The sight of Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller and Miroslav Klose waltzing through an open English defence on their way to a 4-1 second round win was one of the defining moments not just of the 2010 World Cup, but in German football history.
It signalled a wholesale change in mentality and style – the old, dour Germany national team was done with, here was a more dynamic and exciting version.
Joachim Löw was the man in charge that day. It was his tactics that crushed English footballing dreams. He didn’t stop there, either.
In the very next round, an outrageously offensive Argentina side managed by Diego Maradona and led on the pitch by Lionel Messi were humbled 4-0. As the speed, verve and imagination of that Germany side captured the world’s attention, Löw announced himself as one of the sport’s great modern thinkers.
A Löw-ly beginning
As a player, he spent the majority of his career in his country’s second tier, enjoying three separate spells at Freiburg.
His transition from playing to management was seamless – while in Switzerland he combined his final years as a player with his first steps in coaching, working in the youth system at Winterthur before becoming player-manager of Frauenfeld. Eventually, he returned to Germany, taking over at Stuttgart and leading the club to victory in the DFB-Pokal and to the final of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
Löw’s first steps in coaching were successful ones, though they didn’t lead to major job offers or a sizeable reputation. Between 1998 and 2004 he worked primarily in Turkey and Austria, and his only spell back in Germany saw him win just one of 18 matches in charge of Karlsruhe.
So, Jürgen Klinsmann’s decision to appoint him assistant manager of the national team following a disastrous Euro 2004 campaign was seen as unusual.
However, Klinsmann was well aware of Löw’s ability even if the general public was not – the two had spent time together on a coaching course. At the announcement of his assistant, Klinsmann stated: “Believe me, he’s not here just to put the cones out.”
In charge of Die Mannschaft
In two years of working together, the pair began to alter the perception of the German national team. The focus was on improvements in nutrition, psychological preparation and the introduction of younger talent.
This helped Germany to the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup on home soil when most expected an earlier elimination, but it was Löw – regarded by many as the tactical brains behind the operation – who took the team to another level when appointed as Klinsmann’s successor following that tournament.
After leading Germany to the Euro 2008 final, Löw began to include fresh faces with the aim of drastically reducing the squad’s average age and offering hope for an even brighter future.
“After Euro 2008 it was clear we needed to rejuvenate,” Löw told World Soccer in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup. “This we’ve achieved. Roughly half the current squad is 23 or younger and they bring a freshness and hunger which can only be helpful.”
Ahead of that finals, the likes of Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Sami Khedira, Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller were almost unknown to the rest of the world. Afterwards they were superstars. This quintet continues to play a key role in Löw’s Germany almost one decade on – in between they lifted the World Cup in 2014.
Löw’s willingness to blood young players is matched by his ability to implement new tactics. His Germany have committed to a zonal defensive approach and a fluid offensive game, the effectiveness of which was demonstrated during qualification for this summer’s World Cup in Russia, where they were joint top scorers in the UEFA qualifying with 43 goals helping them to maximum points.
Things have not been plain sailing of late. Joshua Kimmich and Antonio Rüdiger reportedly clashed in a recent training session, and İlkay Gündoğan was roundly jeered in friendly games for his meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, amid the controversy Löw continues to go bold with his selection decisions.
Leroy Sané may have starred for Manchester City in 2017/18, scoring 10 and setting up 15 goals in 32 Premier League appearances in a record-breaking, title-winning campaign, but he was omitted from the Germany squad for this summer’s finals.
His absence only goes to show how ingrained Löw’s ideals are: club form is almost entirely irrelevant if a player does not fit his team’s style.
His side are likely to line up in a rough 4-2-3-1 system this summer, though positional rotations will mean it often looks something like a 3-4-3. Toni Kroos tends to drop deep in the left inside channel, while both full-backs will push high to offer width in advanced areas.
The attacking midfielders are expected to be given creative license, roaming horizontally and vertically to create passing lanes.
Germany will have some of the same youthful verve that defined their 2010 campaign, too – right-back Kimmich, attacking midfielder Julian Draxler and striker Timo Werner are all 24 or younger, as are other important squad members such as Niklas Süle, Leon Goretzka and Julian Brandt.
Since he took charge 12 years ago, Löw has consistently looked to the future, both tactically and in terms of the personnel he calls up. Thanks to his forward-thinking, Germany go to the 2018 World Cup not only as reigning world champions, but as one of the favourites for the title.