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Germany’s International Break

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And a reflection on the current state of the German national team

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Korea Republic v Germany: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images,

Following Germany’s 3:0 dismantling at the hands of their arch-rivals, the Netherlands, and a second half capitulation in a 2:1 loss against France, the state of the national team seems to be at an impasse: continue playing the old guard, or attempt to embed a new generation as the core of this side before the Euros. Much of this conversation has been extended from Germany’s poor performance at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, as they were kicked out in the group stages, in stark contrast to their previous performance to their 2014 World Cup victory in Brazil.

In certain interpretations of past trends, there tends to be relatively little to be concerned about. Four out of the last five winners (Germany, Spain, Italy, and France) failed to advance past the group stages in the World Cup after their four years of bragging rights. That statistic may go down to several factors, which includes the idea that every squad that plays against the reigning world champions gives their best performance, competing against the complacent or lazy attitudes which tend to fester and grow from success. A kick in the back side may go a long ways to improving this team in future. Furthermore, Germany’s average age in Russia was 27.1 years old (thanks to Bavarian Football Works), which is younger than more than than half of the countries that competed. With the slow integration of younger talent and a reboot of the national team culture, like after the subpar 1994 and 1998 World Cups (following the reunification of West and East Germany), the national team could do very well in the next four years.

On the other hand, there are statistics that show that show those trends need to be analyzed at a case by case basis. Italy has not done well in an international tournament since 2006, bar reaching the final of the 2012 Euros. Spain, who won in 2010, have not impressed as well since then. France, since winning in 1998, have failed to reach the semi-finals until the 2016 Euros, bar the 2006 World Cup, where they reached the finals.

But there are growing signs that a conversation needs to be had about the various factors of Fußball culture in Germany, and the national team certainly needs to be a component of that pending discussion.

The old guard of the 2018 squad mainly consists of current and former Bayern München players, including Toni Kroos, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Manuel Neuer, and Thomas Müller. While this core of players was largely credited for the incredible performance of Die Mannschaft in Brazil, they largely failed to impress this time around. Arguably, Neuer should have been dropped for Mac-Andre ter Stegen, as Neuer failed to clock more than 3 games in the league last season. On top of that, he has shown rust, or even further signs of a potential decline so far this season, and has committed several errors that have contributed to Bayern’s struggles. And while Boateng and Hummels did well to weather Löw’s abysmal tactics over the summer, both of Germany and Bayern’s main centerbacks have been at the heart of club and country’s problems this season, often due to poor positioning and decision making. Müller started two out of the three games this past summer, and has failed to impress. He had 3 key passes a game in the World Cup, but failed to notch an assist, perhaps hinting that Löw failed to have enough players on the pitch to finish chances, instead of creating them.

A growing presence in Bayern and the the national team since 2014 has been Joshua Kimmich, who blasted the national team after the Netherlands match.

What is really interesting is the numbers of BVB players in the national team then versus now. Four years ago, there were four Dortmund players in the side, including Großkreuz, Hummels, Durm, and Weidenfeller. That did not include Reus, who did not make the squad by injuring his ankle in the weeks before the tournament. The squad included two future BVB players, Ginter and Schürrle. The past World Cup squad included one BVB player, Marco Reus, with Götze narrowly missing out after his struggles with his metabolic disease and position changes.

What is concerning is the reliance on a large body Bayern München players- players that very well may be in decline and have their best days behind them. That is especially a problem when those players, despite being not at their best, are not being dropped for others who could contribute more to the squad, and continue to drive the direction that the team continues to take. The scapegoating of others is a common theme, and one that started before the tournament.

Korea Republic v Germany: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images,

The distraction of Özil’s political controversy was brought into the national team camp, and following his retirement from the national team, the hostile and scapegoating atmosphere of the team still remains. Özil’s creative nature was hounded after the summer, where some his teammates, and supposed friends, blasted him for various factors, to which he said, “If we win, I’m German. If we lose, I’m an immigrant” (Goal). And while Özil’s claim of systematic racism within the DBF is a complicated issue, it deserved more attention than it got from DFB President Grindel, and several other powerful individuals in German football. Bayern’s President Uli Höneß said, “I am glad that this scare is now over. He had been playing s--- for years. He last won a tackle before the 2014 World Cup. And now he and his shit performance hide beyond this picture” (The Telegraph). The majority of current and former Bayern players currently in the national team setup followed this up by saying very similar things. Kroos said, “The parts in his statement that are rightly addressed are unfortunately overshadowed by the significantly higher amount of nonsense. I think he knows very well that racism within the national team and the DFB does not exist” (The Guardian).

