Germany coach Jogi Löw sends out his first team of 2011 against Italy on Feb 9. The friendly match presents Löw with an opportunity to launch a new era. But does he have enough of the gambler's instinct to take the risk?
Stick or twist: Will Jogi Löw go for broke with his new stars?
Löw's desire to blood young talent in the national team is well known and Die Mannschaft's match against Italy in Dortmund gives the national coach another chance to run his eye over the tyros he hopes will develop into future international stars. Some may say that this is one of the main reasons why friendly matches exist; new tactics, formations and untried or inexperienced players can be employed with no risk to the national team's current position in qualification campaigns.
Others may argue that, with the team expected to return to competitive action on March 26, a game such as the Italy match should be used to fine tune Germany's first choice eleven. It doesn't matter if it's against Kazakhstan - Germany's European Championship qualifier opponents next month - or world champions Spain, it could be argued that a successful team is a unit which knows who will be in what position and what everyone's duties will be - in other words, a team which regularly plays together.
It is unlikely that Germany's strongest team would have labored as badly against Sweden in the national team's last match in November. Instead, Löw sent out a team of debutants and novices in that friendly, aided by a small supporting cast of regulars, and the result was a drab 0-0 draw which met with more criticism than praise.
It wasn't a classic but the Sweden game offered positives
Those who disparaged the performance missed the point. What would have been the use of sending out a World Cup XI at the end of a draining year in the freezing temperatures of Gothenburg for a match of no importance?
The Sweden game, although lacking any real excitement or incident, was not the waste of time and the example of mismanagement that some critics claimed. It provided Germany with many positives, mostly the confirmation that the country’s current crop of youngsters - Dortmund’s Mats Hummels, Mario Götze, Kevin Grosskreutz and Marcel Schmelzer, as well as Lewis Holtby and Andre Schürrle of Mainz - were not at all out of their depth on the international stage, even if they found their highly defensive opponents a tough nut to crack.
Jogi Löw seems to be damned if he does and damned is he doesn't. A predictable team of experienced internationals turning out against Italy would cause consternation among those who champion the young bloods. Another line-up full of callow youths would raise the hackles of those who favor sending out an ‘A’ side as a matter of principle.
What the Italy game represents is a chance for Löw to take some of those inexperienced youngsters who performed well enough in the Sweden game and meld them with the youthful core of the team which finished third at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Team of the future starts now
Götze (center) and Hummels (right) are ready to start
This should not be an experimental team, rather one which could well presage Germany’s starting line-up for the years to come; in effect, satisfying the craving for blooding new stars while cementing a regular team which can play and grow together.
This means that players like Dortmund's Hummels and Götze should be included in the first team on February 9 - not as a novelty but as the next step in their regular inclusion.
Complementing them should be the more established youngsters such as Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller, and Sami Khedira along with Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng.
It's easy to forget that these players are still the future even though they are such an integral part of Germany's present, such is their impact to date. Their inclusion is mandatory these days.
In addition, seasoned campaigners such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Mario Gomez - hardly players one could call long-in-the-tooth - would give Germany the air of experience needed to guide and settle the team.
Löw should call time on Ballack's career - but when?
So far so good, but this also means that there is be little point in pressing on with a number of older stalwarts of the past. Michael Ballack (34), Arne Friedrich (31), and Miroslav Klose (32) should be phased out of the squad in the coming months, and even under-30 players like Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker and Cacau ought to start looking over their shoulders - Germany’s young upstarts are on a pace to supplant them too.
For all his commitment to youth, it is still debatable whether Jogi Löw has enough of the gambler in him to make the hard decisions, such as jettisoning the big names in the middle of a European Championship qualification process. Even if he does so for the Italy game, the safe euros would be on Löw recalling his ageing foot soldiers for the Kazakhstan match in March, as long as they’re fit.
A swift break from the old regime is a risk. But with Germany's breakout stars showing the ability needed to succeed at international level, and with a host of youngsters already having established their class at the World Cup, surely it's a risk worth taking - not just in friendlies, but in the many competitive matches to come.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann