Unlike in 2014, there are no glorious reviews of Euro 2016 – just a sober postmortem and another sigh of “what could have been”. Germany showed that they were one of the better if not the best team at this tournament, and had the injuries and bad luck been staved off for one more match we could have been waxing lyrical about a fourth European crown.
Watching Portugal go on and take the trophy made it doubly painful. I had predicted early on after their 3-3 draw against Hungary that they would somehow creep through to the final, and creep though they did. I never expected them to win it; their dour defence – and a spectacular goal – was good enough to snatch the trophy like some B-movie villain.
Hat off to the Portuguese though: they stuck to their game plan, and did what Germany could not. When it mattered, they showed that they had a cutting edge. Match winner Éder may not score another goal like that in his professional career, but there was a delicious irony in seeing a lumbering, awkward number nine finish the tournament like that.
What next for the Mannschaft?
Despite another Euro semi-final heartbreak, it had been a successful tournament for Joachim Löw’s side. In a tournament that was driven by defensive tactics, the back line actually looked like German back lines of old. Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng can rightly claim to have filled the boots of the likes of Willi Schulz, Berti Vogts, Karlheinz Förster and Jürgen Kohler, and the performances of full-backs Jonas Hector and in particular young Joshua Kimmich were encouraging.
There are many gems in the German defensive midfield treasure chest, but absences and injuries really had their toll. With İlkay Gündoğan and Lars Bender both absent through injury, the only backup came in the form of the inexperienced Emre Can and Julian Weigl, with Sami Khedira unable to last the tournament and a recovering Bastian Schweinsteiger unable to repeat his heroics of 2014. Toni Kroos shone like a beacon however, as one of the players of the tournament.
The Nationaltrainer had plenty of firepower further up the field, but was again missing key personnel as others badly misfired. The pace, guile and finishing skill of Marco Reus was badly missed, with the usually reliable Thomas Müller had a tournament he would want to forget. Julian Draxler had one hit among many misses, while Mario Götze continued to struggle. Perhaps the brighest spark was Mesut Özil, but even he was blunted in the absence of a dedicated goalscorer in front of him when in mattered.
Deutschland sucht den Stürmer: the search for a number nine
The dearth of options in up front is an issue that has been kindling for a while now. Striker Mario Gómez was drafted into the squad after a fine season in the Turkish league, to many hoots of derision from the Fußball-Hipster clique. Given the lack of alternatives, it was a wise choice – and had Gómez stayed fit he could have been the difference between semi-final elimination and tournament success.
It isn’t just about Gómez, of course – but the system in general. The coach did everything right tactically in the semi-final against France, but the team just did not look like scoring a goal. Germany has a long history of having a great number nine, and this is something that seriously needs to be addressed. Once Gómez had been consigned to the doctor’s couch, there were no viable alternatives; this ultimately blunted the attack.
The false nine experiment has failed, the strikerless system employed with such success by Barcelona and Spain has been worked out by defensively astute coaches, and while elastic 4-3-3 setups may create plenty of possession and produce some pretty football, it is no guarantor of victory. Look at the names: Fritz Walter. Uwe Seeler. Gerd Müller. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Rudi Völler. Jürgen Klinsmann. Oliver Bierhoff. Miroslav Klose.
Somewhere, whether on the noisy streets of Berlin or some quiet village in the Oberpfalz, the next great German number nine is waiting to be discovered. There is a popular show, Deutschland sucht den Superstar – “Germany seeks a superstar” or DSDS – Germany’s version of X-Factor or Pop Idol. It is time to see the DFB kick off a new DSDS – Deutschland sucht den Stürmer, or “Germany seeks a striker”.
The coach is going nowhere – and rightly so
For many national teams, the changing of the guard after every tournament has become a national sport. Just look at England for example. In Germany however, there is a belief in building on success once you have attained it. Euro 2016 was not a disaster and nothing is broken; it just requires some gentle tweaking, and Jogi Löw is the best man for the job.
Over the years, I have been fiercely critical of the “Maharishi Jogi” – there is plenty of evidence in my ramblings to dispute any claim that I have suddenly become his greatest fan. However, credit needs to be given when and where credit is due. Löw couldn’t do any more in France, and showed a level of commitment to the team and his role that can only be applauded. For all his faults, he has stood up and acknowledged his mistakes and never pushed problems onto others or under the carpet.
He also deserves to have a crack at retaining the World Cup in 2018.
The reality is that nobody understands the demands of being Nationaltrainer better than Jogi Löw. He has the total respect of everybody who has ever worked with him, from the players who have to perform out on the pitch through to the coaching team and the army of backroom staff. Not once, even in the face of some harsh media criticism, has there ever been any dissent from within the ranks. Bizarre touchline antics notwithstanding, he is the complete professional.
It is this stability that others can only envy. There is never any moaning, buck-passing, blaming or bitching, and there are smiles on faces at every press conference – even the ones after results have may have not gone to plan.
To all those who would like to see Jogi given the push, I would ask them who they would have there instead. Being the coach of a national team these days is not just about getting results on the pitch; it is also about engendering team spirit, maintaining stability and dealing with the media and all of the other nonsense. Löw has acquired and honed these skills, and has them in abundance.
There is, quite frankly, no better person to lead the team forward. For those readers who thought that I would never serve up a gushing commentary on the Maharishi – there you have it.
Euro 2016 are now over, and in the autumn the qualifying campaign for the World Cup will being in earnest. Before then, there is a friendly against Finland in August. Watch out for a few new players there.