German national team: Joachim Löw’s legacy on the line in 2020 after decade of highs and lows | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 03.02.2020
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German national team: Joachim Löw’s legacy on the line in 2020 after decade of highs and lows

A decade in which Germany's national team looked set to establish dominance has instead ended in ignominy. Results in 2020 could define the legacy of head coach Joachim Löw.

Given football's turbulent and cyclical nature, a lot can change in the space of 10 years, and the German national team are case in point.

Over the past decade, the DFB-Elf have seen 76 players make their debuts as international careers have flared and fizzled out in equal measure. The results of a long-term strategy culminated in Germany claiming a fourth World Cup title in Brazil in 2014, but the rise and fall of Maracana match-winner Mario Götze is perhaps the most accurate portrayal of how the national team have fared in the past 10 years.

To the pinnacle and back again

At the turn of the decade, Spain were the all-conquering nation others were aiming to usurp and Germany were seen as the most serious contenders for La Furia Roja's throne. Head coach Joachim Löw  was four years into his tenure and beginning to harness the collective powers of a crop of players, who will have more than a few chapters dedicated to them in Die Mannschaft's history books.

Back then though, Germany had a recognizable identity as they looked to carve out a path to the pinnacle of the sport. They reached it in 2014, but in the aftermath priorities got skewed as capitalizing on marketing opportunities afforded only to world champions began taking precedence over the progression of the national team.

The shift saw Germany's previously unfaltering stability that followed their post-EURO 2000 revamp shaken to its core. The severity of the subsequent identity crisis was further exacerbated by the embarrassing nature in which Mesut Özil, a pillar of the side during an era of success, was treated in the wake of an ill-advised photo with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Fussball UEFA EM 2020 Qualifikation l Deutschland vs Weißrussland l Training (Reuters/T. Schmuelgen)

Joachim Löw is under fire and having a hard time guiding Germany through a period of transition.

Desperate for a fresh start following a disastrous campaign at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Löw tried to fashion a clean slate with which to work. Ultimately though, he only served to muddy the waters more when Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Müller, three of the most defining players of the last decade, received an ignominious exit as opposed to a guard of honor.

Löw's approach was as heavy-handed as some of his attempts to adapt his approach to suit modern football and ultimately cast a cloud the current crop of stars have struggled to get out from underneath.

As a result, Germany now find themselves in the throngs of a transition that has further blurred their sense of identity and risks regression. When it comes to the prospects of Germany's next "golden generation" and the legacy Löw will leave behind, there are more questions than answers as we enter the New Year.

'We've improved'

Nevertheless, Real Madrid's Toni Kroos hasn't lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. 

"In a lot of games, we were able to put our ideas into practice, against good teams as well, such as the Netherlands," the World Cup winner told the German FA's website, "I think we've improved a lot this year, but in a lot of games, we were unable to maintain a good level for the whole 90 minutes."

Flashes of brilliance from the likes of lkay Gündogan, Serge Gnabry and Timo Werner have not masked the evident flaws in the current Germany setup - a worrying trend ahead of EURO 2020. So too, is the lack of a recognizable first-choice starting lineup, not helped by key players like Niklas Süleand Leroy Sane picking up long-term injuries or Löw's insistence on flip-flopping between a three and four-man backline. 

Drawn in Group F alongside reigning European champions Portugal and World Cup winners France, pre-tournament expectations are lower than they've ever been in the Löw era.

"No [we're not favorites], we have to be realistic, but that's just my opinion as things stand," continued Kroos. "Anyway, that doesn't mean that we don't have big ambitions for the tournament. We want to have our say and we want to go far. It's too early to make predictions, though. One thing is certain: We as a team have to make good use of the time between now and the tournament."

With EURO 2020 fast-approaching, time is not a luxury on the side of the 59-year-old as he looks to try and turn Germany more of a finished product and less a work in progress. Facing more pressure to deliver now than he when he first took the role in 2006, the Black Forest native's legacy is on the line and 2020 is set to be a defining year.

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