by guest writer Kyle Schattner
At this upcoming summer’s FIFA World Cup, it wouldn’t be wise to place any bets on who will end up triumphant.
The hosts Brazil are probably the bookies favourite; they are five-time winners and looked menacing in their Confederations Cup victory this past summer. Led by the tournament MvP Neymar, their ‘Joga Bonito’ was on full display throughout which was capped off with a 3-0 shellacking of Spain in the final. Rivals Argentina are also looking to go all the way with their star-studded offence that includes Lionel Messi.
In the previous six World Cups hosted in South America, a South American team has won it every time. With that being said, you’d be foolish to completely rule out the European heavyweights because of one statistic. Spain are two-time reigning European champions and the defending World champions, need I say more?
But there is still one other prime candidate who could end that statistic – Germany. Joachim Löw has got the Germans playing some excellent football and with the rise to prominence of the Bundesliga in the club scene at the moment, the stage could be set for their 24-year drought to finally end.
The last time Germany won the World Cup (1990) they were actually a completely different nation all together, West Germany. Germany was reunified as one shortly afterwards in October of the same year. The national team manager at the time, Franz Beckenbauer, declared that Germany would become unstoppable now having an even larger pool of footballers to choose from. Fast forward back to the present and we can all see that the prediction by ‘Der Kaiser’ was premature. Germany has been in 11 major tournaments (both World Cups and European Championships) since 1990 and only have one trophy to show for it, EURO ’96.
But decades later, could this foreseen golden generation of German football finally be on the horizon?
At present, Germany has become an assembly line for young talent that doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon. This boom in production isn’t just down to chance, what we are seeing are the fruits of a project that was started in 2000. Germany’s past failures sparked a revamp of the German footballing system, starting at the very bottom.
Clubs invested heavily into their academies by massively improving facilities (indoor and outdoor training pitches, weight rooms, physios, etc.) and coaching (it became more difficult to obtain coaching licenses, therefore creating more intelligent coaches.) But the financial implications of this made it seem to some that the Bundesliga had taken one step forward and two steps back; but this was only short-term.
It has taken ten years or so, but German football is benefiting extraordinarily from those changes.
Prior to their historical 2012-2013 treble season, Bayern Munich had not won the UEFA Champions League (CL) since 2001. Before Bayern’s 2010 CL Final appearance, no German club had reached a CL Final since Bayer Leverkusen’s 2002 loss to Real Madrid.
The 2013 CL Final at Wembley contested between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund was the first time ever that two German clubs reached the final. Between the two teams, eight players involved in the match (four from each) were youth products from their respective clubs. The game, an exciting 2-1 victory for Bayern, was a showcase for just how far the Bundesliga has come.
With the Bundesliga being more prevalent than perhaps ever and the wealth of talent at their disposal, the German national team has taken massive strides forward.
The current Germany bench boss, Joachim Löw, was promoted from assistant to manager after the 2006 World Cup where Germany finished 3rd. In his first major tournament totally in charge, Löw managed to guide Germany to the EURO ’08 final, losing 0-1 to Spain. But despite making the final, Germany were rather unconvincing. It would take another two years for Löw and Germany to announce themselves to the world.
At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Germany had arrived. Löw decided to take a very young squad with him to the tournament, with an average age of 25 years old (consider outliers such as 36 year old Hans-Jörg Butt and 32 year old Miroslav Klose.) With this brought skepticism from the footballing public, but to their surprise, Germany played some of the most mouth-watering football of anyone at the tournament.
Prior to hitting the roadblock that was Spain in the semi-finals, the Germans looked favourites to win it all. In total, they scored 16 goals, more than anyone else. Löw’s trust in youth was rewarded with a new found flair and exuberance never before seen by a German side. Over the course of that one month, Löw was able to shed the stereotypes of robotic, mind-numbing efficiency that Germany had been known for.
This new wave of German football also gained a face in South Africa, a face that at first glance you would be forgiven to question if he was actually German at all; enter Mesut Özil. At 21 years old, he was already the crown jewel in Löw’s team, the maestro to his orchestra. The world took notice as Özil captured the imaginations of footballing’s elite; prompting Real Madrid, arguably the biggest club in the world, to snap him up.
But as I said, the German-Turk Özil is only one of now many new and exciting German talents. The list is a long one, including Mario Götze, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller, and Marco Reus just to name a few that are now household names. With another semi-final appearance at the 2012 European Championship, it is no wonder why so many are scared of Germany; and so they should be.
These young players have been maturing and are about to enter the primes of their careers, if there is a time for them to win, it’s now. The DFB did their part all those years ago with the actions they took, now it’s time to see if their mad science experiment has worked. Have they created a monster? Or will this golden generation become another that fails to live up to the hype? Only time will tell.