Say what you will, but Germany’s success in Brazil this summer is a warning shot that should be heard round the world. Die Mannschaft came into the tournament as one of the heavy favorites, bristling with confidence in their entourage from top to bottom and did not disappoint a very expectant public. Their victory over Lionel Messi’s Argentina, which netted them their fourth World cup trophy in their illustrious history, was celebrated from the Brandenburg Gate all the way to the tiny village of Elbersdorf.
The question that many have asked in the aftermath however, is if this is a one-off performance, or will Germany succeed where everyone else before them have also been unsuccessful – can they repeat as Champions? Let’s take a look at four major factors that make it a very real possibility that this Germany can do what no one else could, and achieve World Cup immortality.
No one in the World can match the Germans in terms of youth development, not even Spain or the Netherlands (yes, I am sure many will disagree with that nation). What makes the German youth production pipeline so incredible comes two fold;
- Every single club in Germany, be it large or small, puts incredible emphasis on the continued scouting, refinement and production of talented young footballers – it is the hallmark of their DNA as a footballing institution. Yes Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund (Schalke to an extent as well) have spent on foreign talent, but it is undeniable that the core of even the biggest clubs in Germany, are in fact composed of domestic talent.
- Not only do clubs in Germany place a reliance on their ability to produce local talent due to the lack of a real spending culture when it comes to acquisition of talent, but the supply of players not only benefits the nation on a club level, but more importantly, on a national level.
Youth football in Germany is a tried and tested science if there ever was one, and all you have to do is look at the current crop of young players in the national team, as well as the host of young players waiting in the wings at U-21 and U-19 level that are sure to breakthrough by 2018.
Unlike so many other nations (Spain and England come to mind here as two prime examples), young German players are fully expected to contribute to the first-team for their club as well as the national team as soon as they reach the age of eighteen or nineteen. Few clubs in Spain expect that of their players, while in England, young players are often continuously loaned out to smaller clubs till the age of twenty-one or twenty-two, never really being truly tested at the highest level.
German players 21 years of age or younger already making a major impact at club level
Leon Goretzka, Max Meyer, Matthias Ginter, Timo Werner, Amin Younes, Andre Hoffman, Kevin Volland, Bernd Leno, Moritz Leitner, Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Julian Draxler
The importance of the German collective when it comes to the nations footballing interest starts at the very bottom (much like it does in the Netherlands), and due to the reality that club football is in truth rather subservient to the national team leads to the second factor for which continued German success can be achieved in 2018; the Bundesliga.
To say that the German national team is a machine is reasonable, but the reasons why deserve to be highlighted. First, consider their track record at the World Cup;
1954 (Win), 1958 (Semi-Final), 1962 (Quarter-Final), 1966 (Final), 1970 (Semi-Final), 1974 (Win), 1978 (Quarter-Final), 1982 (Final), 1986 (Final), 1990 (Win), 1994 (Quarter-Final), 1998 (Quarter-Final), 2002 (Final), 2006 (Semi-Final), 2010 (Semi-Final), 2014 (Win)
Results by final placement
Win (4), Runner-Up (4), Third Place (4), Fourth Place (1)
In other words, of the twenty World Cup’s that have been played out, Germany have featured in eighteen of them (did not enter in 1930, banned from 1950), and have at least reached the quarter-final in sixteen out of those eighteen appearances – a truly remarkable statistic.
It is impossible to argue against their footballing pedigree, but when you look at their continued consistent success at the World cup since 1990, you have to realize the massive importance that the Bundesliga plays in keeping the national team playing at the highest possible level. The reason behind this is undoubtedly the willingness of the vast majority of German players remaining in country for their club football.
Naturally you can and will cite that so many other nations can call upon a host of domestic based players, but the difference between those nations and the Bundesliga, is that each and every team in Germany (now with the exception of Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola) play a brand of football so similar to one another that any players that come into the national team set up do not require a crash course in what is expected of them mentally, technically, or tactically – German players are ready-made for the national team, and the Bundesliga is the reason why.
It’s about who’s right, not who’s popular
Many called into question the selections made by Joachim Low when he released his final 23-man squad for the tournament. The inclusion of just one recognized striker (Miroslav Klose), a squad that was heavily laden in midfield, and the eventual reliance on Benedikt Howedes to deploy at left-back rather than putting faith in the young but talented Erik Durm were all major talking points from the beginning of the tournament and throughout much of the month-long festivities in Brazil. But for Low and his coaching staff, it was about the right players, not the players that garnered popular opinion.
It was certainly a gamble, but all you have to do is look at the likes of England, Spain and Italy to reference prime examples of nations that had highly talented squads, but fell well short of the mark this summer due to many selections in their starting XI’s that were far too pragmatic and based more off of player popularity and reputation than ability to coexist in a team that could go on to win things.
Again, this brings to the fore the nature of the German collective – take England for example. Such has been the long standing notion that England must build the national team around Wayne Rooney, that the talented young players Roy Hodgson brought with him to Brazil were not taken off the leash and allowed to shine. When you build your program around a singular player, all notions of tactical understanding on the pitch fall by the way side.
Where Germany succeeded (though to be honest, it did take some adjustment throughout the tournament), is by structuring their play around two main key components; the Bayern Munich collective (in every match, Germany fielded six or seven Bayern players in the starting XI), and a cohesion at the back with four center-backs. Few questioned the reliance on Bayern’s players, but many (myself included for a long while) spoke out against four-center backs at the back.
While Low did eventually turn to Phillip Lahm to return to right-back for added stability, the continued inclusion of Howedes at left-back offered the German rearguard far more stability than if an attack-minded player was deployed in his place. Howedes took a bit of time to adjust, but once he did, the move has since been lauded as a tactical master stroke by Low – a prime example of selecting the right players to do the job that is required.
The nature of German footballers
More so than any player in not only Europe, but the world, German footballers are as close to the perfect blending of attributes that make them seem more like machines as you cant help but wonder if Sky-Net has actually become completely self aware.
Despite their physical build (apart from poor Phillip Lahm), German players are incredible in regards to their technical ability not only when in possession, but their ability to pick a pass. Such is the importance or being complete players, that even Mats Hummels can play a pin-point 50 yard ball into the final third.
In true Prussian fashion, Germany are also incredibly efficient both off and on the ball, from their ability to read the game tactically, to know when and when not to expend energy during the run of play. Like a well oiled and well supplied Panzer division, the German national team has reached the pinnacle of perfecting the blended footballer. Spain mastered possession, Brazil brought Joga Bonito to the world, Italy perfected the art of defending in numbers, and England always led from the front in regards to physical play – Germany has combined those four footballing doctrines into what we all witnessed over the past month.
No where to go but up for Die Mannschaft
There is no other trophy in all of sports that is more difficult to repeat as champion than the World Cup. When you take into consideration the rotating location of the tournament and the climate conditions that comes with it, the infrequency of which it occurs and how the nature of the game changes over those four years, and the ability for so many teams to improve during that time period, it is no wonder that no team has ever won two World Cup’s in succession.
Perhaps the key to becoming the first to repeat as champion and the immortality that comes with it, is ones ability to adapt, and no one does that better than the Germans. Call them The Borg if you must (“oh no!, they’ve adapted!”) but if anyone in world football can traverse the ever changing landscape that is the beautiful game, it’s Germany.
And if you must, just think back to those famous words of whichever coach you remember the most when you played football when you were younger – “football is a simple team game, where individuals obtain adoration, but teams win trophy’s.” In this case, that team is not just Die Mannschaft, but the entire German footballing institution.