In the end, after years of wandering between counter-attack and possession, Germany manager Joachim Low has settled for the past. Two years after personally knocking out Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels out of the national team, Low brought the two players back to the 2021 European Championships. The meeting was evident on the surface considering how crucial they were at Bayern. Munich regaining its dominant position on the European football scene while also playing an innovative and modern style. But Low might also have missed the ideas. Instead of tactical ingenuity, the road to Germany coming out of a Group F that features France and Portugal can only go through brute force to launch their best players and let them play individual battles.
“We almost had a year stolen from us,” he said. Low explains of his decision to bring back Bayern veterans. Of course, Low’s initial strategy to replace his Bayern stalwarts didn’t stray from his point of view – it was actually the pandemic of yesteryear.
Low, 61, was also given space to step back. He announced in March that he would leave his position after the next European Championship after 15 years as manager. Longevity is a feat in itself, regardless of its successes: Low holds records for managing the most games of the national team and having the most victories. Seeing through the rise of at least two distinct tactical eras, more than 100 players have made their debuts in Germany under Low. Outside of the 2018 World Cup, he made the semifinals of every major tournament.
But still, the announcement brought a sense of relief from all parties. He acquitted the German FA of having to dismiss Low, with Low also including himself the freedom to manage without the responsibility of a long-term plan. Thus, he could remember Muller and Hummels without worrying about how he might damage their perception on the team.
It was a surprise that Low also made 2021 in the first place. Not only will Germany be out in the 2018 World Cup in the group stages, but in a no-direction way, no way. The team was caught between stylistic eras that mimicked the greatest European game: against attacking or possessing? In a way, the choice was one that a manager would receive only after working for a 12-year year with uncontrolled power. Unreasonable ambitions can be the downfall of even the most tactically skilled managers.
“My biggest mistake is that I thought we could make it past the group stage by playing a dominant football brand based on ownership,” Low said after being kicked out of the group stage in 2018. , adding that he should have “prepared the team like I did in 2014.”
It seemed that Low had 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. This decision has been controversial at the moment, but it seems even more hasty in retrospect with Bayern emerging again as the focal point of European football led by the three outsiders.
Meanwhile, Low and Germany entered the Euro on a 6-0 loss in Spain and a 2-1 loss at home to Northern Macedonia last year. Low expressed his despair after the loss of Northern Macedonia, criticizing it Miss of Timo Werner in the 80th minute with the match tied 1-1. Low publicly accused the Chelsea striker, saying “if he makes clean contact with the ball, it’s a goal”.
At a minimum, the weight of Muller and Hummels can relieve Low blood pressure, attention and guilt.
The confusion over the national team’s philosophy would contradict the clarity on the national scene in both player talent and the manager. Werner, Kai Havertz and Antoine Rudiger developed below Thomas Tuchel’s mix of positional and pressure play. Bayern won the Champions League in 2020 with a modern approach under former Low Hansi Flick assistant. The heart of the line is tested in Europe: Joshua Kimmich, Toni Kroos, and Ilkay Gundogan they are at the base of the midfield, with Muller roaming in the middle of nowhere. Werner, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane provide attacking width. Havertz has already scored the winning goal of the match in a Champions League final. Players are ready for a vertical, pressing game with a high defensive line.
But Low is also a victim of its success. Do we remember how German football was perceived in 2006? Not that Jurgen Klopp or Tuchel were necessarily disciples of his coaching staff, but Low’s perception of tactical robustness gave space to German leaders who thought ahead to appear in the following years. 15 years after his national team debut, the country has produced the last three Champions League winners.
Now, Low’s character arc, from World Cup winner to tramp, is portrayed as a tragedy. There is also the question of whether 2014 was a byproduct of a country-wide development program as revered throughout the world of football, or just a lucky Golden Age of players. Any empty space or concern will be full of narration.
We couldn’t imagine Low fighting for his reputation. But times have changed, and we’ve seen it once that innovative managers become stagnant. This sort of fall in the club game can be covered by the transfer window signature including a manager time. There is an art to knowing when to leave, not only for results, but also to deal with the short termism of modern memory. There are certain situations in football that cannot be resolved on the field alone.
Flick was an obvious candidate as Germany’s next manager. Not only did he make his name as Low’s assistant during the 2014 race, he was also seen as pragmatic. While Low wanted the style to flow freely, Flick was credited with putting it in the hard structure of practice set pieces and the creation of game plans to mark Lionel Messi. Knowing what we know about Flick’s success, the narrative is almost mutant: he, not Low, was the genius all the time. Now, it’s Flick’s turn to perhaps be discovered and supervise his reception under the spotlight.
Low is in a unique position since he was still the national team director cited among the game’s greatest tactics in the last decade. His work was easy to neglect without the daily, weekly memories that come from being a club manager. Reversing the traditional move, Low sought to return to the club’s game (he allegedly rejected the moves at Real Madrid and Barcelona). In a selfish sense, that’s where he belongs all this time, and we’ve probably missed an era of his tactical innovations in the last 15 years. But his reputation could also go the other way, and perhaps this is Low’s most optimized career. Not many managers win a world cup in the first place. Even fewer remain long enough to have the fight for their reputation.