The end times of Joachim Low as Germany manager were, as it turns out, no fairy tale. Instead it was a nightmare thought impossible after 2014.
The end times of Joachim Low as Germany manager were, as it turns out, no fairy tale. Instead it was a nightmare unimaginable in the aftermath of the 2014 World Cup. Then, Germany were crowned world champions for the first time in 24 years and it was seen as a culmination of the work that began in 2006. But if what happened then was the result of hard work, then Euro 2020 was a result of stagnation. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, goes the old saying. What that saying fails to mention, however, is that in order to ensure things don’t get stale, new ideas are needed.
But there were no new ideas. Germany’s players, usually seen as ruthless machines programmed to win, looked very human against England in their Euro 2020 match.
England, sensing that vulnerability, pounced at a time when Germany were beginning to flag. Their two goals came as the match got scrappier.
England’s composure levels weren’t much better than those of their counterparts. But they were better on the night, and that’s what matters in a knockout round tie.
That Low’s time as Germany manager was coming to an end after Euro 2020 any which way was well known. One look at that performance against England though, makes it clear the end should have come long ago.
The 2014 World Cup win, as mentioned earlier, was years in the making. Germany made the finals of the 2002 World Cup but were easily beaten by Brazil in the final.
As a result, the slow but sure rebuild got underway, the results of which weren’t evident until 2006. That was also the year Germany hosted the World Cup, and they gave their home fans a treat.
Joachim Low was then assistant manager to Jurgen Klinsmann. The focus of the duo was to play attractive football but also to bring younger players into the fold.
Thus Per Mertersacker, Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marcell Jansen and other notable young players were included in the squad.
Germany were knocked out in the semis but went on to win the third place play-off. Although finishing third is worse than a second-place finish, the result was seen as a sign of progress.
They also made it to the Euro 2008 final where they lost in a tightly-fought match to Spain. Again, evidence of progress was there.
The 2010 World Cup saw them bring in more young players, including but not limited to Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Jerome Boateng, Marko Marin and Sami Khedira.
This team were again not the finished article, but they were close. Dominant wins against the likes of Argentina and England showed they were the real deal, and they clinched another third-place finish.
Their crowning glory came in 2014, but it was at Euro 2016 that signs of a decline set in. They squeaked through their group and made it to the semis, where they were beaten by hosts France.
But they did not look convincing. Their only dominant win was in the Round of 16 against Slovakia whereas they needed penalties to beat Italy in the quarters.
Any talk of a decline was short-lived though, as Germany won the 2017 Confederations Cup. Granted, this tournament isn’t much of a yardstick for anything but the young German side, including a number of players who were on the fringes of the first team, did a good job. Hopes for 2018 and the World Cup were high.
And then came the debacle at Russia.
Germany continued the trend of World Cup winners being eliminated in the group stages itself. But their capitulation was unexpected and therefore a bigger shock.
They started their title defence with a shock 1-0 loss to Mexico, a game that saw their opponents score in the first half then defend their slender lead.
The second game was not much better. They were drawing 1-1 against Sweden until the 95th minute, when a sublime Toni Kroos free-kick gave them the win and kept them alive.
Yet it wasn’t meant to be. They faced a spirited and stubborn South Korea in their final game, and the match remained goalless till the 90th minute.
The draw wasn’t enough anyway – Germany needed a win to have a chance of making the knockouts. But to make things worse, some calamatous defending and goalkeeping from Neuer saw South Korea score twice in injury time.
Germany were eliminated. And the knives were out for Joachim Low.
Low eventually stayed on, despite the public clamour for his removal reaching an uncomfortable crescendo. The newly-introduced UEFA Nations League offered him a shot at redemption.
Instead, the poor form carried on. Germany, world champions just four years earlier, almost got relegated from the Nations League’s top tier.
In fact, were it not down to a not-so-coincidental change made by UEFA to the number of teams in each tier, Germany wouldn’t have been in Tier A.
German fans probably wished they got relegated to Tier B anyway, since Germany finished bottom of Tier A having won no games.
It didn’t get much better in the second edition of the Nations League either. That tournament is best remembered for them losing 0-6 to Spain, their heaviest loss in nearly 90 years.
By the time Joachim Low announced he would leave after Euro 2020, most fans were probably relieved. Of course, he departed with one final hurrah, presiding over Germany’s first loss to rivals England in a knockout international tournament since 1966.
History will no doubt be kinder to him, as his time in charge was undoubtedly full of highs. However, his reign is also a warning to anyone afraid to shake up the status quo only because things are going well.