How Germany's Last Golden Generation Has Given Way to 'Talent Without End'

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How Germany's Last Golden Generation Has Given Way to 'Talent Without End'
Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

It's over. It's finally over. Germany's drought of 18 years without a major international trophy and 24 without a World Cup ended at long last on Sunday, as Joachim Low's Nationalmannschaft won a classic against Argentina in extra time.

It was the crowning achievement of what has often been described as a golden generation. But more precisely, it was the crowning achievement in the careers of a few individuals and the confirmation that Germany's goal of "talent without end" (as opposed to "golden generation") is upon us.

Low is a philosophical man, the type who in his spare time can often be found sipping a macchiato at a cafe in picturesque Freiburg. He understands the importance of ideas, not just results.

And it is perhaps for this reason that the German F.A. (DFB) kept their faith in him despite the Nationalmannschaft failing to win silverware in their first three major tournaments with him at the helm. He understood the DFB's long-term vision, which was a proactive approach to player development.

"We started this project 10 years ago and what has happened today is the result of many years' work, starting with Jurgen Klinsmann," Low said, per FIFA.com. "We've made constant progress, we believed in the project, we worked a lot and, if any group deserves it, it's this team."

Although it was much longer ago that Germany had won a major title, Sunday's result was only 14 years in the making.

It was at Euro 2000 that an aging, technically limited Germany team captained by a 39-year-old Lothar Matthaus lost all three of their group-stage matches, a harrowing time for a proud footballing nation. But Germany, traditionally stereotyped as a practical, industrious and level-headed nation, set out to make their failure a thing of the past.

Later that year, the German Football League (DFL) was established to, among other things, oversee licensure of teams in the German league system. The new body quickly created a list of requirements for all 1. and 2. Bundesliga clubs in order to be licensed to play.

The most significant provision mandated that every club maintain a youth academy with stringently monitored standards that were as specific as setting a lower limit on the number of floodlights around the training pitches.

For Philipp Lahm (31 in November), Bastian Schweinsteiger (30 in August), Per Mertesacker (30 in September) and Lukas Podolski (29), the post-2000 changes were of relatively little meaning. Those four may perhaps be the last German "golden generation" for a long time. And Sunday's match may well be the last World Cup in which any of them compete, at least as starters.

Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press
Schurrle and Gotze were the youngest players on the German team when they connected for the winner.

All four, as well as the now-36-year-old Miroslav Klose, were present before Low's first tournament with the DFB (as assistant coach to Jurgen Klinsmann), the 2006 World Cup. In that and the following (2010) World Cup, Germany finished third. At Euro 2008, they were runners-up. At Euro 2012, semifinalists. They finally crossed the finish line on Sunday. The manner in which they did so was striking.

Klose, who, given his age, did not play more than 69 minutes in any game in this World Cup prior, put in a yeoman's effort before his 87th-minute substitution. He truly gave all he had.

Schweinsteiger, as well, sacrificed his body again and again, but his best effort still wasn't enough. Lahm played cross after cross, none connecting to assist a winner. Mertesacker came on for four minutes in injury time, while Podolski was left on the bench for 120 minutes.

The match had an all-too-familiar script for many Bayern Munich fans, who had witnessed tragedy after tragedy prior to winning a treble in 2013.

Germany had an ostensibly better team than Argentina, much like Bayern did when they faced Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final. Six of Germany's starters on Sunday, inclusive of captain Lahm and vice-captain Schweinsteiger, also started against Chelsea two years ago. Despite their abundant superiority, they just couldn't get the job done on home soil at the Allianz Arena.

It was instead the two youngest German players on the pitch who connected for the winner, with Andre Schurrle (23) assisting Klose's substitute, Mario Goetze (22), in the 113th minute. Neither was alive for the 1990 World Cup; in fact, both were born after German reunification in October 1990.

The attacking pair were among the first to have spent the majority of their youth development in the revamped Bundesliga academies. The fact that they were the ones who gave Germany the final push—the little touch of class to will them across the finish line—speaks very well for the future of the Nationalmannschaft.

Looking forward, Podolski and Mertesacker now are fighting a steep uphill battle for playing time. And although starters now, Lahm and Schweinsteiger haven't many tournaments left.

However, academies from all over Germany continue to produce top talent. Among the most recent under-18 national team, three hailed from 2. Bundesliga side Karlsruhe. The team even had representatives from the top three nonprofessional leagues in tiers three through five.

There has been an explosion in recent years as more and more youngsters have proved themselves as worthy Bundesliga professionals. In 2013-14, the Bundesliga featured more 17-year-olds than ever before.

Considering the achievements of World Cup Golden Ball nominees Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos and Mats Hummels, as well as the heroes in Goetze and Schurrle who finally connected to win the World Cup for Germany, the rising generation has the pedigree of champions.

All aged 25 or under, the aforementioned will be around for years to come, with more and more young players finding their way into the team. The golden generation in Germany is fast becoming a thing of the past. We now can finally look forward to talent without end.

Follow Clark Whitney on Twitter

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