And while some of his former teammates did leap to his defense, it was few and far between. Reus praised the Arsenal playmaker, saying “Personally, I’ve always got along great with Mesut, found him extremely pleasant as a human being, he always supported me and was one of the best players I’ve ever played with” (GiveMeSport). Jerome Boateng, a former victim of racist abuse, followed that up by saying, “It’s not about that photo. It’s about a great player who has won the World Cup with us. Who has won a lot of caps, who changed German football a bit. A No. 10 with a migratory background. You must thank him. To abstain, I think that’s sad” (ESPN). Jerome’s half brother Kevin-Prince, who has played in Germany for the majority of his career, offered him his support, and stated “I know what’s it like when everyone has a go at you, when criticism is harsh, and your family is part of it. This drags you down and you can’t get on with your life.” One of the decisions that called for Kevin-Prince’s switch to play for Ghana instead of Germany was when a pundit said that Boateng “was not able to be reintegrated into society” following several controversial incidents in games (ESPN).

And while it would be amazing if all of this could be learned from and moved on from, a lot of this needs to be brought up because of reactions by fans and by journalists who judge athletes more on the color of their skin, or their ethnic background, than the quality they offer on the pitch. And there obviously is a lot more to this very complex story, with a lot more nuances, but the idea that the DFB, that the national team, can not take at least several lessons from this summer’s World Cup, and learn from them, is absurd.

It is ironic to a certain extent that Germany’s nickname, Die Mannschaft, means “the team”. It is just a shame that they do not act like one.

Hummels still seems caught in a state of delusion from a broad range of issues, and he followed that up by spitting out a rather biased analysis of the Netherlands game.

For people to improve, for companies to improve, for anything to improve, an honest examination of strengths and weaknesses has to occur, and the DFB, Löw, and the core players in Die Mannschaft all seem lost. Löw’s tactics seem stale. Plus, he has not fixed the problem of failing to score goals, and he has not fixed the problem of throwing players forward to fix that. Löw’s player selection seems stale. Mark Uth was great at Hoffenheim, but he’s had 9 appearances for Schalke this season, with the output of 0 goals and 1 assist. I appreciate Müller’s contribution to the national team over the last decade, but 2 goals and 2 assists in 10 games is relatively similar to Pulisic’s inconsistent play, with his BVB counterpart notching 1 goal and 1 assist in 6 games. Müller has also struggled massively since Klose’s departure from the national team setup, and relies too much on the movement of experienced forwards, like Klose and Lewandowski, to create pockets of space for him to exploit. Neuer has been terrible this campaign, and the former best keeper in the world has let in 7 goals in the last 4 games, while ter Stegen had an arguably statement season last year. The back line of Hummels and Boateng has been terrible, and their play led to 2 of the Dutch goals.

Korea Republic v Germany: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Players need to stop acting like spoiled former champions, and need to begin owning up to their failures on the pitch. And if that does not happen, Löw should integrate younger players into the side and give them proper minutes for the first time. While a formation change might be an option going forward, a new generation should be embedded into the team.

There are options for the national team in the future to call from; Sane, Rüdiger, Süle, Brandt, Draxler, Tah, Max, Gnabry, Ginter, Weigl, Can, Goretzka, Dahoud, Havertz, Volland, Weiser, and Henrichs are all young, talented players who have been left by the wayside by Löw, to a certain extent, while the core of the squad rides out their glory days. And despite Weigl’s rough patch for BVB, he more than deserves to play as the holding mid in Löw’s setup, over a slightly more industrious, but less talented, holding mid in Sebastian Rudy. Even Maximillian Philipp might be a viable option for the national team, as he tends to be a more potent finisher than most of the forwards who played this international break. On the other hand, Löw needs to revise his tactics now. Stop letting Hummels step and expose his center-back partner to counters, unless someone is there to drop. Stop playing Müller without someone for him to actually work off of. Stop picking his favorites without actually thinking whether they have actually played well in the last year. Stop the experiments of playing RBs at CDM. It did not work with Lahm, it will not work with Kimmich. Kimmich is very talented, and does a very good job in the center of the park for whichever side he plays for. But unless the difference in talent between Kimmich and his potential RB replacement decreases drastically, it does not make sense to limit the amount of options that can be brought into the middle of the park. It does not make sense to make one position a liability for the sake of barely increasing the quality of the midfield. Kehrer played poorly against France, but he rarely plays as an outside back, and playing as a wingback in a back five must have been an alien concept to him before this match. Stop playing like snails and pick up the pace of the game, in and out of possession. At the World Cup, the teams that tended to have more possession lost earlier in the tournament. Germany had the most possession, and moved the ball at the slowest pace of any team. The game has evolved and that style of play is too slow to expose the opposition. Things need to evolve, and it seems that Löw, and his players, are caught in the past.

And while the performance against France was better than the abysmal result against the Netherlands, Löw’s tactics seemed more reactionary than proactive. To a certain extent, mediocre results are merely temporary fixes over the issues that are plaguing the team, and it is either a matter of time before things implode. Or things slowly get fixed. Or neither, which might just be the worst potential outcome of the three. At this point, it just seems that Grindel and Löw have just placed black tape over the check engine light, and are merely pretending that there are not any issues with the team at the current time.

While Löw and Grindel both said after the match that “tonight gives me hope for the future” and “tonight gives me confidence in the future” respectively, it seems slightly weird to say that while failing to play many key potential contributors of the future that Kimmich referred to after the Netherlands match.

Any thoughts on the state of the team, and what direction it should move in?