Germany must hope love isn’t blind as Joachim Löw shapes the national team for a more successful year
One image will not go away. Phillipp Lahm stands, bemused. On his face is etched the expression of a man who has tasted defeat to an inferior opponent too many times in recent weeks. The formidable eyebrows are furrowed as he berates his fellow defenders; anything to avoid the sight of his conqueror. Shirtless, biceps clenched, Mario Balotelli taunts all of Germany – the well muscled vanquisher of Teutonic dreams.
At the start of the year, the DFB’s publicity campaign billed 2012 as “die Zeit für Schwarz und Weiß” – the time for black and white. In June, though, the dream ended in the grey middle ground of a weak performance against a beatable Italian side. Joachim Löw faced the most challenging press inquisition of his six years in charge of the Nationalelf, and the golden generation was still to prove its sparkle in the form of cold, hard silverware.
Brazil looms on the horizon, with increasing pressure on Loew’s side to finally prove their worth. Failure is perhaps not the word for Germany’s showing in 2012, but the unprecedented draw at home to Sweden, along with the turgid friendly performance against the Netherlands, fittingly closed the door on a year which will ultimately go down in history as a disappointment for Germany.
Out of that disappointment, though, has risen a a new, more realistic determination. Löw, no longer the untouchable, impeccably dressed superhero in the eyes of his public, still commands the faith of his employers, who are now looking to extend his contract beyond the World Cup in Brazil. For his own part, he has learned from the mistakes of 2012, and begun to reshape his team further. Gone is the blind faith in Lukas Podolski, for example, replaced in the starting eleven by the far more graceful Marco Reus. The romanticism of “Jogis Jungs” (“Jogi’s Boys”) is giving way to the burning desire for a trophy.
Or, to put it better, the romanticism is being attached to a new set of players. It is not only Reus who has muscled his way into the team at the expense of a previously indispensable player. With Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber’s central defensive partnership put under severe scrutiny during the Euros, there is now much greater hope for the likes of U-21 player Jan Kirchoff, who signed for FC Bayern last week. Dortmund’s Marcel Schmelzer, moreover, has a valid claim to replace the volatile Jerome Boateng at right back, while Löw’s already plentiful talent pool in midfield has now expanded further, with Lewis Holtby and Roman Neustädter making their first team debuts in the autumn. Even Mesut Özil is not safe, given the explosion of creativity that has been Reus’ partnership with Mario Götze for Dortmund this year.
For Löw and his side, 2013 will be a year for reform. The trials exposed various psychological shortcomings which must be sorted, but Löw’s talents as a coach, and the quality and breadth of the resources available to him are still in no doubt. There is cause for optimism – it just cannot be as blind as it was this time last year.
Tagged in: football, germany
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