For all the coach’s success, he has yet to guide what many consider a golden generation of Germans to a major trophy
For Jurgen Klinsmann, the dividing line between success and failure at the 2014 World Cup came down to whether or not he could get the US national team out of the group of death. He did, and Americans are mostly satisfied. His old friend Jogi Löw, who succeeded Klinsmann as head coach of Germany after the 2006 World Cup, is held to wildly different standards. Germany will judge Löw on his ability to get the team into the final. Anything less is unacceptable. For Löw, everything comes down to the semifinal against Brazil.
A place in the final might seem like an unreasonable goal, even for a country with Germany’s soccer pedigree (seven appearances in the final, three wins), and in some ways it is: no team gets to the final without its share of luck. But luck doesn’t matter in Löw’s case. Since he became involved with the German team, first as Klinsmann’s assistant and later as the head coach, the team has twice reached the World Cup semifinals and twice lost. It was also the runner-up in the 2008 European Championship and a semifinalist in the 2012 tournament. Enough screwing around. This is a country that wants silverware.
Another weight adding pressure to Löw is the narrative surrounding this team. He was part of Klinsmann’s 2006 revolution, which, among many other things, involved bringing in a new generation of uber-talented youth and changing to a more attacking style of play. When Klinsmann stepped down after the 2006 tournament, Löw’s appointment offered continuity.
“I made it clear to the DFB [the German Football Association] that Jogi had to take over after me to continue the job we had started,” Klinsmann wrote in 2010. “He has continued to develop that initial style of play and is enjoying success. It has taken Germany six years to learn to play it properly—and it has developed along the way—but the players are completely comfortable with it now.”
The young players who made up that new, 2006 generation and mastered this new style of play—Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker—are now in the prime of their careers and the leaders of this 2014 team, a team that is looked at by many as a golden generation, and one that Löw has presided over the entire time. If ever Löw had a team capable of winning the World Cup, this is it.
German fans don’t universally trust Löw in large part because of his failure, thus far, to close out major tournaments, especially given the wealth of talent at his disposal. He’s a guy who has had his chance—more than one, really—and failed. But over the course of this tournament, German fans have regained a sense of confidence in Löw.
The team’s 1-0 quarterfinal win over France is a perfect example. While the game may have bored neutral observers and frustrated the French, it was also widely regarded as a mature performance. There’s a feeling that the 2010 team, which had a similar roster but played an attacking 4-2-3-1, wouldn’t have kept a clean sheet in that same France match. That Löw changed to a 4-3-3, which doesn’t feature marauding fullbacks, is a sign that he’s found a balance between attack and defense that had previously eluded him. That he seemingly bowed to media pressure before the France game and finally played Lahm in the defense instead of the midfield, where the captain has played in all of Germany’s previous games, isn’t seen as a sign of weakness but rather an indication of mature coaching.
Will it be enough to get past an athletic Brazilian team, one without Neymar and captain Thiago Silva? In Germany, people are cautiously optimistic. For Löw, his legacy depends on it.