10 Things You Need to Know About Joachim Low's Germany
Germany have evolved again and again since Joachim Low took the helm at Die Mannschaft in 2006. And the national team will likely evolve further under his tenure in the coming years as his contract runs through Euro 2016.
The trainer has led generally young German teams to third place at the 2010 World Cup, the final of Euro 2008 and the Euro 2012 semifinals but is yet to cross the final hurdle and win silverware. He'll look to change that this summer as his injury-hit national team prepares for next month's World Cup in Brazil.
Low is not the average national-team coach, he is a very philosophical man with deeply set ideologies. And he manages Germany in a unique way that can make some of his decisions rather difficult for many to understand.
As Low prepares his squad for a fourth tournament under his charge, B/R has compiled a list of the 10 things viewers should know about Low and his Germany team. Click "Begin Slideshow" to start the countdown.
Germany Have Been More Consistent Under Low Than Any Other Coach
Although Low's reputation has taken a beating in the last two years, the trainer's record tells a different tale. Only Helmut Schon and Sepp Herberger have won more games as Bundestrainer than Low, who (per the official German FA (DFB) website) has won 70 games during his tenure.
Low's record of 70 wins in 103 fixtures makes him the trainer with the highest winning percentage in DFB history, at 67.96 percent. Although Low still has plenty to prove (his failure to win a major international trophy remains an omnipresent talking point for his naysayers) Germany are not in a crisis and have not for many years.
Fans May Not Be Happy, but Low Has the DFB's Full Support—And for Good Reason
Despite all the relative success he's brought to his Germany team, Low has been criticized for not being able to cross the finish line and win titles as of yet. The 2006 side that finished third at the World Cup was a pleasant surprise. And in his first tournament as head coach, finishing second at Euro 2008 was a great result.
Even a third near-miss, a third-placed finish at the 2010 World Cup, was considered a success for an inexperienced and injury-hit squad. But despite there also being many players off form and recovering from injuries, losing to Italy in the Euro 2012 semifinal seemed to be a turning point in public opinion. The press has been more critical of Low's experimentation in friendlies, with a 3-1 loss to Argentina, a 4-3 loss to the USA a 3-3 draw with Paraguay drawing particularly harsh scrutiny.
But regardless of media and public perception, Low is highly rated by the German association. It is for this reason that he was offered a contract extension last October. He put pen to paper on the new contract, which will see him coach Germany through Euro 2016, giving him a decade at the helm.
Form Is Temporary, Class Is Permanent—According to Low
Low has always managed his Germany team as though it were his own club. And that means that regardless of how individuals among his squad were playing at club level at any point, he has always kept faith in his trusted players.
Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski are prime examples of Low's loyalty to his favorites. The former scored five goals at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. It therefore was a no-brainer for Low to keep him in the squad even after he fell out of favor at Bayern Munich.
Similarly, Podolski—who was named the Best Young Player at the 2006 World Cup—remained a starter for Germany and continued to deliver the goods even when his move from Koln to Bayern resulted in him becoming a benchwarmer.
Low's faith in his trusted players has often served him well, but sometimes it has extended too far. He was perhaps too confident in Podolski's ability when Marco Reus may have been a better option at Euro 2012.
System Matters to Low and Germany
While some national-team coaches are quite flexible according to the talent pool available at any given time, Low is more the type to rely on a system he prefers. For a player who is not compatible with his tactical philosophy, this may mean exclusion from Low's team regardless of form and performance at club level.
Take, for instance, Stefan Kiessling. The Leverkusen forward is a classic No. 9, a goal-poacher who offers little on the ball and in the build-up but is a reliable finisher. Low has declined to call up Kiessling again and again, preferring instead a more mobile and well-rounded type of forward.
Miroslav Klose is perfect for Low. The veteran's interplay with the attacking midfielders and his ability to draw defenders out of position and (directly or indirectly) create opportunities for his teammates results in a more diversified and unpredictable attack that can get goals from any of four positions.
As Klose has approached the end of his career, Low has faced the issue of replacing him. Rather than opting for a classic poacher in the Kiessling mold, he's more often preferred a smaller, more technical and more agile type like Mario Gotze or even Mesut Ozil.
