The seeds of Germany's 2014 World Cup win were sown 14 years ago.
At the 2000 European Championship, the Germans flamed out in the group stage, taking one point from three matches and finishing last in Group A behind Portugal, Romania and England. It was at that moment that those in power at the German Football Association (DFB) were forced to come to terms with Die Nationalmannschaft's mortality.
Something needed to change in order for Germany to once again be a world superpower in football.
The Score's Richard Whittall succinctly explained what changed over the ensuing years:
Investment increased in academies each and every year, with an emphasis on improving coaching standards and focusing on developing fewer “bruisers” and more technically adept players. The result saw the emergence of a young generation of international German stars, players like Mario Goetze, Marco Reus, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, and Julian Draxler.
The Guardian's Stuart James also wrote about the process ahead of the 2013 Champions League final, which included two German clubs—Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund:
For Germany, post-Euro 2000 was about changing philosophies as well as employing more full-time coaches and upgrading facilities. The DFB wanted to move away from playing in straight lines and relying on "the German mentality" to win matches. Instead coaches focused on developing fluid formations that required the sort of nimble, dexterous players who would previously have been overlooked because of their lack of physical strength.
Jurgen Klinsmann is often viewed as the individual spark behind the German renaissance. He wasn't afraid to cast aside some of the older national team stars in favor of emerging stars like Philipp Lahm, Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Speaking to the Germany national team's official website (via Yahoo! Sports), Per Mertesacker, another of the younger players elevated under Klinsmann, praised his former coach ahead of Germany's World Cup match with the United States:
He was the first coach to place his trust in a very young generation, and in that respect he was a breath of fresh air for the DFB [Germany's football federation]. ...
We’re still continuing what Jurgen started, even now. Many of the same players from back then are still in the team, and Jogi Loew has developed over time, too. We’re definitely still influenced by that period.
As MLSSoccer.com's Charles Boehm pointed out, some are a bit too cavalier when crediting Klinsmann with Germany's success, but his impact on the team is impossible to ignore:
Lahm and Schweinsteiger have proven to be two of the most important players for the national team. Without their contributions, Germany wouldn't be world champions.
Klinsmann set the stage, then Joachim Low took Germany to the next level.
Looking at the result of one match is often a fool's errand in terms of making concrete conclusions. Some will likely argue that too much importance will be given to the 2014 World Cup final. After all, how would Die Mannschaft be viewed if Argentina won?
While that's a valid point, Sunday night wasn't some sort of aberration. Only Spain have been more consistent over the last decade or so at major international tournaments.
Here's a look at Germany's tournament results from the 2002 World Cup onward:
|Germany International Record|
|2002 World Cup||Runners-up|
|2004 European Championship||Group Stage|
|2006 World Cup||Third Place|
|2008 European Championship||Runners-up|
|2010 World Cup||Third Place|
|2012 European Championship||Semifinalists|
|2014 World Cup||Champions|
Five straight trips to the semifinals is nothing to scoff at. Even if Argentina won on Sunday night, the way in which the German national team has continued to be successful proves that the DFB's policies have paid off.
If you're looking for more evidence, there's also the growth of German domestic football, with Bayern Munich's Champions League runners-up finishes in 2010 and 2012 and their title in 2013.
Borussia Dortmund have also gone from near bankruptcy around 2003 to back-to-back Bundesliga championships in 2011 and 2012 and Champions League runners-up in 2013, largely by building through the youth system.
Germany's rise includes more than just the national team. German football journalist Uli Hesse wrote extensively in Issue 11 of The Blizzard about the revolution the country undertook from top to bottom in order to solve its endemic footballing issues.
Edwin Boekamp, Dortmund's youth coordinator, argued that German football would've eventually come to the realization that something needed to change after it continued falling down the European hierarchy.
But Hesse credits the DFB for stepping in and solving the problem before the country fell off the proverbial cliff:
And so it was left to the DFB to decide that something had to change. The first "Talent Promotion Programme" was based on the models of youth development that were up and running in France and Holland. The DFB hired 400 additional youth-football coaches, then it gave each of its 21 regional associations DM2m (about €1m) to improve scouting and schooling at Under-13 level. Finally, the DFB spent an additional DM3.2m on 120 youth-football bases across the country where boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 17, specifically those not already playing for a professional club, could work with qualified, salaried coaches. In other words, it was not so much an elite programme but aimed at the grassroots level. Egidius Braun, then the president of the DFB, said, "We want to make sure that talents don’t have to drive hundreds of miles to receive proper schooling but will be nurtured around the corner."
The way in which German football has risen runs in stark contrast to the fortunes of English football, which continues to founder at the international level despite the Premier League being one of the best in the world. The Football Association can institute as many quotas on foreign players as it wants, but that won't solve the systemic issues plaguing the national team.
In addition, the FA is far too scared to try and force the EPL clubs into any sort of investment in youth football that forces them to put aside individual interest for the greater good.
The DFB, on the other hand, wasn't afraid to be proactive and take steps that wouldn't pay off until years down the road. If the Bundesliga clubs were upset, then that was too bad.
Expecting every country to follow the same blueprint is impossible, nor is Germany's plan is a one-size-fits-all strategy. However, the basic tenets are goals that every football governing body should strive to achieve.
Germany's World Cup triumph was years in the making, and given the systems in place, it doesn't look like they'll be going anywhere anytime soon.
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