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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 April 2019

Euro 2020 qualifiers: Germany take on Serbia as Joachim Low 3.0 begins new era amid controversy

Desperation or inspiration drive squad revamp ahead of Serbia friendly on Wednesday with manager ushering three greats into retirement

Germany's players take part a training session in Wolfsburg ahead of their friendly against Serbia on Thursday. Peter Steffen / AFP
Germany's players take part a training session in Wolfsburg ahead of their friendly against Serbia on Thursday. Peter Steffen / AFP

After the wretchedness, the revolution. After the ignominy, the glory? Germany must hope so.

If 2018 represented the worst year in their footballing history, 2019 brings a fresh start. A squad revamped by either desperation or inspiration face Serbia on Wednesday night.

It is notable as much for who is not in it as who is not. Three modern-day greats have been ushered into retirement. Instead, Germany have three uncapped players, four more with seven or fewer international appearances.

Niklas Sule feels the senior centre-back at 23. Only Manuel Neuer was born in the 1980s. Only four outfield players are over 25.

This Joachim Low 3.0, the third team of his 13-year reign. If the first was the group he inherited from Jurgen Klinsmann, the second took shape in the 2010 World Cup and won the 2014 tournament, it has been disbanded. The symbolic dismissal of the talismanic Thomas Muller and the central-defensive axis of Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels showed the ruthless side of a loyalist manager.

The bloodletting came as a shock.

“I was very surprised,” said Ilkay Gundogan, one to escape the cull. “I didn’t expect it. There weren’t any signs that would happen.”

Muller did not detect them. “The longer I think about it, the more I’m angry about the way this has happened,” he said last week. “It’s not a classy way.”

Low’s argument was: “Given last year’s results, changes are necessary.”

Germany beat their earliest exit from a World Cup since 1938 and compounded it with relegation from the Nations League. If there was a past preference for those decorated by success, now they may be tarnished by recent failures. “We thought about how the team should look in 2020,” the manager said.

Hence the youthful makeover.

Only Neuer, Toni Kroos and Matthias Ginter are World Cup winners; only Neuer and Kroos have 40 caps, whereas there were eight half-centurions in the party Low took to Russia. The dropped trio got 246 caps between them, all under Low. None is over 30.

“A centre-half at 30 is nothing,” said Jurgen Klopp, who managed Hummels at Borussia Dortmund. “Age cannot really be a reason.”

Like Muller, the Liverpool manager objected to the definitive nature of Low’s decision, the way he ruled out a recall.

“If you can tell a player, ‘you stay at home, I don’t invite you – I am not happy with your performances, whatever,’ that’s the 100 per cent right of the national team,” Klopp added. “But if it is ‘whatever you do, it won’t be enough to be in the national team again’, it’s not like it should sound.”

Gundogan was more diplomatic.

“The decision seems to be final,” the Manchester City midfielder said. “They are still fantastic footballers and Germany seems to take another route but that is what happens in football, decisions are made. Some benefit and some don’t benefit.”

Leroy Sane is back in the German national side after being omitted from the 2018 World Cup squad. Martin Rose / Getty Images
Leroy Sane is back in the German national side after being omitted from the 2018 World Cup squad. Martin Rose / Getty Images

If Boateng’s dismal World Cup, culminating in his dismissal against Sweden, furthered the theory he is in decline and Hummels’ lack of pace is an increasing factor, perhaps Muller represents the greatest curiosity.

Only seven players have scored more World Cup goals than the 'Raumdeuter', the specialist in finding space, but he failed to find the net in either the 2018 tournament or Euro 2016. This may prove his least prolific full season for Bayern Munich; his last three campaigns have yielded just 31 club goals, whereas 2015/16 alone produced 32.

He is just 29, but whereas Bayern objected to the treatment of three of their constants, their Uefa Champions League exit to Klopp’s more vibrant Liverpool suggested they, too, are in decline.

Meanwhile, Low has turned to Germany’s production line of talent.

The uncapped Niklas Stark and the rookies Serge Gnabry and Thilo Kehrer won the European Under 21 Championships in 2017. Sule, Gnabry, Julian Brandt and Lukas Klostermann won silver medals in the 2016 Olympics. The 19-year-old Kai Havertz is younger than all.

“A new chapter,” general manager Oliver Bierhoff said. A very different, one too.

Updated: March 20, 2019 08:19 AM

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