Things are not going to plan for Germany and Joachim Löw | TF-Images/Getty Images
In 1977, the Sex Pistols released their debut album ‘Never Mind The B******s, Here’s The Sex Pistols’.
The brash, ballsy no-do-gooders stormed onto the metaphorical (and literal) stage, stuck two fingers up to society, and left. In that fleeting spell at the top – before predictably imploding and then disbanding – the Sex Pistols ruled the world.
And their legacy lives on.
How many times a day must Joachim Löw wonder whether he should have copied the English punk group, and strolled off into the sunset back in 2014?
At that time, he was the king of the footballing world. Under his tutelage, Germany had become a force on the international stage once more, striking fear into their opponents and working their long way back to the summit.
Unlike the Sex Pistols, the fame and glory did not arrive instantaneously. Löw’s journey to football’s peak has been arduous, and he has been forced to be patient and endure plenty of setbacks along the way.
The 60-year-old originally acted as Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistant for two years, and when that partnership finally came to a natural end in 2006, he was handed the microphone and told to step up as lead vocals.
Löw and his players celebrate their incredible World Cup success in 2014 | VI-Images/Getty Images
It took several years and a few failed auditions to get it right, but his moment in the sun finally arrived in Brazil – and when it did, it was as glorious as anyone could have possibly imagined. The ghosts of two semi-finals and a final defeat in their previous three tournaments were banished in 2014, when Germany ended their 24-year drought without a World Cup trophy, beating Argentina 1-0 in the final to reach that holy state of immortality.
Die Mannschaft were undoubtedly the standout team of the tournament, playing some exciting, attacking football along the way, and never looking like losing with some near immaculate displays.
They possibly peaked slightly prematurely, hitting seven against hosts Brazil in an unforgettable semi-final. The single-goal victory over Argentina felt more like an encore than the main event.
Since then however, Germany have had some serious problems in recreating the magic formula and writing that much-anticipated second album. Another semi-final stumble at Euro 2016 was followed up by a humbling group stage exit at the 2018 World Cup, suffering embarrassing defeats at the hands of Mexico and South Korea.
Upset | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The distrust and suspicion around the national team and their coach has continued to grow since that disaster, and the number of doubters who believe their leader has lost his way is multiplying. And on Tuesday evening, it all came to a head with an unacceptable and extremely concerning 6-0 defeat to Spain.
Humiliated, battered and bruised, Löw’s job may well be on the line, and with only a matter of months separating Die Mannschaft from Euro 2020, there is a massive decision to be made.
But how has it gone so wrong, and how much of it is their manager’s doing?
Well, Bob Dylan wrote ‘The times, they are a-changin’. And he was right. Unfortunately, Löw didn’t seem prepared to alter with them – and when he did, he seriously misread the room.
Why change what has brought so much success? | Buda Mendes/Getty Images
If the failure to reach the Euro 2016 final was a warning sign, Löw missed it entirely. Instead, he persevered with his pretty, patient, attacking style of football, hoping it would all fall into place in Russia. But as a stranded Manuel Neuer looked on from the halfway line as South Korea Son Heung-min raced away to add a second goal in injury time, one thing became abundantly clear: football had moved on – and left Germany behind.
All of a sudden, this team looked painfully outdated.
As France demonstrated in 2018, international tournaments are won with a strong defence, and match-winning ability in attack. In Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Timo Werner, Germany have that star quality to steamroller teams on their day. But it’s not enough.
Löw’s problem arrives behind that attacking trio, as he struggles to adapt to the ever-changing demands of international football, which is becoming a hazy reflection of the domestic game.
A very forgettable end to the year ❌#DieMannschaft #ESPGER 6-0 pic.twitter.com/fKNho08Jdo
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) November 17, 2020
The midfield requires so much athleticism and speed across the ground, and with Ilkay Gundogan and Toni Kroos at the core, opponents know that hard running and physicality in the middle can disrupt Germany’s pretty passing game.
The lack of balance is leaving the defence horribly exposed, and the quality of the individuals at the back simply is not sufficient enough to keep the top teams at bay anymore.
The whole identity of this squad has vanished.
Not a high-pressing team, nor a succinct counter-attacking side, nor an effective, penetrative attacking unit – they’re unrecognisable. Now caught in no-man’s land, Löw seems unsure whether to push forward and risk stepping on another landmine, or retreat and hope for the best.
Joachim Low has managed Germany since 2006, and has been on the national team staff since 2004. 2004! It’s been a good run, far longer than a typical NT tenure. A change will do both sides good.
— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) November 17, 2020
Aside from the tactics, there has clearly been a huge breakdown and division behind the scenes. Having falling out with the Bayern hierarchy over the future of Neuer as the number one, the Germany manager has also hung several old favourites out to dry.
In March 2019, Löw ostracised the men who brought him greatness, pulling down the curtain on the international careers of Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, excluding them from his future plans.
That’s the equivalent of having a drunken bar-fight with your band members and kicking the lead guitarist, drummer and bassist out of the group. It would be all well and good if the national setup had already produced the heir to these thrones, and three starlets were lying in wait to pick up from where they left off.
Koch and Kroos were upstaged by Spain on Tuesday | Fran Santiago/Getty Images
That’s certainly proven to be far from the case. In truth, there is no one in the world who plays the same role to that of Muller, the Raumdeuter (space interpreter), as he is possibly the most unique player on the planet. His ability to use space to his advantage and hurt enemy defences is incomparable, and that cutting edge has been missing ever since his exit.
As for the defence, well, Tuesday’s showing suggests that tailor-made replacements for the defensive duo are nowhere to be seen. From Löw’s perspective, perhaps he was expecting more from the young players who were pushing for a start prior to the old guard’s departure.
Leeds star Robin Koch is a talented, improving defender, but the pressures of international football for one of the most expectant nations may be a bridge too far for the time being. Niklas Süle is also an excellent centre-back, but he needs a certain quality of player alongside him to really step up to the plate.
So, Löw made a mistake. But mistakes can be used as a learning curve, and a situation can always be rectified. The under-fire coach however, is sticking to his guns. He reaffirmed before the latest round of fixtures that the experienced trio are still in the wilderness and will not return to the squad – a statement which looks even sillier after the Spain demolition.
Time to take @JeromeBoateng back ?? #ESPGER @DFB_Team
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) November 17, 2020
Even Arsenal cheerleader and social media influencer Mesut Ozil is rebelling against his former coach, tweeting that Boateng – a regular for Champions League winning Bayern – deserves a recall. He has a point.
But Löw is prepared to die on the hill he has climbed upon, and his stubbornness to not reverse this decision means he may well have to lie in the deep grave he has dug for himself – or there’ll be anarchy in Germany.