Germany manager Joachim Low on Tuesday announced that he will no longer be picking Bayern Munich’s trio of Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng for the national team.
He arrived at Bayern Munich’s training ground in Sabaner Strasse with Germany’s team manager Oliver Bierhoff and made his intentions clear to the club’s top officials and the players.
There were no emotional goodbyes or throwback to the happier time; just a matter-of-factness of a general who had came out to read out the casualties of war.
These were the players whom he had invested countless of hours in training with the national team, gave them their international debuts and entrusted them in delivering the biggest prizes in world football.
Bayern stated the club was ‘irritated’ by the announcement. But, Low’s tenure as Die Mannschaft’s boss proved that he takes no prisoners when it comes to the greater good of the country’s most-loved sport.
Former captain Michel Ballack suffered Low’s ruthlessness just before the 2010 World Cup. The then Chelsea midfielder picked up an ankle injury just few weeks before the showpiece event in South Africa. A young Philipp Lahm was made the captain following Ballack’s injury and Germany took the tournament by storm with its fast-paced counter-attacking style. Despite finishing third, it was clear that Germany was well off without Ballack.
Low took things further, when Lahm said in an interview that he intends to become the permanent captain of Germany. To Ballack, this was the coach’s words coming out of Lahm’s mouth. And just before the 2012 Euro in Poland and Ukraine, Low made it clear that he would no longer select Ballack for the national team, who was two shy of reaching 100 international caps. Low offered him a testimonial in a friendly against Brazil. Ballack seethed in anger. There was no reconciliation.
However, the tactician from Cologne was the one who handed Ballack his armband in the 2008 Euro where Germany reached the final. He only made away with the former Leverkusen man when he decided he needed to take the team in a new direction. The axing of Muller, Hummels and Boateng is history repeating itself albeit in different circumstances.
When Germany lifted its fourth World Cup in Brazil in 2014, there was enough youth and exuberance thanks to a well-structured plan executed by the German FA (DFB) in the country’s youth system. There were leaders in each department---Philipp Lahm assured the defence, Bastian Schweinsteiger orchestrated the midfield and Miroslav Klose, playing in his fourth World Cup, was the wise big brother of the forward line.
The three stalwarts bowed out one by one leaving Germany bereft of men who could inspire the dressing room. The group-stage exit at the 2018 World Cup followed by a glut of sorry performances --a draw and a loss each to France and Netherlands which eliminated it from UEFA Nations League--solidified the fact.
Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, whose centre-back pairing was key to Germany’s World Cup triumph in 2014, have grown sluggish both for the club and country.
Hummels’ last-ditch tackle against Eintracht Frankfurt dominated the highlights reel in the Bundesliga, but there was no indication that he arrived in Russia with the same mindset. Jerome Boateng typed his own exit letter with his futile running into the attacking half at the World Cup which ended with a sending off against Sweden for a petulant foul.
Low still persisted with the duo in a drab 0-0 draw against newly-crowned World champion France in the UEFA Nations League. What followed was a lackluster win against Peru where Boateng was replaced by Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger at half-time. Playing the pair for the next two matches ended in two humiliating losses to France and Netherlands.
The game at Amsterdam looked as if Germany was playing an older version of itself where the Dutch forward line led by Memphis Depay tore apart a shambolic defence on the counter. Virgil Van Djik’s opening goal was throwback to the days of Mats Hummels’ prime. Bayer Leverkusen’s Jonathan Tah will now be Low’s go-to man with Arsenal’s Shkodran Mustafi, Bayern Munich’s Niklas Sule failing to prove themselves at club level.
Not Klose enough
Thomas Muller was once believed to be the successor of Miroslav Klose when he burst onto the scene in 2010 by winning the Golden Boot at the World Cup. A midfielder with a unique penchant for scoring goals – ‘Raumdeuter’ or the Space Finder — as the Bavarian had described himself, had remained Low’s wild card in the box for a decade. In the past few years though, his powers have been waning rapidly. He drew a blank at Euro 2016 and looked jaded in Russia where Germany returned home empty-handed from the group stages for the first time since 1938.
Muller has netted five times in 1,620 minutes in the current season and is yet to score a single goal in the Champions League. It is clear that Low sees his former protégé as a liability in the national set up where he has been failing consistently. Muller’s place now belongs to his club teammate Serge Gnarby who has had an impact with his performances over the past two seasons and can play anywhere along the forward line.
“The more I think about it the angrier I get,” Muller reacted to his former coach’s decision. However, letting the forward reach 100 international caps was Low’s perseverance.
There are still things to be sorted for Low, mainly at the problematic left-back position, while the futures of injury-prone seniors Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus hang in balance. But, Germany boss has already shown that he can build a team of world beaters by doing away with the old guard. The report card will arrive once Germany hits the pitch at the Euros next year.
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