In the end, after years of wandering between counterattack and possession, Germany coach Joachim Low settled for the past. Two years after personally ousting Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels from the national team, Low brought both players back before the 2021 European Championship. The reunion was obvious on the surface considering how critical they were to Bayern Munich. he will regain his dominant position on the European football scene while playing with an innovative and modern style. But Low could also have run out of ideas. Rather than tactical ingenuity, the path to Germany advancing from a Group F that includes France and Portugal may come simply through the brute force of lining up their best players and letting individual battles unfold.
“They have almost stolen a year from us”, explained under of his decision to bring back the Bayern veterans. Of course, Low’s initial strategy of replacing his Bayern stalwarts was not wrong from his point of view, it was actually the pandemic from the start.
Low, 61, also gave himself room to back down. He announced in March that he would be leaving his post after the next European Championship after 15 years as a coach. Longevity is a feat in itself, not even considering his accomplishments: Low holds records for managing the most national team games and having the most victories. Seeing the emergence of at least two distinct tactical eras, more than 100 players made their German debuts with Low. Outside of the 2018 World Cup, he reached the semi-finals of all the major tournaments.
But still, the announcement brought a sense of relief to all parties. He cleared the German federation of having to fire Low, and Low also bought himself the freedom to manage without the responsibility of a long-term plan. Thus, he could remember Muller and Hummels without worrying about how it would damage his perception within the team.
It was a surprise that Low even made it to 2021 in the first place. It was not just that Germany came out in the 2018 World Cup in the group stage, but in a listless and aimless way. The team was caught between stylistic eras that mimicked the greatest European game: counterattack or possession? In a way, the choice was one that a manager only gets after being in a job for 12 years with unlimited power. Irrational ambitions can ruin even the most tactically skilled managers.
“My biggest mistake was that I believed we could get out of the group stage by playing a dominant football brand based on possession,” Low said after being eliminated from the group stage in 2018, adding that he should have been “prepared.” the team the way I did in 2014. “
Low seemed to have learned his lesson: Germany would return to its counter-attacking roots. And he tried to symbolically enter a new era by retiring (prematurely) Muller, Hummels and Jerome Boateng. That decision was controversial at the time, but it seems even more hasty in hindsight with Bayern re-emerging as the focal point of European football led by the three underdogs.
Meanwhile, Low and Germany enter the Euro after a 6-0 loss to Spain and a 2-1 loss at home to North Macedonia last year. Low unusually expressed his despair after the defeat of North Macedonia, criticizing Miss Timo Werner in the 80th minute with the match tied 1-1. Under publicly blamed the Chelsea striker, saying “if he makes clean contact with the ball, it’s a goal.”
At the very least, the weight of Muller and Hummels can be quite low on pressure, attention, and guilt.
Confusion over the philosophy of the national team counteracts the clarity of the national scene in both player and managerial talent. Werner, Kai Havertz and Antoine Rudiger developed under Thomas Tuchel’s mix of positional play and pressure. Bayern won the Champions League in 2020 with a modern approach under Low’s former assistant Hansi Flick. The core of the lineup is proven in Europe: Joshua Kimmich, Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan They are at the base of the midfield, with Muller roaming the middle as usual. Werner, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane provide range of attack. Havertz has already scored the winning goal in a Champions League final. Players are prepared for a vertical pressure game with a high defensive line.
But Low is also a victim of his own success. Do we remember how German football was perceived in 2006? Not that Jurgen Klopp or Tuchel were necessarily disciples of his coaching tree, but Low’s perception of tactical solidity led to the emergence of forward-thinking German managers in the years that followed. 15 years after its debut in the national team, the country has produced the last three winning coaches of the Champions League.
Now Low’s character arc, from World Cup Winner to Tramp, is portrayed as a tragedy. There are even doubts as to whether 2014 was a by-product of a nationwide development program so revered throughout the football world, or simply a golden age of luck of players. Any empty space or concern will be filled with narratives.
We couldn’t have imagined Low fighting for his reputation. But times change, and we’ve seen innovative managers eventually become obsolete. This kind of downfall in the club game can be covered up through transfer window firms that buy time for a manager. It is an art to know when to leave, not only for the results, but also to deal with the short-termism of modern memory. There are certain situations in football that cannot be solved solely on the field.
Flick was an obvious candidate as Germany’s next coach. Not only did he make a name for himself as Low’s assistant during the 2014 race, but he was also seen as the pragmatist. While Low wanted the fluid style, Flick took credit for putting the tough structure of practicing set pieces and creating game plans to mark Lionel Messi. Knowing what we know of Flick’s success, the narrative is almost changing: he, not Low, was the genius all along. Now, it’s Flick’s turn to maybe get caught and stay beyond his welcome under the spotlight.
Low is in a unique position, as he was always the only national team coach named among the best tacticians in the game for the past decade. His job was easy to miss without the day-to-day, week-to-week reminders that come from being a club manager. By reversing the traditional move, Low would seek to re-enter the club game (he allegedly rejected moves to Real Madrid and Barcelona). In a selfish sense, this is where he belonged all this time, and we possibly missed an era of his tactical innovations in the last 15 years. But his reputation could have gone backwards as well, and this is perhaps Low’s most optimized run. Not many coaches win a World Cup in the first place. Fewer still stick around long enough to have to fight for their reputations.