Low Aims to Make the Ordinary Aspects of Football Extrardinary
In press conferences and interviews, Low often speaks of how modern football is played faster and with less space for attacking teams than ever before. Accordingly, he believes that the most important factors for success in the modern game are technical abilities in tight spaces when in possession and tactical nous off the ball.
In 2011, Low gave a talk at the Freiburg academy that at the time was rather overlooked but captured the essence of his football philosophy.
"The space on the pitch has become smaller, the time to act scarce. Individual skill is therefore the most important factor in training, more important than the system," he said (per Goal.com).
"We need to make the simple into the very special: the passing game, the timing, the pressing and trapping, the game without the ball, how we deal with one-on-one situations, how we quickly find solutions in small spaces."
Players like Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan are favorites of Low's for their ability to play "street football." They are masters of timing; they see openings and know what they can exploit and when they need to find another option. They have sublime control of the ball and know how to shield it, evade defenders or win fouls when pressed by one or more opponents.
Thomas Muller is also among Low's favorites but not for his technique. The 24-year-old, a self-proclaimed "raumdeuter (best translated as "space interpreter"), is one of the most intelligent players in the game today. He makes just the right runs off the ball to put himself in scoring positions and to create opportunities for his teammates.
The qualities of Germany's players may not always dazzle the critics and lead them to consider many of Low's individuals as players of world-class talent, but the trainer understands that there is more to football than the glaringly obvious, and he is able to use the less glamorous parts of the game to his advantage.
Low Values the Future More Than the Present
One area where Low has drawn criticism is his reluctance to consider temporary, stopgap measures. He has his favorites, and for a player to be looked upon favorably, he almost invariably must be in the early stages of his career.
Only on very rare occasion has Low introduced a player in the latter half of his 20s or beyond to his squad for the first time. One recent example is Roman Weidenfeller, who at 33 became the oldest player in Mannschaft history to make his debut, earning his first cap last November in a friendly with England.
Weidenfeller had won two Bundesliga titles as well as the DFB-Pokal and reached the Champions League final with Dortmund before Low finally considered him. The much younger Ron-Robert Zieler and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, meanwhile, debuted without having had any Champions League experience and only fell behind the BVB man after several woeful outings.
Low in many instances has good reason not to call up players based on form alone. It's often the case that a player may, after years of mediocrity, hit a rich vein of form for a few months or even a year and have his quality peter out. In such instances, introducing a temporary stopgap may only disrupt the team. But on occasion (like in Weidenfeller's case), a player may truly emerge as a reliable, classy star later in his career.
It's a difficult balance, but Low tends to prefer being patient with younger players he feels have the potential to be stars of the national team in the long term.
According to Low, Every Footballer Should Be Able to Play the Football
It may sound obvious at face value, but Joachim Low is an ardent believer in the notion that every footballer he uses should be able to play football. Some trainers don't mind if their goalkeeper, center-backs, or even center forwards have underwhelming control and passing ability.
A goalkeeper's primary duty is to defend his net, a center-back's responsibility is to make sure a goalkeeper has as little to do as possible and a center forward's purpose is to put the ball over the goal line by any means necessary. But in Low's mind, these players ought to not only fulfill the aforementioned tasks but be able to play the ball as well.
It is for this reason that even in times when Germany have had few options at center-back, Robert Huth was never really an option. It is for this reason that Low benched Mario Gomez after the striker scored a tournament-leading three goals during the Euro 2012 group stage.
Low is different from Pep Guardiola in that he believes in the integrity of each position. His center-backs don't stand on the midfield line, and he rejects the "false nine" label. In fact, when asked about his decision to use Mario Gotze as a "false" striker in a 2013 press conference, Low asserted that he had no intention to abolish the use of strikers in his Germany team, as reported on the official Bundesliga website.
Contrarily, Low explained: "In modern international football, teams have become more organized and more solid defensively. The spaces on the pitch are smaller and you have less time on the ball. For that reason, you will always need a striker who can run between the lines, stretch defenses and shoot well. It just so happens that we have players like Mario Götze or Mesut Ozil who are capable of doing the job."
