Loew's young guns champing at the bit
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM has always had it that “you should never write off the Germans,” and yet those who have been brave enough to do it in advance of their last seven major championships have been left feeling pretty smug afterwards. With just two rounds left to go here, however, it looks a riskier business than ever.
The team has rarely been far off the pace set by the best of its rivals at any given time, to be fair, but what we have been seeing in South Africa and now here is the product of a 10-year plan aimed at producing young players equipped to live with their rivals as equals.
At the last two tournaments the Spanish have raised the bar, the result of their own long-term planning, but yesterday Joachim Loew insisted his current squad have nothing to fear from defending champions who made light work of his side two years ago in Durban.
“We wanted to show other nations that we were on the same level in the way that we play football and I think we have been successful in that,” he said.
“We don’t need to hide from anyone now,” he added without ever actually mentioning the world champions by name. “And we don’t have to react to the way other teams play anymore, we can play our own game.”
What might be considered “Germany’s game” however, has been dramatically reordered so as to maintain the nation’s place towards the very top of the international elite. As pace and technique have come to completely eclipse patience and strength as key assets at the highest level, so Loew has overseen the final stage of a transformation of a side that is now younger, faster and more offensive, or swiftly counter-attacking, than almost any of its rivals.
At the World Cup the average age of his squad was just 25 and many observers saw it as a spectacular new group that would mature together into a major new force. Here, it’s actually younger still at 24 (their youngest squad since 1934) and almost a third of the group from two years ago have been discarded; with not just the older players being shown the door.
The likes of Serdar Tasci, Dennis Aogo and Chelsea’s recent recruit Marko Marin are notionally still far short of their career peak but they, and others, have failed to maintain their earlier upward momentum and Loew has simply dipped into his apparently bottomless pool of talent to fish out exciting replacements of the quality of Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels, Andre Schurrle of Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marco Reus – all of whom are 23 or under.
That such an array of stunning young talent is apparently so readily available to the coach on tap is no accident. It is a decade now since the German federation, the DFB, embarked on its Elite Talent Promotion Programme.
The way in which youngsters are taught to play the game has been completely rethought and, under the supervision of its sports director, Matthias Sammer, the new system has backed by huge investment.
The DFB enjoys, of course, a pretty enviable starting point with some 6.7 million affiliated players but it has recruited more than 20,000 schoolteachers to help equip kids with the basics of the game. Around 1,200 highly qualified coaches take it from there, primarily, and almost 400 regional training centres where activities are overseen by 29 full-time coordinators. Technique is at the heart of everything, with strength and power only becoming a priority when the players hit 20 and professional first team football beckons.