Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Team Comes of Age (possibly)

Given the travails of the English national team over the last forty six years compared with the success of our German cousins it's worth recapping on how the Germans set about regaining their place at football's top table after a disastrous European Championships 2000. Germany set about rebuilding the national team by changing the way football was played in the country and by putting more resources into bringing better quality young players to the fore.

Germany were knocked out of the 1998 World Cup Quarter Finals by Croatia, a defeat that led to the famous quote from Lothar Matthaus that if it wasn't for the Germans then Croatia wouldn't have existed in the first place. That defeat led to the resignation of Berti Vogts, his replacement was supposed to be Paul Breitner but the German football federation (DFB) changed their mind the day after his appointment was announced and chose the ageing semi-retired Erich Ribbeck to take Vogts place instead. Two years later in Belgium and Holland an ageing German team finished bottom of their group, famously losing to England and more embarassingly Portugal's reserve team and Ribbeck was sacked.

Back in Germany the 2000-1 season would begin with a group of players, including Phillip Lahm, Bastien Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez, Stefan Kiesling and Lukas Podolski making their way through the youth teams at Bayern Munich, SSV Ulm, Nuremburg and FC Koln respectively.

The DFB had decided that Christoph Daum would be the man to replace Ribbeck but they had to wait until his club commitments had ended, whilst they were waiting they appointed Rudi Voller, he of the spit covered perm, as an interim manager. Unfortunately Daum failed a drugs test where he was tested positive for cocaine and Voller led the team to the 2002 World Cup Final where they lost to fat Ronnie's two goals in Yokohama. The average age of the German side was 28 and would have been 27 had Micheal Ballack not been suspended, his place taken by the 32 year old Marco Bode.

All this was a false dawn however as the 2004 European Championships in Portugal saw Germany once again fail to win a match, Voller resigned and was replaced by Jurgen Klinsmann who would be manager when Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup and reached the semi-final losing to Italy.  Klinsmann was replaced by his assistant Joachim "Jogi" Löw, known in our house as Yogi Love. The average age of the German team that played Italy was 27, partly due to Jens Lehmann being 36, but it included five players aged 25 or under (Schweinsteiger, Lahm, Mertesacker, Podolski and Metzelder), four of whom are current squad members in Poland and Ukraine.

The plan undertaken after the 2000 European Championships was starting to bear fruit and Germany won the 2008 Under-19's title beating Italy 3-1 in the Czech Republic, the opening goal coming from Lars Bender - an 89th minute substitute in last nights win over Holland. It was their first tournament win at this level.

On 29 June 2009 in Malmo, Sweden, the German Under 21's beat England Under 21's in the 2009 UEFA European Under 21 Final by 4-0. In the German side that night were Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Mats Hummels - all current members of the side that beat Holland 2-1 last night. Among the substitutes was Marko Marin who has just joined Chelsea for £7 million. Of the England side that played that night only James Milner and Theo Walcott have been involved with England's first team since, Joe Hart was suspended after being booked for trying to 'get inside the head' of an opponent during the semi-final shoot out.  It was Germany's first win in a major Under 21 tournament.

The progress made by Germany after the 2002 World Cup Final has been gradual rather than spectacular, they haven't won a major tournament but have had third places in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and Runners-Up to Spain in the 2008 European Championships. Unlike Spain where the golden generation emerged from a period of evolution the German change has been the result of a revolution. The current German squad is their youngest since 1934. With the exception of Miroslav Klose and reserve keeper Tim Wiese all the players are under 30, the youth of 2006 has matured and blended with the successful Under 21's from 2009 to create a side that looks like getting better and better, not just for this competition but for the World Cup in two years time.

The advert below, for Commerzbank, was rotation during my recent stay in Germany. It features the German squad and ends with a line that shows the Germans can laugh at themselves. If your German isn't up to it, Löw says to the guy holding the door open, "Schiker pulli," meaning "Chic Sweater."


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