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OPINION | “Tepid. Unimaginative. Abject.” – Germany yet to learn their lesson from 2018

“Löw sollte jetzt Rückgrat zeigen und abtretten”

Perhaps this simple yet damning statement by Manuel Veth is all that is required; Löw should now show his backbone and step down.

In what was Germany’s worst defeat since 1931 when they conceded six goals against Austria by the same scoreline, Luis Enrique’s La Roja side put Die Mannschaft to the sword in stunning fashion.

Tepid. Unimaginative. Abject. These are just some of the adjectives that can best-describe what unfolded in Seville. Spain put on an absolute clinic on the night and though Germany made it all too easy for them, full credit must be given nevertheless.

Jogi Löw’s troops could all but muster a paltry two shots (neither on frame) all evening, on top of seeing just 30% of the ball. Their xG? 0.12. But most frustrating at all is the clear indication that, despite being sucked-down by the wake of such a disastrous performance, the DFB maintained their unwavering support for the man who guided them to a return to the promised land in 2014. Team manager and former German international Oliver Bierhoff went on record backing Löw, stating: “We still trust Joachim Löw, no question.”

There are many amongst the supporters who would now prefer to see the back of him. Still others have been clamouring for his sacking – or self-termination – back in 2018. Others still, even earlier.

Warning signs were evident and glaring back in Euro 2016. Despite reaching the semi-finals, Germany failed to impress. Those same signs turned into nightmare realities in Russia in the summer of 2018, in a World Cup campaign that saw Germany crash out in the group stage after losses to South Korea and Mexico while finishing bottom of the group.

Let us also not forget that – if not for tournament revamping which spared their blushes – Germany would have been relegated from the top echelon of the Nations League after a dismal showing in 2018/19.

Now, two years removed and Germany has yet to learn their lesson. Löw has yet to learn his lesson… well, many lessons.

Between the initial scapegoating of Mesut Özil and the dropping of Thomas Müller, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, a smokescreen campaign to mask the actual issue was quickly conducted. Results over the last two years have shown the main issue still remains; Jogi Löw himself.

There are some that are postulating links between the departure of Hansi Flick from the national team coaching set-up and Germany’s decline. True, he was Löw’s right-hand man in 2014 and with the way Bayern Munich – now under his charge – are dominating the European landscape in a way the national team once did, connections can certainly be levied.

Still and yet, the hammer-stroke must fall on Löw and Löw alone.

On a tactical level, Germany has failed to truly progress under his continued watch. While the likes of Spain, Italy and Portugal have all gone through reconstruction periods to good effect, it is hard to watch this team and think they have genuinely improved in the last 4-6 years, despite the talent pool at their disposal.

Regarding the pool of players, many of them are not the sort that suit the mould that garnered success in six years ago. When considering what is arguably the team’s best attacking trio in Timo Werner, Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry, one imagines near-unlimited pace, technical nuance, hunter-killer instincts in the final third, mobility and interchanging play. None of that has been on display with any great measure of consistency.

Head-scratching commitments in midfield and in defence are also sure to litter the post-mortem assessment of a Nations League campaign that saw Germany allow thirteen goals in six matches, while failing to keep a single clean sheet in the process.

The insistence of viewing Toni Kroos as a key cog in the wheel must now come under multiple microscopes. Other questions also deserve attention; should Manuel Neuer retain the number one shirt? Will Germany remain a side built on dominant possession or should a more direct and incisive play be at the core of the tactical schematic?

These are all important questions that should have been a focal point for evaluation in the aftermath of 2018.

But the reality is that – on evidence – the right questions and their answers are likely to remain unexplored under a Löw stewardship. What’s more, is the additional worry of how would the DFB even replace him should an unexpected sacking – or resignation – come to pass.

At current, only Ralf Rangnick presents an avenue worth exploring as a suitable replacement. The likes of Jürgen Klopp, Julian Nagelsmann, Marco Rose and Thomas Tuchel are the high profile names many would want to be considered. And it is likely that none of them would be willing to leave their well-suited club positions or would not be suited to the task (in the case of Tuchel). A heroic return for Hansi Flick would also be highly unlikely.

Unfortunately for Germany, persisting with Löw remains the only real avenue available at the given moment, despite the native of Schönau im Schwarzwald – with all intended respect – being past his expiration date on the touchline.

For a national team setup blessed with the talent pool that it has, so much more is expected from Germany. And while the top domestic club remains an apex predator, Die Mannschaft are anything but in their current iteration.

Yet again it finds itself at a crossroads.

It may not be time for Das Reboot, but there are too many pieces that fit into this puzzle. The keystone must as well.

Andrew Thompson

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