x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Euro 2012: Joachim Loew points Germany to a bright future

The coach has been the architect of the revitalisation of the only team to emerge from the group stage with a 100 per cent record. The team is younger and now playing with more flair, writes Richard Jolly .

German head coach Joachim Loew, right, has overseen his national side win the 'Group of Death'.
German head coach Joachim Loew, right, has overseen his national side win the 'Group of Death'.

The strength of Germany's team can be measured in several ways. There is their tournament pedigree: runners up in Euro 2008 and third in the 2010 World Cup. There is their recent record: 14 successive wins in competitive games and topping the "Group of Death "with Euro 2012's only 100 per cent record. And there is the phalanx of match-winners they boast.

Mario Gomez has 48 goals for club and country this season. Mesut Ozil is shaping up to be the best of the tournament's many playmakers. Bastian Schweinsteiger is arguably the finest all-round midfielder. Thomas Muller was the joint top scorer in the World Cup. Miroslav Klose ranks second only to Gerd Muller in Germany's all-time scoring charts. Lukas Podolski plays on the left wing but still has 44 international goals.

And then there is the off-field matchwinner, the architect of the revival in German football. Joachim Loew's eight years with Die Mannschaft have seen Germany rebranded, from old to young, from efficient to entertainers. Initially Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant, now manager himself, Loew has long impressed. Yet he has rarely displayed a surer touch.

Management is essentially about decision making. Loew's has been flawless. The initial decision to prefer Gomez to Klose was contentious and the coach had the veteran warming up against Portugal when the Bayern striker scored against Portugal. His place secured, Gomez duly repeated the feat against Holland. When there was pressure on him to drop Podolski, Loew kept faith with the winger, who opened the scoring against Denmark.

Loew has the world's best attacking full-back, Philipp Lahm, but chose to use the Bayern player, who normally operates on the right for his club, on the left for his country. It left Jerome Boateng, normally a central defender in the Bundesliga, to take on Cristiano Ronaldo in the opening game. It looked an unnecessary gamble, but the dogged Boateng stuck to his task.

Then, when he was suspended, midfielder Lars Bender was pressed into service at right-back against Denmark. He duly delivered the winner. This is a manager who can do little wrong.

While Loew is fortunate to have an emerging generation of rare talent, quixotic choices tend to be justified. Seven of his preferred starting 11 come from Bayern but three - Lahm, Boateng and Muller - play in a different position for country than club.

Indeed Muller is often on the Bayern bench and Toni Kroos in the side. It is the other way around for Germany. As the extraordinary international careers of Klose and Podolski show, Loew picks players who are not always in form - or even in the team - at club level.

Loyalty is a leitmotif yet Loew can be bold in prioritising the future. The former captain Michael Ballack discovered that after the World Cup. So, now, has Per Mertesacker, who has accumulated 81 caps and was expected to start this tournament. Instead, Dortmund's Mats Hummel has been preferred and has prospered.

Loew has empowered the younger generation and has reaped a reward. It has helped that these are players with precocious understanding. Consider the movement of Muller and Ozil, the sense of responsibility of Sami Khedira or the composure of Hummels. He has a side that can marry a business-like attitude to getting results with progressive passing methods

This is a side that has evolved while displaying an extraordinary consistency in competitive football. Their list of scalps in meaningful matches under Loew is formidable: the Czech Republic, Republic of Ireland, Portugal, Turkey, Russia, Australia, Ghana, England, Argentina, Uruguay, Holland and now Denmark. Among nations faced, there is only one major absentee from that list: Spain.

It is why, while Greece are their Mediterranean opponents today, the World and European champions loom large on the horizon. It is the potential final, Spain versus Germany, Vicente del Bosque against Loew. Should the latter's purple patch last another 10 days, managerial nous might just decide it.


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