Löw: Germany’s greatest coach, but a man who stayed too long
It was somehow fitting that Joachim Löw's era ended at Wembley, a stadium in which Germany have longed reigned supreme, and against England, a nation whose national football team has so often seemed stuck in the past while the Germans won the lot.
In the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup in Bloemfontein, South Africa, a youthful Germany side featuring Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira, Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski dismantled the Three Lion's so-called "Golden Generation" of John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, en route to a third-place finish.
For "Jogis Jungs" ("Jogi's lads"), it was a key milestone in a footballing revolution that would culminate with World Cup glory in Brazil in 2014. For England, the despairing wait for international glory went on.
Fast forward 11 years and the two nations met again in the last 16 of a major tournament. But this time, the momentum was well and truly with England as Gareth Southgate's young team, spearheaded by the imperious Raheem Sterling, surged to a deserved 2-0 win.
With a favorable-looking draw ahead of them, home advantage and huge public support for a likeable young team and manager, England's time may have finally come.
For Löw, after 198 games at the helm, it's over — although in reality, it was over five years ago.
Germany 2006: The revolution
In time, once focus has moved on, the softly spoken 61-year-old from Germany's Black Forest will be remembered as one of the great coaches in German football history. Perhaps even the greatest.
When he joined the Germany set-up as assistant coach to Jürgen Klinsmann in 2004 ahead of the 2006 World Cup on home soil, the Nationalmannschaft had just suffered humiliating back-to-back European Championship group stage exits in 2000 and 2004.
German football needed a revolution and Löw would be the man to lead it, changing the fate of the country's football forever. With a revamped, streamlined youth academy system and a pacey, dominating brand of possession football, Löw was a coach who advanced the profession.
Back-to-back defeats to Spain in the Euro 2008 final and in the 2010 World Cup semifinals were frustrating. But, at this level, the smallest of margins and a smattering of fortune can make all the difference, and Löw cannot be blamed for coming up against one of the greatest sides ever.
Indeed, Vicente del Bosque, the then Spanish head coach, later called Löw a respectful and noble character. Sometimes it just doesn't go your way.
Another semifinal defeat at Euro 2012 stung, though. Löw's tactical upheaval to accommodate Italy took the wind out of his own side and robbed Germany of a chance of revenge against Spain in the final.
The criticism, unsurprisingly, was great. Löw said some of it was unproductive and made him weary.
Brazil 2014: The pinnacle
That, two years later, he would shrug off that loss and win it all in Brazil is a credit to him and the crowning moment of his coaching career.
The right squad, the right backroom staff, the right preparation, the right mentality and the right tactics — eventually, after finally moving Lahm to right-back in the quarterfinal against France — all came together.
Add to that the little bit of luck to scrape past Algeria, an unprecedented Brazilian collapse and the individual brilliance of Mario Götze's World Cup winning finish, and it was Germany's turn, the culmination of a decade's work.
A fourth World Cup triumph for Germany, a fourth star on the badge and, in a sport so often obsessed with the value of playing careers in coaching, the first uncapped German player to win the World Cup as a coach.
Russia 2018: The debacle
As a world champion and with Germany still flying high, the attempt to add the Euros two years later in France was more than justifiable. After another semifinal defeat, though, Löw's second misstep followed, and this one would have disastrous long-term effects.
With integral figures such as Lahm and Per Mertesacker having already retired following Brazil, captain Schweinsteiger also bowed out. The era was clearly over, but neither the German Football Association (DFB) nor Löw had realized it, and the Bundestrainer stayed on.
The 2018 debacle in Russia will forever be symbolized by the image of Löw, complete with suntan and sunglasses, posing nonchalantly on the promenade in Sochi. And no wonder he was confident, having been given a shiny new contract before he'd even named his squad for the tournament.
The DFB had failed utterly to prepare for life after Löw following the triumph in Brazil and was now an organization riddled by corruption allegations and obsessed with its own marketing and PR image as "Die Mannschaft."
DFB president Reinhard Grindel never felt comfortable enough to challenge Löw when it came to football and usher in a new era and must share a chunk of the blame. But even that doesn't absolve Löw from the arrogant insistence that the same football that worked years before would work again, or the controversial decision to leave Leroy Sane at home.
Euro 2020: The end
But still, he stayed. His desire to nurture a new generation was laudable and long overdue, but the sudden removal of veterans Müller, Boateng and Mats Hummels was clumsy and counterproductive.
The postponement of Euro 2020 until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic gifted Löw an additional year to recover from further humiliations in the new Nations League (bottom of the group in 2019 and thrashed 6-0 by Spain in 2020) and against North Macedonia (1-2 in World Cup qualifying), and overcome his stubbornness to recall Müller and Hummels.
His desire to be flexible was clear, and the positive change in the atmosphere was much welcome. Löw deserves credit for creating a group far more united than three years earlier and for bringing renewed energy for one final tournament, but that alone wasn't enough.
France could have won by more than just the one goal. The win over Portugal was encouraging if chaotic. Germany then found themselves only six minutes away from another group-stage exit against Hungary.
By the time a resurgent England came around, Löw resembled a coach scrambling to find a way to keep up with a game which had long since passed him by.
And so he departs, and there is no fairytale ending to his farewell tour. Some will perhaps miss the twang of his Baden accent, and few will miss his bizarre nasal investigations. But, in time, his immense achievements will be doubtlessly be remembered in the fonder light they deserve.
For now, Joachim Löw will be remembered as the coach who won it all but who didn't know when to stop.