The unwritten rule suggesting that a Bayern Munich flushed with success and replete with ability is a veritable bellwether for the fortunes of Germany’s national side appears, on the evidence of the early departure of Die Mannschaft from the 2018 World Cup, to have significant credence.
Notwithstanding the annual cakewalk to the Bundesliga title Bayern are at best an average side; at worst a collective of aging stars and youth who’ve been given their head too soon, or, will never be of the standard expected at the Allianz Arena. A run to the Champions’ League semi-finals somewhat skewering the perspective of many observers, hiding the attritional approach that saw the Bavarian’s overcome Sevilla after eviscerating a weak Besiktas. Those who witnessed Bayern’s anaemic display in May’s DFB-Pokal final will have been left under no illusion of the task ahead for incoming coach Niko Kovac, who ironically guided Eintracht Frankfurt to their fifth cup final triumph. Kovac himself, no stranger to a club he spent two seasons with as a player, will feel the pressure from day one to reestablish FC Hollywood as not only a dominant domestic force, but achieved with a dash of elan conspicuously missing in recent times. It is though doubtful if the Croatian will be handed the almost blank cheque needed to realign the Stern des Suedens with the high expectations of its fanbase.
Supplying the national team who so spectacularly, but not unsurprisingly capsized in Russia with the Munich contingent of Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Kimmich, Suele, Rudy, the incoming Leon Goretzka and Thomas Mueller, who seems to have become football’s answer to Ian Baker-Finch, there was always going to be little in the way of magic-dust sprinkled on the World Cup by such a prosaic octet. Goalkeeper Neuer, returning from a season of injuries looked immobile and hesitant, with his Bayern understudy Sven Ulreich a more deserving candidate for between the sticks. Jerome Boateng seemed to lack control on the ball, with passes frequently going astray. Mats Hummels, while a central defender by trade missed several gilt-edged chances against South Korea that could have given Germany an albeit undeserved place in the last 16. Niklas Suele, a young centre-back perhaps hindered by the size of his frame appeared lumpen and again, immobile, characterizing a poor man’s Dieter Eilts.
Although hardly blessed with a stellar pool of players from which to choose, coach Joachim Loew seemed to be lost in a maze substantially of his own making. Failing to make the perhaps unpopular but arguably correct decision to leave behind Neuer at the expense of Ulreich is one thing, but to completely leave Manchester City star Leroy Sane out of the squad, apparently based upon a poor showing by the 22 year old in a pre-tournament fixture in Austria, was utter madness. As one observer succinctly put it – Germany were out the minute they left Sane behind*. Loew has cut a untouchable figure for some time, although results prior to the World Cup suggested something was rotten in the state of Berlin. On witnessing Loew patrolling the technical area with arms increasingly flailing, I perhaps unkindly likened him to an ageing German pop singer undertaking one residency too many in a Majorcan beach bar. If though Loew is now yesterday’s man, it isn’t yet clear in whose hands the future will be. Bookies favourite Jurgen Klopp surely has unfinished business on the red side of Merseyside, before undertaking a job less hands-on than the day-to-day pell mell of high-level, club football.
Germany have spectacularly stumbled in the past, with failure in the Euro 2000 tournament ushering in a major, systemic top-down rethink of the country’s footballing structure. Perhaps we are simply going through a cyclical pattern of decline and rebirth, from which there is no reason why Germany should be immune. There is though a general feeling of atrophy within German top-flight football, with the inevitable impact on the national side. What though cannot be underplayed are the poor squad choices by Loew, and a lack of quality German strikers which necessitated once more relying upon Mario Gomez, a player who has never been consistently good enough to be given such responsibility.
I can picture the image of both Loew and Arsene Wenger duetting to a diminishing band of adherents the Gloria Gaynor classic “I never can say goodbye”. While the latter has finally taken the not insignificant hint, it is high time the former followed suit. That though itself will not conjure up overnight the quality of players so sadly missing from Germany’s squad, but will breathe new life and thinking into a team that for too long has seen the likes of Mesut Oezil, Muller, Neuer and Gomez as seemingly untouchable members of a failing institution.