German football is in a never-ending state of evolution these days. The rebuild after the World Cup debacle in Russia is constantly in motion, as Joachim Löw juggles his roster, re-aligns his players, and does everything possible to help rediscover the magic that he once held over international soccer.
The UEFA Nations League represents the first opportunity for Löw to fix the issues that plagued the team at the World Cup. From swapping out ineffective players like Sami Khedira to integrating young stars like Kai Havertz, Löw’s challenge to find the solution leaves Germany simultaneously indifferent about game results yet über-focused on the performance and cohesion of the players on the roster.
Finding the right mix
One trait that Löw that shown in his effort to distance himself from the arrogance that haunted the team in Russia is a commitment to bringing in fresh, young, and hungry talent. The obligation doesn’t end there, however, as Löw cannot content himself with merely bringing in that talent for seasoning. He also has to give those players bigger roles in real games.
With so many players (Marco Reus, Kai Havertz, Leon Goretzka, Ilkay Gündogan, Antonio Rüdiger. Kevin Trapp, and Nils Petersen) missing due to injury or as a precaution, Löw will face a significant challenge in using this particular break to build the cohesion he seeks; injuries or not, he must continue to push that mantra.
Despite the gaps in the roster during this break, there are still enough veterans and enough key young players available to continue the healing process and initiate the next transformational phase that will culminate into a full rehab of the squad.
Fixing the team chemistry
The established stars still carry much weight in terms of performance and locker room personality. Veterans like Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels, and Jerome Boateng have experienced the heights of German dominance and the lows of the team’s recent World Cup futility. Those players — those leaders — cannot just rely on what worked in 2014; they need to meld with both the other senior players who missed 2014 and also the young core of up-and-comers to create a new culture and a new style of play.
The talent on Germany’s roster is still more than enough to rank among the world’s heavyweights. However, it is now up to those coaches and players in the locker room to first find cohesion on the pitch and then transition that into the confident, exciting, efficient, and opponent-rattling style of play that formerly made Germany one of the sport’s primary dominant forces.
The attitude and team mentality needs to shift from clinging to past glory to embracing the upcoming changing of the guard. The veterans should be respected, but the energy and aggression brought to the table by the squad’s young players also must be integrated.
Simply put, it’s time for the squad to rally around one other and say, “Screw it . . . we are Germany!” instead of lapsing into the divisive cliques of the past.
Performance means more than results
Whatever happens in the upcoming fixtures, Löw — and every German fan — will be focused on the brand of football being played on the pitch. Will it be the aggressive, attractive yet controlled style that won Germany a World Cup and a Confederations Cup, or will we see the disjointed, tentative display we saw in Russia?
Against France and Peru during the last break, the team’s performance fell somewhere in between. It ultimately has to be better, but the actual result is less significant. While anything less than a win may upset the squad and its supporters, the development of the roster on (and off) the pitch is where Germany needs to make the most progress.
The time for finger-pointing and blame is long over. Now it is time to reassert German football’s place on the global scene. Will Die Mannschaft achieve machine-like efficiency and a clinical style that most countries can only hope to replicate, or will the roster fail to gel and cause further damage to an already volatile situation?
All eyes are on you, Jogi Löw.