Photo via Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
It’s no secret that Germany is no longer the football superpower that it once was. From defeating the mighty Brazilians 7-1 in 2014 to failing to qualify for the knockout stages just 4 years after a World Cup victory, the Germans need to find some answers about the next step. At the same time, German’s top league side, Bayern Munich, has seen a gradual fall from grace. It’s easy to see a correlation between the two but the fact of the matter is the two simply saw their peak at the same time and as a result, have fallen.
The first important thing to realize is that Bayern Munich, despite being a German Club, is not purely made up of German players. In fact for this weekend’s game against Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayern played six of a possible 14 German players. Like the Bundesliga, the German top division has grown clubs that have needed to spend more money on foreign players in order to keep up with other European superpowers. This means there is rarely a correlation between league powerhouses and the national team.
Real Madrid and Barcelona, though located in Spain are not lead by Spanish players. Barcelona’s most notable players are Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele, and, even Frenkie de Jong. The most notable Spanish player on Barcelona, the defending Spanish league champions, is perhaps Gerard Pique, a player well past his prime and often mocked for his lack of pace. The same can be said of other domestic league champions and contenders.
If we follow the logic of teams that dominate European competition and see dominance in international competition, then the English national team should be in an era of dominance, as Liverpool and Tottenham were the two clubs that got all the way to the final last year. Despite the Three Lions looking significantly stronger than they once did, they are still not a true contender to win any major international competition as long as France and Belgium don’t slip up. With that being said let’s take a look at those two superpowers.
Belgium is one of the top teams in every international competition. The national team is in the so-called “Golden Generation” which is a group of players that we will rarely see from nations like this. Belgium has done this without having a true superpower in their domestic league. The most notable club in Belgium is Club Brugge, who will not make it out of their Champions League group. Despite not having a superpower in the domestic league, Belgium has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to players. Led by Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), and Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid) Belgium is the perfect example of what a small nation can be.
The other superpower in international football right now is defending World Cup Champion, France. France has a larger domestic league than Belgium, but it’s still not dominant on the international stage. PSG is a strong squad but outside of that, the league doesn’t have many noteworthy clubs. France has years of dominance ahead of it but the French league still doesn’t loom large in Europe.
So what has lead to Germany’s downfall? The simple truth is time.
In all sports, we see good players age past their prime, but the World Cup is a way to see this to the extreme. Four years is a long time and it can lead to a lot of change. The fact is Germany’s squad aged past their prime. We could see the regression in the 2016 Euros when they lost to France in the semi-finals. Thomas Muller, once the face of the international squad, now struggles to get playing time at club level. Mario Gotze, the scorer of the winning goal in the 2014 World Cup Final, wasn’t even on the flight to Russia in 2018. The group has simply moved passed their prime. It actually reminds me slightly of the US national team which watched as its golden generation of Landon Donavan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard aged and the nation was shocked when a 19-year-old Christian Pulisic couldn’t carry the aging squad to a World Cup bid. Germany simply hasn’t moved on and that starts at the top.
Joachim Low has lead Germany to incredible heights in his time as manager, but the German boss has simply been passed up by other managers. Low was a wonderful manager in 2014 when his tactics were at their best. Low loves to use center forwards instead of strikers which is a position that German football academies are incredible at producing. Unfortunately, football tactics have moved passed the days where center forwards are the best way to go tactically. The only two noteworthy center forwards left in world football are Muller and Messi.
In modern football, managers have had to move to using strikers and this is where Low’s shortcomings have shown. Low brought a true striker in Timo Werner to Russia, which seemed like a good decision as Werner was one of the most notable young players in world football, but this is where the trouble began. Werner was one of the biggest disappointments at the 2018 World Cup, failing to score in any of the three games the Germans played and doing nothing notable as the Germans fell on their faces in the group stage time and time again. If the Germans hope to get back to their former glory, they must do two things, first, sack Low.
Low has been a wonderful manager but he has been unable to make the Germans successful in the new age of football and he has shown no sign of change. Second, the new manager must move to a younger generation. One of the biggest problems that people have with Low was the omission of Leroy Sane, another young player that the footballing world has long had its eyes on. Sane is the future star of the German national team and he must be an automatic inclusion which is something that Low hasn’t shown the willingness to do.
Germany and Bayern Munich were both once on the top of the world, but both are now falling as age catches up with their stars and management fails to move passed the golden years. The World Cup days for Germany are long gone but the nation still has some of the most exciting young talents in world football. Its time for the Germans to realize this and begin to move on from the old guard.