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Germany are in a bit of a pickle at the moment. Not only did the former world champions get knocked out of this year’s World Cup in the group stages, but the fall-out from the competition has completely engulfed any hopes of a swift and efficient response.
Mesut Özil’s retirement after claiming he was racially mistreated threw the German FA into an almighty crisis, with the mishandled response to the player’s claims still dominating opinion columns and news bulletins to this day. This week Toni Kroos, one of the national team’s most senior players, suggested that Leroy Sané has to “be told what to do” if he is going to become a world-class player. And on top of it all is the fact that Joachim Löw has managed to keep a hold of his job as German national team manager.
Indeed, it will be Löw that carries the brunt of this new burden as Germany hopes to somehow move on from a disastrous summer. Results alone seem to be the only remedy in a world dominated by clumsy press releases and bizarre interviews. Yet the long-time Die Mannschaft manager hasn’t exactly suggested he’s prepared to wipe the slate clean and let the past die with that poor result against South Korea.
Rather than make fundamental changes to the squad that struggled to beat Sweden and lost outright to Mexico as well as the aforementioned Asian side, Löw opted for evolution rather than revolution by simply dropping Sami Khedira and Marvin Plattenhardt, as well as the recently retired Özil, to bring in three young players.
There’s no doubt that each of these young additions represent the new face of Germany’s national team and will most likely go on to be huge players. Central midfielder Kai Havertz is an outstanding talent who has been playing for Bayer Leverkusen’s first team since the age of 17; Paris Saint-Germain’s young defender Thilo Kehrer is expected to reach new heights with the French champions since moving to the club after a break-out campaign with Schake last season; and there’s little left to be said about the limitless potential of Manchester City’s Sané.
Yet, despite the obvious talent each of these players possesses, all three of them don’t exactly suggest Löw is ready to rebuild a squad that showed fundamental flaws in Russia just a few months ago.
In defence, Low could now turn to Niklas Sule and Antonio Rüdiger as the bedrock of a new generation of defenders, yet the manager is unlikely to stray too far from the Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels partnership that looked so slow and porous in Russia.
Necessity may force Löw’s hand in midfield, where Kroos and İlkay Gündoğan are the last remnants of the previous generation, yet it’s unlikely that either will step aside for the emerging talents of Leon Goretzka, Julian Draxler or indeed the aforementioned Leverkusen wonderkid Havertz.
Up front, Löw has a number of outstanding young candidates to lead Germany’s line. Yet after the failed experiment of slotting Timo Werner in to Miroslav Klose’s former position, it’s unlikely that Julian Brandt or Sané will be awarded the same time and patience Marco Reus and Thomas Müller continued to get from Löw, despite their inconsistent form and injury record for the national team.
Indeed, where Löw’s conservatism was once a welcomed trait in simply and carefully guiding a golden generation to the World Cup, it now seems obtuse and is beginning to form a barrier to the next group of German players ready to take on the world.
Considering Germany’s standing in FIFA’s coefficient table and their clear advantage over most European nations, Löw could quite easily fumble around with his squad and still qualify for Euro 2020 without too much strain or effort. Yet that won’t be enough to save him from his critics.
Very few nations can demand a team ready and prepared to challenge for European Championships or World Cups every two or four years, but Germany can. And if Löw is determined to continue with incremental changes rather than fundamental shifts in personnel then it may not be too long before he finds himself at the centre of the German FA’s next publicity crisis.