German Soccer Struggles Internationally While Bayern Munich Are Ascendant at Club Level
It was an extraordinary scoreline. Germany went into last week’s meeting with Spain knowing that a draw would be enough to see them finish top of Group A4 and qualify for the Nations League Finals. Avoiding defeat in Seville was not beyond the capabilities of a team who were unbeaten in their previous five encounters in the competition.
Germany lost 6-0. It was a stunning result for Europe’s most successful nation in soccer history. Only Brazil has won more World Cups than Germany’s four. Italy has won the tournament the same number of times, but they have got their hands on the European Championship just once, whereas Germany has lifted that trophy on three occasions – the same number as Spain.
Victory for Luis Enrique’s side last Tuesday was always a possibility, but few could have envisaged the outcome being quite so emphatic. Spain were three goals to the good at half-time thanks to Alvaro Morata, Ferran Torres, and Rodri, before Torres added two more to his tally after the break and Mikel Oyarzabal made it six in the 89th minute.
This was a significant humiliation for Germany, who are rarely on the wrong end of such scorelines. Indeed, it was their heaviest defeat of all time in a competitive fixture and equaled the 6-0 loss to Austria in a friendly back in 1931. Manuel Neuer picked the ball out of his net six times for the first time in his entire career. Joachim Low, the long-serving Germany manager, is under greater pressure than ever before.
Low Seems to Have Run Out of Ideas After an Unusually Lengthy Tenure
Low has been at the helm of the national team for 14 years, a remarkable tenure in international management. Spain and Italy have each had six coaches over the same period, while England has had five and France three. Over in South America, Brazil has made five managerial appointments since 2006; Argentina has made eight. Of the world’s major soccer powers, only Uruguay’s Oscar Tabarez has been in situ as long as Low.
Low first served as assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann at the 2006 World Cup, where the host nation exceeded expectations by reaching the semi-finals. Even during that tournament, Low was touted as the brains of the operation. It was no surprise to see him assume the hot seat when Klinsmann vacated the position.
Low guided Germany to the final of Euro 2008, the last four of the 2010 World Cup, and the semi-finals of Euro 2012. On the first two occasions, they were beaten by eventual victors Spain, before succumbing to Italy in Poland. Progress had been made, though, and in 2014 Germany won the World Cup for the fourth time. By making die Mannschaft kings of the globe, Low joined an exclusive club containing only Sepp Herberger, Helmut Schon and Franz Beckenbauer.
Some wondered whether Low might move into club management after that success, but he decided to stay put with an eye on the European Championship of 2016. Germany reached the semi-finals, where they dominated possession against hosts France but were defeated 2-0. Then, at the 2018 World Cup, Germany failed to make it beyond the first stage of the tournament for the first time since 1938.
Germany’s Decline Has Not Come on Suddenly – and That Is a Concern
To the surprise of many, Low did not depart despite the team’s historic failure in Russia. Germany was deservedly beaten by Mexico in a thrilling game in Moscow, before requiring a last-gasp Toni Kroos free-kick to overcome Sweden in their second match. Germany appeared to have got themselves out of jail, only to lose 2-0 to South Korea in Kazan to finish bottom of their group.
Few anticipated Germany failing to make the knockout phase, but warning signs had been present for some time. Low was accused of showing excessive loyalty to the players who triumphed in 2014, and the whole camp – as well as the soccer federation – was guilty of overconfidence. To the powers that be, a place in the quarter-finals was all but guaranteed – reaching that stage of World Cups and European Championships was simply what Germany did.
Despite the disaster of 2018, Low retained the support of his bosses because of the credit he had previously accumulated. However, it is difficult to see why he continues to be backed by the federation two years on. Low deserved the chance to prove he could oversee an evolution in terms of both style and personnel, but the current evidence suggests he has run out of ideas and that new leadership is required. That is why it was curious to see Oliver Bierhoff, the national team director, throw his support behind the under-fire manager last week.
He replied when asked if Low still had his support. Absolutely, yes. This game changes nothing. We still trust Joachim Low, no doubt about that. When it comes to the national team’s coach, you have to think and analyze from tournament to tournament. We want to achieve the maximum at next year’s Euros.
Germany Does Not Need Root-and-Branch Reform to Get Back to the Top
It is not as if there is a dearth of German talent around at the moment. Bayern Munich is the reigning European champion and, at odds of +250 with DraftKings Sportsbook, are favorites to win this season’s edition of the Champions League too. Neuer, Niklas Sule, Leon Goretzka, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry, and Joshua Kimmich all play for both Bayern and Germany. Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, and Kroos are proof that there is talent away from the Allianz Arena too.
After their disappointing showing at Euro 2000, Germany conducted root-and-branch reform of their youth development and the entire approach to the international game. Those changes eventually led to their success at the 2014 World Cup.
There is no need for another revolution in German soccer right now, but it looks increasingly likely that a new manager is required to lift die Mannschaft out of their rut.