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 clubs, but what happens next for the once-finely tuned German Football Machine will be fiercely debated for months to come.
The most striking — and disappointing — aspects of Germany’s awful group-stage flame-out were the arrogance that emanated from the manager, the complacency and lack of urgency that infected the squad, and the total 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 rely on his role-players to shoulder 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 “glue,” no core of players to meld the old and new roster. There was just talent — talent that proved incapable of gelling in time to avoid embarrassment 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. Germany never even looked interested.
Yet somehow, there was a wide belief that things would fall in place and the machine would keep going.
It did not.
Low’s pride came before his 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 stop 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. Behind him, Sami Khedira had neither the natural talent of an Özil, nor the fiery leadership qualities to bring a winning presence to the field. And he certainly didn’t have the legs to cover the ground he once covered in 2014. 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, and all of us, to ask “what if?” until we all shake the inevitable run of sleepless nights.
When Löw submitted his lineup against South Korea, featuring both Özil and Khedira again, along with (for whatever godly reason) Goretzka on the wing, Löw was not trying to show the squad how he believed he could win a potential elimination game. Instead, once again, he was telling the world he was still the smartest damn person on the pitch. That arrogance ultimately betrayed Germany.
Löw’s refusal to evolve will haunt him
When it wasn’t his obtuse reliance on certain players, it was Löw’s own tactical gaffes that cost the team. Joshua Kimmich and Marvin Plattenhardt played so far up field against Mexico that they left the team perilously in danger to each and every counter attack. That loss showcased this flaw for the world to see and set the blueprint for Sweden and South Korea. Löw’s adjustments did not do enough to deter either Sweden or South Korea from attack in the same 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, Low had a chance to start the game against South Korea with a lineup that could capitalize on the Germans’ vastly superior talent and athleticism. But, again, he 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. Löw could not line up his team to capitalize on the weaknesses of Germany’s opponents in part because the players he needed were not on the roster.
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. From top to bottom, there probably aren’t many — if any — teams remaining in the competition with as deep or complete a talent pool as Germany. How Die Mannschaft chooses to evaluate and evolve from this point will tell the tale on whether this World Cup campaign was an aberration or the new norm. And also whether Germany can reclaim its aura of superiority, this time without the blatant arrogance.