an appointment of a mature manager may not be on the cards. Nonetheless, there are some quality experienced German managers who have yet to manage the national team. Amazingly, the vastly successful Ottmar Hitzfeld (61) has yet to coach Die Mannschaft. Having had his greatest success managing in Germany, with Borussia Dortmund (2 Bundesliga titles and 1 Champions League between 1991 and 1997) and Bayern Munich (5 Bundesligas and 1 Champions League between 1998-2004 and 2007-2008), Hitzfeld has followed up his club success with a solid spell with Switzerland – qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and securing a memorable win 1-0 win over eventual champions Spain in the group stages. His old-school ways and cautious, bordering on negative, tactics would make him a much more different proposition to Löw and Hitzfeld would take the team in a much different direction, and this may rule him out.

One of German football’s most controversial figures, 58 year old Felix Magath is one of the most ardent disciplinarians in world football. Nicknamed Quälix, a combination of his name and German verb quälen (to torture), Magath has won three Bundesliga titles (Bayern in 2004/2005 and 2005/2006 and Wolfsburg in 2008/2009) but his erratic and outspoken nature, as well as his lack of experience of managing on the international level, would put the DFB off. Otto Rehhagel (73) has vast experience at both levels, managing the likes of Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Kaiserslautern, as well as Greece from 2001-2010, but his controversial kontrollierte Offensive tactics and his preference for experienced players would make him an unlikely candidate.

66 year old Jupp Heynckes, like Hitzfeld, has never been given the opportunity to manage the German national team. After a solid spell with Bayer Leverkusen from 2009-2011, Heynckes has probably taken his last club job, with his beloved Bayern Munich. Even though, major trophy wise, he has won just one Champions League (Real Madrid, 1998) and two German Championships (Bayern, 1988 and 1990) in his 32-year managerial career, few would doubt that Heynckes will not add to that haul at Bayern – which could put him into contention for a swansong as manager of Germany.

The Potential Option

Thomas Schaaf (50) spent his entire playing career at Werder Bremen (1972-1995) and so far, his management career has been no different. He has spent 24 years as a manger at Bremen, from coaching youth teams to managing the senior team. Therefore, it seems unlikely he would want to manage any other club and considering he has dramatically revived Bremen’s fortunes, their Bundesliga title in 2003/2004 being their first in a decade and their three DFB-Pokal wins (1998/1999, 2003/2004, 2008/2009) making up half of their total German cup wins in their 112-year history, Schaaf will surely be shortlisted in the future. However, while his one-club man trait is to be admired, one wonders whether Schaaf could have the same success in a different environment. 51 year old Bernd Schuster is currently a free agent, following a disappointing spell at Beşiktaş, and even though he had a successful playing career and decent management spells in Spain with Real Madrid and Getafe, Schuster would prove a massive risk.

Many fans’ favourite to replace Löw, Jürgen Klopp (44) won Borussia Dortmund their first title for nine years with a potent mix of scintillating football and the use of young players. This surely would make him a perfect replacement for Löw, whether it is in 2014 or 2018, and 2018 may suit Klopp as he would want to at least win another Bundesliga title with Dortmund before taking a job with one of Europe’s biggest clubs. After narrowly missing out on becoming Klinsmann’s assistant in 2004, 53 year old Ralf Rangnick has not looked back and after an impressive spell at Hoffenheim, following a mixed first spell at Schalke, he returned to Schalke and led them to a brilliant 7-3 aggregate win over holders Internazionale in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Apart from Schuster, who surely will not be selected, all the under-53 candidates never played for Germany at a senior level, like Löw, and no one epitomises that more than Mainz’s Thomas Tuchel (37). Having had a career in the lower leagues cut short by injury in 1998, Tuchel became coach of Stuttgart’s under-19s in 2000 and then went to FC Augsburg in 2005 as a youth team co-coordinator. Taking over at Mainz in 2009, Tuchel led Die Nullfünfer  to their first promotion to the Bundesliga since Klopp had achieved the feat in 2004. Incredibly, Mainz equaled the best start to a Bundesliga season with seven wins from their opening seven games and went on to finish the season in fifth place. Whether second season syndrome kicks in and whether Tuchel will want to test himself at a club with a bigger budget remains to be seen.

With Spain being touted as the only team in history to retain both their European Championship and World Cup crowns, in 2012 and 2014 respectively, a vibrant young German side with the trademark German mental edge are developing at a rapid rate and will certainly provide a stern challenge to the much-fancied La Roja.

1 Response

  1. Varun says:

    Woah what an article.
    Nice.

    Glory is always round he corner for Germany. Always.

    They have played most number of WC matches (99) More than Brazil even (97 they are on).

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