Germany can sew a fourth star above the crest on their uniforms thanks to Sunday's 1-0 victory over Argentina in the World Cup final. The triumph of the Nationalmannschaft was one that was years in the making, beginning before Joachim Low's tenure as head coach but carrying throughout his eight-year stay at the helm.
Low was heavily criticized before and even during the tournament for making some controversial tactical and selectional decisions. Having come close but not quite winning several times during his tenure, the pressure on his shoulders was massive. And at long last, he delivered.
The German F.A. (DFB) has long put its support behind Low and last October the association and coach reached an agreement to extend Low's contract until after Euro 2016. But even at this point, his recent success prompts the question: Where does Low stand among the great German trainers?
It may seem preposterous to some that a coach so scrutinized until recently may be ranked among the all-time greats, but a qualitative and quantitative analysis can be made to put Low alongside the greatest German coaches of all-time.
By the numbers, Sepp Herberger coached Germany to more wins than any other Bundestrainer. But he also stood at the helm for nearly 30 years. Low (77 wins) currently ranks third behind Herberger (94) and Helmut Schon (87), who coached for 28 (a spell interrupted by the second World War) and 14 years, respectively. With as many as 16 competitive fixtures and an as-of-yet undetermined number of friendlies to be played before mid-2016, the current trainer could realistically surpass all predecessors before his current contract expires.
In terms of winning percentage, Low is superlative: Having won 68.75 percent of his games as Germany coach, Low is well ahead of Herberger (56.29) and Schon (62.59). The next closest are Jupp Derwall (65.67 percent) and Berti Vogts (64.71). For all the criticism Low has received for Germany's failure to win some relatively inconsequential friendlies (against Cameroon, Argentina, Italy, Paraguay and the United States, for example), his record actually isn't so bad after all.
Beyond the wins, Low is also the German coach with the best average goal difference per game. With his team having scored 280 goals and conceded 175 in 112 games, his Germany win the average game by 1.56 goals. Schon's Germany won by 1.33 goals, by comparison, and Herberger by 1.11.
Results without context are meaningless and it would be a disservice to Germany's greatest coaches to consider their achievements without also shedding light on the adversity they had to overcome and the advantages they had.
Like Low, Herberger was a rather philosophical coach. After World War II, he inherited a team with no identity that represented a nation in shambles. It took time (nine years after Adolf Hitler's death) to rebuild, but when the team was ready, Herberger led it to an improbable title. In 1954, West Germany won their first-ever title in their first tournament in 16 years. They beat the greatest Hungary side there ever was, one that contained two (Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis) of the best strikers ever to play the game.
West Germany were in an altogether different position when Schon took over. Franz Beckenbauer was just beginning to make strides as a professional footballer at the time, and he and Gerd Muller blossomed into world-class footballers during Schon's time. The Bundestrainer could take little credit for their development and emergence, as well as that of a simply sensational crop of German players that graced the pitch during his tenure.
Schon was very fortunate to take over as a golden generation that extended well beyond Beckenbauer and Muller began to bloom. But he but can for using his players to the best of their abilities. Like Low, it took Schon eight years to translate potential into trophies. But when he did, the legendary trainer created the most formidable German side ever created.
World Cup 1930
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|Jurgen Klinsmann||2004||2006||34||20||8||6||81||43||58.82||World Cup 2006||3rd|
World Cup 2010
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|Stats courtesy of the DFB website|
Low has also had plenty of adversity to overcome, with injuries often decimating his options prior to major international tournaments. The 2010 and 2014 World Cups are prime examples. In addition to over half of his best XI being either ruled out of the tournament or unfit at its start, Low had to coach his team through the harshest weather conditions (according to Bloomberg) and his men had to travel further than any other team in the tournament en route to the final. To boot, Low was under enormous pressure to finally deliver in spite of all of the aforementioned factors and the fact that no European team had ever won a World Cup in South America.
International coaches are ultimately judged by their ability to deliver in major tournaments and Low, until recently, had only a collection of near-misses. Sunday's World Cup triumph puts an altogether different gloss on his record. Not only has he won the World Cup, but he came close to international glory on three other occasions.
Germany have never exited a tournament early during Low's tenure. Herberger won the World Cup in 1954, but in as many attempts as Low, he only reached two semifinals. Schon is the only trainer who can compare to Low in terms of aggregate tournament results over an extended period of time. Germany's failure to qualify for Euro 1968 aside, in six tournaments in which his Nationalmannschaft competed, the Germans reached four finals. He won both the Euro and the World Cup with Germany and finished with a third-place medal in another World Cup.
Low has had only half the tournament opportunities Schon had in his 14-year tenure as Germany coach. He has some catching up to do, but could equal the legendary coach of the Beckenbauer and Muller era if he leads Germany to glory at Euro 2016. With the trainer having finally gotten his Nationalmannschaft over the finish line on Sunday, it would be foolhardy to bet against him. For now, though, Schon has a slight edge.
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