Germany: Once efficient, now unstoppable.
Germany's Confederations Cup win posing as a perfect dress-rehersal for next years World Cup.
The year in between international tournaments can be a little bit awkward for football fans. They might convince themselves that watching the Chinese Super league on television is good entertainment, or that rummaging through fans forums' to find out about their clubs new signing is time well-spent. It’s a desperate time to find their football fix. Fortunately, we were able to tune in to the Confederations cup this summer to fill this gap.
The tournament is often referred to as a dress-rehearsal for the World Cup, allowing FIFA to review the operational structure of the host nation, in this case being Russia. It also allows us to celebrate each continents champion, bringing together teams from every corner of the globe. However, despite the mixed variety of teams and their cultural styles, the tournament underlined the sheer strength of the current world champions, and that this may only be the beginning of their era of dominance.
Joachim Low travelled to Russia with a squad absent of his most experienced players, attracting criticism from many in the media claiming Germany were undervaluing the tournament. Yet, when Germany unsurprisingly claimed another piece of silverware on Sunday evening, it became obvious that Low was not diminishing the value of the trip to Russia but rather used it as an opportunity to show his confidence in Germany’s pool of young talent.
The German squad was notably missing mainstays such as Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller. The exclusion of the stars was first perceived as a glorified holiday for much of the World Cup winning squad, but Low emphasised throughout his time in the Baltic state that up and coming talent such as Leon Grotzeka, Timo Werner and Julian Brandt were more than capable to prove why they should return to Russia next summer. And they did.
Whilst the swift victory at the Confederations Cup underlines the unrivaled efficiency of the country's acclaimed academies, the U21’s being crowned European champions in Poland only days before extends the notion to highlight why this is only the start.
The DFB takes pride in nurturing players from an early age, with more pro-licensed coaches than anyone else in Europe, before blooding them in to the Bundesliga - a league synonymous with putting homegrown talent first. The U21 squad that defeated England on penalties, before dispatching of an impressive Spanish side in the final, had amassed almost 300 more domestic games than the English squad. It doesn’t take a genius to see where the differences are being made.
It remains bewildering that many can claim that the Premier League is without doubt the best league in the world, despite the faltering national team and its clubs consistent failure in Europe over the last five years. German fans enjoy controlling influences at their clubs, cheap ticket prices as well as strong domestic and national teams. An interesting piece of legislation means that television revenues are distributed evenly throughout the German leagues and allow clubs to distance themselves from wallet-happy foreign investors. This paves way for the top-class development of players across the country, placing it at a priority alongside academic education. This structure is now paying dividends and shows no signs of slowing down.
You can argue that Bayern Munich are blowing away any sort of competition in the Bundesliga, but their incredibly efficient operational structure has allowed them double the success of any of the top clubs in England, with half the budget. Admittedly, FCB do have the resource to smash transfer records and so on, but they don’t need to as they stereotypically stroll to success in efficient style. To put that it in to perspective, Bayern recently broke their transfer record on promising French midfielder Corentin Tollisso for £35m, a shrewd purchase to add to their astonishing midfield collection of Thiago, Vidal, Kimmich, Sanches etc. Yet we continue to see comparable fees thrown around the Premier Leagues by clubs such as West Ham, Crystal Palace and Leicester. Whilst intending no disrespect to these clubs, they are still light-years away from the five time European champions in Bavaria.
It is an exciting time for German football, a fourth world title in Brazil three years ago highlighted the start of something special, and whilst they were unlucky to slip up to France in the Euros semi-finals, it allowed them to assess their need for a goalscorer as clinical as the hosts’ Antoine Griezmann, who put them to the sword almost one year ago. Their time in Russia was a great chance to experiment the dilemma, and allowed RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner to show Joachim Low what he might have been missing in France last summer. Werner was the highest scoring German in the Bundesliga last year, as his newly promoted club marched to a 2nd place finish and a Champions League spot. Former head coach and German poster boy Jürgen Klinsmann says that Low has at least 50 top-class players to choose from ahead of next years’ World Cup campaign. Moreover, the strength of the current crop of players means that some of the untouchables from the squad in Brazil cannot be assured of a space on the plane to Russia next year as of yet.
Klinsmann is confident that no other country can match Germany’s potential at the minute, and that is largely down to Low’s faith in youth. “He experiments and allows them to make mistakes" said the former United States boss, and the experiments made great viewing for those around the world watching on TV. Low has used a 3-4-3 formation in recent months, following on from some of Europe’s top teams this season who have highlighted the solidity and pace the system can bring. This has allowed players such as Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich and Koln’s Jonas Hector to flourish in respective wing back positions, and has seen PSG’s Julian Draxler impress as he picked up the tournaments golden ball by captaining the new generation of German superstars. These players grabbed the opportunity with both hands in Russia, and looked like naturals in the winning environment. The desire to become champions is engrained in to the German psyche.
It is not the performance of Germany this summer which is has been the most impressive aspect, it is more to the fact at how much more dominant it could have been. Low’s Confederations Cup squad included seven players that were eligible to represent the U21s in Poland, emphasising the strength of the national side at all levels. Matthias Ginter, Sule, Kimmich, Goretzka, Can, Brandt and Werner could all have featured for the U21 side, yet stepped up impress their manager in a squad which he described as “not as experienced as other choices would have been.”
Many would have wondered three years ago whether it could get any better for Low, after his side embarrassed Brazil in a 7-1 win before defeating Messi’s Argentina in the World Cup final. However, the best is yet to come for Germany. They boast a conveyor belt of supreme talent that might just give their manager a headache in 10 months’ time, but the 57-year old is unlikely to fret as he approaches his sixth major tournament. "Whenever there's a tournament and you nominate a squad there's always a debate,” said Low after his side beat Chile on Sunday, “but I can fully live with these decisions. I feel vindicated and I believe we have really out-done expectations here.” The expectations for Low and his team are only likely to grow in size as we run down the clock to the world footballs biggest event in Russia next summer.