The German Invasion Is NighPosted: May 3, 2012
Before World Cup 2010, the Germans had captain Michael Ballack ruled out of the tournament due to an injury sustained in the FA Cup Final, adding insult to the further injury of first choice stopper Rene Adler. This led to many, myself included, to review the remaining squad and come to the conclusion that they were nowhere near ready. The likes of Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller and Sami Khedira boasted fewer than ten caps each, and yet looked as though they would have significant roles to play in the team. This did not fill many with confidence in Joachim Löw’s project.
How wrong we were. They made the semi finals, pounding England and Argentina en route and were highly unlucky not to beat Spain in their semi-final. They went on to claim the title of third place with a 3-2 win over Uruguay and despite crashing out in such an agonising fashion, so close to recreating the final of 1974’s tournament, it was plain for all to see that the primarily youthful Germany side had the potential to rule world football in the not too distant future, even with the strength of Spain taken into account.
After their failures at World Cup 1998, Euro 2000 and their consequent 5-1 drubbing at England’s hand in 2001, the German federation decided that all its clubs must invest heavily in their youth academies (listen up, English FA), in order to create a strong new generation of players. Back then, Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil would have been 12 and 13 years old, and 10 years on, they have grown into two of the most talented young players in Europe.
Özil and Müller are not the only two products of the shift in focus. All of Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, Benedickt Höwedes, Andre Schürrle, Toni Kroos, Mario Götze, Marco Reus, Kevin Grosskreutz and Lars and Sven Bender are south of 23 years of age and have the talent to be fixtures in the team. Meanwhile, experience is not lacking in the squad, as Per Mertesacker, Phillip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez have all won more than 50 caps (though without Gomez, the minimum number of caps among that list is 75).
There is fantastic depth in the Germany squad and they play a wonderful brand of football under Joachim Löw. They are far more fun to watch than the current world champions Spain and are very adaptable: they are capable of playing an oppressive, possession-based game (though not on the same level as Spain), they can be direct and they can play a defensive, more counter-attacking style. A platitude often rolled out is that the mark of a good team is when they have a defensive mode and an attacking one, yet look phased in neither. This is very much true of Germany and under the masterful tactical hand of Löw and with their exceptional talent pool, there is very little that can stop them.
They are not, however, the only ones with a generation of special players in the ranks: Spain’s strength in depth is a marvel to behold, while the Netherlands boast enviable riches right through their side. Do Germany really have their measure? In their friendly with the Oranje back in November 2011, Germany gave all their counterparts a reason to fear them (as if the World Cup was not enough!), ploughing through the Dutch team, scoring three goals of wonderful precision in a 3-0 victory. Even with the fact that the Netherlands were missing arguably the world’s best centre forward Robin van Persie and it was a friendly, Germany strangled their counterparts, making 2010’s finalists look rather humble indeed.
Then there are the World and European champions (but possibly not for long), Spain. When playing them, the struggle is not to let their constant possession suffocate the team. It can be argued that Germany did just this in the semi final and only lost out due to a rare Carles Puyol goal from a corner. Player-for-player, they are roughly equal with Spain, possibly a little inferior, but they have the ability to play extremely convincingly against their ‘Tiki-Taka’ style – possibly the only international side with the ability to do so.
If the angel of bad luck passes over the German team, there is very little that can stop them. England can learn a lot from the German model: they have not got all these talented young players by chance, they have been well-trained from a very young age and ten years down the line, the benefits are being reaped. With a squad so young, it is not ridiculous to suggest that they could dominate international football for the next decade. Euro 2012 will come as a massive test, but I expect them to crush all in their path on the way to another international trophy.