Die Mannschaft rewrote the Fifa World Cup record books in Brazil this summer. They became the first European team to win the coveted trophy in South America. They became the first team in the 84-year history of the competition to score seven goals in a semi-final, powering past Brazil 7-1. It was also the host nation’s worst-ever defeat.
They became the most successful European team in World Cup history — claiming their fourth trophy. They reached the World Cup final for the eighth time — more than any other team in the competition’s history.
And veteran striker Miroslav Klose became the all-time leading goalscorer in World Cup Finals, taking his tally to 16.
Such an earth-shattering performance of ruthless footballing efficiency has never before been witnessed on the biggest international stage.
All of this leaves the world wondering where Joachim Loew’s men can possibly go from here. Many will say the only way is down. But the other way of looking at it is that the current crop of German footballers can become the Invincibles of this era.
With Euro 2016 on the horizon and the World Cup in Russia in 2018 — where Germany could become only the second European side to defend their world title since Italy achieved the feat in 1934 and 1938 — Die Adler could cement their position in footballing history as one of the all-time great teams.
Even Merkel knows
So infused is the German way of life with football that Chancellor Angela Merkel has been known to parlay with Vladimir Putin on the pitfalls of the archaic 4-4-2 formation. Merkel’s interest in the beautiful game is not a PR stunt. It’s symptomatic of a nationwide obsession. And it’s right that the Germans are now once again known for their superlative football as well as economic austerity and lederhosen. Indeed, the world’s richest clubs are now nudging their well-moneyed chairmen to “make us play like zee Germans” or when the transfer window opens “get some of zee Germans in our team”.
Tiki-taka no more
It’s not so long ago that the Spanish were higher on the clubs’ shopping lists. But with the Germans bringing down the axe on tiki-taka football, as evidenced by Bayern’s 7-0 aggregate win over Barcelona last year, the Bavarian way has replaced the Catelonian style. According to Dirk Dufner, Sporting Director at Bundesliga side Hannover 96, Germany’s superiority on the pitch comes from within. “We have an inner belief, not arrogance, that we are better than anyone else, but a belief that together we can be successful,” he told the UK’s Daily Mail after his nation’s drubbing of Brazil. “What we saw against Brazil makes it difficult not to believe that Germany can win the World Cup.”
Dufner was right. Germany saw off Argentina with a world-class strike from Bayern Munich’s Mario Goetze in extra time to lift the trophy. But it’s not just the German mentality that has seen their star rise once again. The German journey to the summit of world football is attributable to what Lazio’s Klose has described as a “super blend” of aesthetics and uber-efficiency.
And this blend isn’t just about feelings of superiority on the pitch — it’s the sweet fruit of a 14-year plan. A plan that perhaps the rest of the major footballing nations should take a leaf from and study long and hard.
Radical academy overhaul
After being unceremoniously booted out of Euro 2000 — without winning a game — Germany’s football directors went back to the drawing board. They stayed locked away until head coach at the time, Juergen Klinsmann, his assistant at the time, Loew, and the DFB came up with a long-term radical overhaul of the youth set-up plan. This would revolutionise football in Europe.
Speaking in 2010 after Germany reached the World Cup semi-finals in South Africa, Klinsmann said, “We held workshops with coaches and players, asking them to write down on flip charts three things: how they wanted to play, how they wanted to be seen to be playing by the rest of the world and how the German public wanted to see us playing.”
What Klinsmann and Loew set in motion was to end with all 36 Bundesliga clubs obligated to operate unique academies under DFB regulations — a centralised academy where the cream of the German crop would be sent to train together — as well as more coaches and other officials.
It’s an approach that allowed the Germans to tap the potential of the country, with the sole purpose of inculcating a winning mentality and a love for the game into children of all ages.
Lutz Pfannenstiel, Head of Scouting at Bundesliga side Hoffenheim, said it’s the most holistic approach to developing home-grown talent that’s ever come into effect. “I think there was not one important part of the system Juergen started — it was the whole thing,” he told the BBC. “If you lifted one part of the skeleton out, it wouldn’t work.”
Copy us at your peril
The best part about Germany’s rigorous academy set-up is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Countries trying to find their own path to success can attempt to copy the German system, but they do so at their peril.
“You cannot take it and use it in any country,” Pfannenstiel added. “For example, if you were to use this in Brazil now, with the size of the country, you would need 50 years longer maybe because of all the states and different leagues.”
Germany’s major football leagues have a combined revenue of €2.8 billion (Dh13.12 billion). By comparison, the English Premier League — often touted as the best domestic league in the world — posted record revenues of more than £3 billion (Dh17.78 billion), and at the other end of the spectrum, America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) franchises have a combined revenue of about $494 million (Dh1.8 billion).
While England’s national team try in vain to become more than a laughing stock — having failed to qualify from their group at the World Cup in Brazil — given the worldwide admiration of the country’s domestic league, its directors, coaches and official bodies are scratching their heads as to why rich academies and well-paid coaches produce such ineffective big stage displays.
The answer for English football could lie in the fact that its domestic game is dominated by foreign players. In the Manchester City versus Chelsea Premier League game played in September, there were five English players on the pitch, out of the 28 who played.
By comparison, 26 of the players named in the squads of last year’s first and second place Bundesliga teams —Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund — were eligible to play for Germany’s national side.
However, the lack of finance in the US, constantly praised for its on-going efforts to become a serious footballing (or soccer) nation, has long failed to attract the biggest names in football to the country when they’re in their prime. This situation highlights the need for more investment in the game at grassroots and academy levels in the States.
All of which shows that Germany has the balance spot-on. Money invested in the leagues. A thriving academy set-up. And home-grown talent dominating squad rosters.
All hail the new world leaders — Loew’s Invincibles.