Saturday, June 28, 2008

Germany's lion sniffs Vienna victory

Euro 2008.
All eyes seem to be on Spain for tomorrow's Euro 2008 final.

Neutral fans are mostly dreaming of a beautiful team who play the Beautiful Game slaying a 44-year old jinx in a red and yellow climax. But if big-match history counts for anything, the winners' enclosure will be black and white instead.

Joachim Löw has touched upon the German secret of success in the run-up to the Euro 2008 final, but the reason for them reaching 13 finals still remains somewhat elusive.

“We believe we can win such games - we have a winner's mentality,” he explained. "We know we can do it and our morale is high, that's what matters."

Like all successful teams, the Germans do not seem mired in complex Howard Wilkinson-style tactics talks, or go to bed reading Don Revie-style dossiers.

“As for the gameplan, we'll just go back to basics," Löw added.

"You have to move and pass the ball around. I don't think it would make much sense for us to sit down and analyse the semi-final; it is of no use now. Any coach's task before the final is to re-energise his players and motivate them. We won't train very hard between now and the final, recuperation is the key."

The latter sentiment sounds a bit like Brian Clough’s insistence on rest for his players when playing in Europe, part of a philosophy which bagged two European Cups for a provincial team like Nottingham Forest. Whatever the reason, the continued success of Germany always bears repeating. 13 finals must mean they have got the basics right, and success breeds a confidence dyed in the lederhosen.

With the groundwork of a winning formula established, their natural Teutonic practicality and level-headedness ensures the Germans do not get carried away with their astonishing record.
“They do arrogance, but not complacency,” opined the BBC’s Alan Hansen, although their calm first half against Turkey risked letting the game run away from them.

Löw is still approaching only his second year in the big job, but despite a record, insists the much-cited German footballing values are exaggerated.

“We must not go back to those days of overreliance on our traditional values,” said Löw. “Players from San Marino can run around and fight, too.” Arsene Wenger cites their mental strength as the reason for their permanent class: "Germany are one of the few countries I know of who can have a go at each other in the newspapers one day and then go into the match united and mentally strong," said the Arsenal coach.

A look back over the years shows that rather than always being the best every tournament, Germany tend to begin among the top five teams in the hunt, yet often end up in the final.
In the World Cups of 1982, 1986 and 2002 no one rated them favourites at the start, but each time they made it to the final game, while the common consensus was that an ordinary Deutscher Fussball Bund eleven won Euro ’96.

In Belgium at Euro ’72, Sweden at Euro ’92 and at Italia ’90, the Germans were the bookies’ favourites at the start and duly reached the finals, but they have reached so many finals when apparently not being one of the top teams, that there must be a secret formula at work.

They have been the team to beat as long as I have been alive, their only lean period spanning their elimination by Croatia in the quarter-final of the 1998 World Cup until their third place finish at the 2006 edition.

Taking up the baton, the current coach of the Mannschaft, who landed in the job with a international reputation of just having been Jürgen Klinsmann’s bench buddy at the 2006 World Cup, has certainly now made a name for himself.

Löw, whose name means lion in his native language, has guided his team to the final of his first tournament, cut a dash in his tight-fighting touchline apparel, and put smiles on the faces of watching millions by sneaking a cheeky fag in the stands after being sent off against Austria.

Löw’s much-travelled playing career as an attacking midfielder was followed by solid if usually unspectacular spells in charge of six different teams, including Fenerbahçe in Turkey and Stuttgart, whom he guided to the 1998 Cup Winners Cup final, won by Chelsea.

Löw’s career was hauled up from the shallows when Klinsmann made him his surprise choice as national team assistant in 2004, having earned his coaching badges alongside him a few years before.

Assistant manager has never been the most glamorous of football jobs. Seconds-in-command often seem lacking in charisma compared to the ‘special ones’ in the hot seat, and for good reason. Coaches are personalities beyond mere instructors. Their egos need space, but also thrive on having a tempering, disciplining safety-valve to their genius sat beside them to rely on.
A meeting of two powerful egos rarely lasts for long, and too often the assistant fails to replace them adequately after they leave. Think Roy Evans at Liverpool or Steve McClaren at England.
Appointing the assistant is often seen as a risk by big clubs or countries, which is why Chelsea’s No.2 Steve Clarke was never in the running to succeed Jose Mourinho. They are considered personal assistants rather than deputies, it often seems.

Löw is no Mourinho. He makes friends rather than enemies and appears to have no desire to forge a personality cult. Already in Euro 2008, he has changed tactics on the insistence of senior players but has maintained their respect as the results have followed, an echo of Bobby Robson in Italia ’90.

Michael Ballack, Germany’s talisman, was instrumental in urging him to switch from 442 to 451 against Portugal, which finished 3-2.

"Of course,” confirmed Löw . “I would not be a good coach if I didn't listen to them. But my players listen to me too. One cannot pass from one system to another by just doing it. It has to be an agreement, a discussion, even if it is me who takes the final decision."

Win or lose in the final, Löw is now making a name for himself out of Klinsmann’s shadow, should lead Germany into the World Cup of 2010 and at only 48 years old, can be expected to coach big club sides in the future.

A victory in Vienna on Sunday will complete a remarkable coaching debut for the man from the Black Forest. The Austrian capital will be familiar turf for ‘Yogi’, as Löw is nicknamed, where he coached Austria Vienna for a season in 2002.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

2 comments:

Monica 08 said...

Interesting post! Who do you think will win the euro 2008 final? I think it will be Germany 2-3 Spain.

Sean O'Conor said...

Much as I would love Spain to win it, my head says Germany's mental strength will give them the edge. Portugal were the closest thing to Spain in the tournament, and their beautiful game was not enough in the end. For Spain, a final is 'terra incognita', but for Germany a second home. That's my hunch.