Low Is One of the Pioneers of Gegenpressing
The tactic of "gegenpressing" is most commonly associated with Jurgen Klopp, but the Dortmund coach's philosophy is not entirely unique. Variants of the playing style are commonly employed across the Bundesliga, with Christian Streich, Thomas Tuchel and Lucien Favre among its apostles.
Every coach has his own, specific tactical methods, but the fundamentals of gegenpressing—demanding that attacking players fight to win back the ball, emphasizing quick transitions into attack and forcing the game to be played in tight spaces—are tactics that have been instilled in young German footballers for many years during periodic training camps for youth national teams.
The DFB overall is responsible for molding Germany's youth to be complete footballers, regardless of position, but Low certainly plays a role in synthesizing their abilities in a cohesive system. He's tweaked his tactics over the years, but he has consistently called upon his team to aim to win the ball back as quickly as possible and push immediately into attack. Low's method is to aggressively contain opponents and strike like lightning going forward.
Low Grooms His Future Superstars Before They Reach World-Class Level
Before Euro 2012, Low took the opportunity to name Julian Draxler and Marc-Andre ter Stegen to his 27-man provisional squad. Neither had any prior international experience at senior level. Some, like Patrick Helmes, Stefan Kiessling, Marko Marin, Simon Rolfes and Dennis Aogo missed out on Low's preliminary squad despite at the time having more to offer than the talented but very young and raw Draxler and Ter Stegen.
The purpose of Low bringing in youngsters who had little to no chance of making the final tournament squad was, ostensibly, to integrate them into the national team. Both at the time had over a decade of prime footballing years left and were acknowledged to have the class to be big players for Germany.
Players like Kiessling and Rolfes, for example, were aging and not going to get much better. They would likely have missed out on the final cut, so Low didn't bother bringing them to his preliminary camp only to inevitably cut them and perhaps never bring them to a tournament.
Ahead of the 2014 World Cup, Low took a similar measure in calling up a squad to face Poland in a friendly that included many who would not even be a part of his provisional World Cup squad. The likes of Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka were among eight debutantes in Germany's first XI, and 12 Germans earned their respective first caps before the final whistle was blown.
The 2014 World Cup will come too soon for the vast majority of those who played against Poland, but their experience training and playing under Low will be invaluable in the coming years. When the time comes that they are ready to play a bigger role with the national team, they will be ready.
Germany Won't Peak Until Schweinsteiger and Podolski Are a Distant Memory
For Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Per Mertesacker and even Lukas Podolski, the 2014 World Cup is somewhat of an endgame. It will be the final World Cup during the prime years of each player and could indeed be the last of the career of any of the aforementioned.
However, even though these longstanding heroes of the national team are getting on in years, the German national team will remain a force to be reckoned with for years to come and in all likelihood will only get better in time.
Schweinsteiger peaked in 2010 and has dropped off in status since. Ilkay Gundogan, who achieved at age 22 more than Podolski had before 25, could soon replace him. Rising stars Emre Can, newly capped senior international Leon Goretzka, Levin Oztunali and Gedion Zelalem are all elite talents in the 1994-, 1995-, 1996- and 1997-born categories, respectively, and there undoubtedly will be more to follow.
Podolski may already be in the midst of being phased out, but Germany have at least half a dozen ready-made replacements on their way. These include Julian Draxler, Andre Schurrle and current starter Marco Reus. Beyond the more established players are 2011 under-17 European Championship best player and newly capped senior international Max Meyer, Julian Brandt and Timo Werner, just to name a few of the most elite talents.
Germany's current team consists primarily of players born between 1983 and 1990, a good spread of experience and youth. But now, among those born between 1990 and 1997, Die Mannschaft have well more than a full first XI of players who are already world-class or regarded among the best talents at their age level in all of world football.
Come 2016, 2018 and beyond, it's hard to see Germany moving anywhere but forward. And no matter how things go during the rest of Low's tenure, future coaches will have the current Bundestrainer to thank for laying the foundation for success.