CAPE TOWN – Loyalty is an admirable trait when it comes to family and friends, but certainly not for a football coach.
With the planet still reverberating from the seismic shock of world champions Germany’s ignominious exit from the 2018 World Cup in Russia - finishing a red-faced last in their group - the performance post-mortem continues.
There was definitely a lot wrong with the overall display and general demeanour of the current number one-ranked football team in the world - and more than anything for me, it again spoke volumes about why change, perceptive, well-thought-out change, is crucial to the continuing success of any entity; a football team has to adjust and adapt in order to stay fresh and maintain consistency; to stand still is to stagnate.
Germany coach Joachim Löw has had the core of this squad together for almost a decade and it was abundantly evident, based on their three disappointing games in Russia, that the team is stale and in serious need of an injection of new energy and ideas.
Throughout, their build-ups were ponderous, predictable and lacking in urgency and desire, while their all-round game was so soporific it was like being kidnapped, stuck in a room all chained up, and being forced to watch the wet paint on the walls dry. In short, Germany were headless, clueless and directionless.
There was no fluency to their play, they surrendered possession far too generously and even more importantly, they were caught out so easily on the counter; that aspect alone is criminal because at this level, defence is paramount.
Löw paid the ultimate price for his blind loyalty to players. For example, Thomas Muller, Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and Mesut Ozil have for a while now been off their game. Yet on the bench, and in the Bundesliga, Germany have some really exciting young emerging talent.
It’s a situation we’ve seen before, of course; how a coach is derailed by sticking with his usual tried and tested suspects for far too long: Arsene Wenger and how his stubborn loyalty to players has been at the root of Arsenal’s demise; Clive Barker and how his obsessive fidelity to the 1996 Nations Cup-winning squad led to his Bafana downfall. And now the same with Löw.
More than that, in continuing with a local parallel, it’s something that former Ajax Cape Town players, like Nathan Paulse, always refer to when asked about the club’s performance difficulties over the last few seasons: In a word, "character".
A football team needs leaders, players with personality and character, and with strong organisational skills; players with initiative who can take charge when the team is struggling and give direction; players who remain calm in the heat of battle and drag the best out of the rest of the team.
Germany’s success over the years has been based on such strong footballers: The incomparable Philipp Lahm, the unflappable Bastian Schweinsteiger, the authority of Per Mertesacker and the penalty box poise of Miroslav Klose. None of them has really been replaced and as a result, Germany, like Ajax in recent years, have floundered.
To put it in a nutshell, Löw’s squad may still be populated by a bunch of highly talented, multi-skilled footballers but, and this is the point, they’ve lost leadership and the redoubtable, inspirational personalities who provided the necessary assurance and direction when the poo hits the fan.