German football needs to adjust with the times

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.

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The downfall of German football

Photo via Alex Grimm/Getty Images

South Korea 2 – Germany 0.

This was the score in the 2018 World Cup that sent shockwaves throughout the world.

Germany came into that World Cup heavy favorites to repeat after their title in 2014. However, they went into Russia and were eliminated in shocking fashion in the group stage. Germany is no longer considered the empire of international soccer as that title now belongs to France. Germany is full of veterans and inconsistent young players while France is full of pacey and explosive young players and veterans who deliver when it matters most.

Germany is no longer at the top, and the same can be said about their club counterpart, FC Bayern Munich. Bayern Munich was on top of the world in 2013. They won the Champions League over their fierce rivals, Borussia Dortmund, and their German stars, Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer, and Jerome Boateng were in their primes and were led by captain Phillip Lahm, who ended up finishing his career without a red card. They also had Dutch superstar Arjen Robben, who scored the winning goal vs Dortmund, and French Superstar Franck Ribery. They were mighty and at the top of football. Then, a year later, Germany was on top of the world as they won the World Cup in convincing fashion, which included a 7-1 win over Brazil. Since this success, however, it has been downhill. 

FC Bayern Munich, as is typical for the wealthiest club in Germany, after defeating Dortmund, picked up two of their best players, striker Robert Lewandowski and center back Mats Hummels. They felt this would help them continue to win the Champions League. But since, they have not even made it back to the finals.

2014: Lost on aggregate 5-0 to Real Madrid in the semifinals.

2015: Lost on aggregate 5-3 to FC Barcelona in the semifinals.

2016: Lost on aggregate 2-2 (away goals) to Atletico Madrid in the semifinals.

2017: Lost on aggregate 6-3 (extra time) to Real Madrid in the quarterfinals

2018: Lost on aggregate 4-3 to Real Madrid in the semifinals

2019: Lost on aggregate 3-1 to Liverpool in the Round of 16

They were eliminated in the knockout round by a Spanish team five years in a row. They have been good, but not the top class of European football. 

Germany, even though they won the Confederations Cup in 2017, has not been the same force. They were eliminated by France in Euro 2016 and were shockingly bounced from the group stage in the 2018 World Cup, a group that included South Korea, Mexico, and Sweden.

German football has been summed up this way: great, to good, to disappointing. Bayern has gone from dominating to now firing their manager a day after losing 5-1 to a middle of the pack German team, Eintracht Frankfurt.

The two main culprits for this: the lack of youth and pace, and chemistry issues.

Germany was exceptionally complacent during the 2018 World Cup. They showed up to Russia with a lot of the same players that won the World Cup in 2014. When you win something as difficult as the World Cup, it is hard for players to build up the hunger to win it again. That is a major reason why the last team to repeat as World Cup champions were 1958, 1962 Brazil. They left younger and inexperienced players at home, like star Manchester City winger Leroy Sane, who would have given a lot of juice to a stagnant German attack. They played like a team going through the motions and with the mindset that they can win just because they are already champions, not to mention the attack had no pace to it whatsoever. This doesn’t work in the modern game as there is more emphasis on pace and quickness, and France ran it perfectly to win the World Cup.

As for Bayern Munich, they dominate the Bundesliga as they have won the last seven titles and usually win them by wide margins. In the Champions League, they have fallen short as they have not gotten the stops on defense they’ve needed and Lewandowski, while he has been a great goal scorer, has not delivered when it mattered most. They have German stars who have gotten older and players who they pick up elsewhere and try to fit them in their mix of stardom. The chemistry is never fully what it should be and chemistry matters. Last year, Tottenham made it to the Champions League final in part because they had the same team for two straight campaigns and their chemistry was great. Bayern has just thrown in players and they hope they work. If a team wants to do that, they need to have a reliable core. Barcelona has Messi, Suarez, Pique, Busquets. Liverpool has Salah, Mane, Henderson. Manchester City has Aguero, De Bruyne, Silva. These teams are successful as they can move around players, but they have a solid core that allows them to continue to succeed and have great chemistry. Bayern’s core consists mainly of aging German stars and Lewandowski and the players they add aren’t picking up the slack compared to the other elite clubs of Europe.

A team like FC Bayern Munich should never lose 5-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt, and a team like Germany should not lose 2-0 to South Korea. Germany needs to focus on investing in youth and pace as its tough and finesse style does not work anymore. And Bayern needs to focus on getting a younger core and developing their chemistry if they are going to climb to the top of the mountain again.