German national team in troubled waters

Soccer expert Andrew Noland delves into the recent turmoil facing the German national squad.

On Saturday, Germany collapsed against the Netherlands 0-3, a record loss for the German national team, and Germany finds itself goalless in three games for the first time in its history. With the humiliating crash out of the World Cup in this past summer combined with the chaotic and explosive Mesut Ozil retirement from international play, Germany looks like a team in complete disarray.

Where did the 2014 World Cup holders go? The team was relatively young; Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil hadn’t hit their prime, Toni Kroos didn’t even look like he was on the same planet as everyone else on the field and Mario Gotze, the MVP of the final, didn’t even start. But something changed in the four years between hoisting the trophy and the calamitous events in Russia.
Yes, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm, two of Germany’s greatest players of all time, retired. But talent like Julian Draxler, Joshua Kimmich and Leroy Sane looked as if they would pick up the slack and cement a dynasty. Others in 2018 simply haven’t taken their form to the highest level of play, like striker Thomas Werner, defender Niklas Sule and midfielder Leon Goretzka.
But looking at the situation now, it seems that the holdovers of the invincible run in 2014 are the issue. Thomas Muller, the wunderkind of the 2010 World Cup and juggernaut in the championship squad, simply has fallen apart over the last four years. Mario Gotze never lived up to his potential and probably shouldn’t be starting at Dortmund. Toni Kroos hasn’t been able to carry over his Real Madrid form to international play. Mesut Ozil atrophied over years of playing under Wenger and looks simply horrific. But most important, it appears that manager Joachim Loew is caught in the past.

What is left for Germany? The German national team doesn’t necessarily want to fire Loew and risk a complete disaster. But Der Nationalmannschaft is not a five-year plan like Loew claims: they should be the best team in the world right now. The issue seems to be Loew’s refusal to adapt to new talent and new tactics, which has left the team losing to other national squads that simply should not match up.

The main problem for national teams is that there isn’t a consistent bonding experience between these players. They play for starkly different club teams with drastically different tactics for an entire year and, for about two week periods interspersed randomly throughout the season, get called to play for international competitions in which they need to completely alter their mindsets, positions and objectives.

The formula already spells disaster considering how tired these players become. This only snowballs for Joachim Loew, whose players compete for the best clubs in the world and possess some of the most volatile forms (Muller) and temperaments (Ozil). There is simply not enough time to build a unique environment for these superstars.

Loew needs to change to reflect his players rather than forcing his players to adapt to him. Strikers don’t appear to be an option for Loew, as Werner and Uth both look terrible, so playing Muller in a false nine appears to be the only option while relying on wingers. The phrase “Start Sane” needs to be etched into both Manchester City Guardiola’s and Loew’s brains, because the 22-year old changes the nature of the field the moment he steps onto the pitch. Rotating the defensive structure until they find a consistent wall needs to be his priority, and it might be time to reevaluate the plateauing Joshua Kimmich.

Loew doesn’t necessarily need to be fired, but he needs to alter his priorities when he’s looking at his team sheet. The coach is still one of the greatest, but if he keeps persisting on this path of blindly picking system over talent, he’ll find himself breaking more records in the loss column.

Post Author: Andrew Noland