Saturday 24 February 2018

Germans reaping benefits of carefree approach

Rory Smith in Johannesburg

A week is a long time in football. "Germany have never been artists on the pitch like the Brazilians," said a pessimistic Franz Beckenbauer, World Cup winner as player and manager, on June 5. Fabio Capello will hope his analysis of England's hopes was equally awry. Eight days later, uninspiring, insipid Germany were the darlings of the planet.

Against Australia, Germany caught Beckenbauer, and the world, cold. Germany are not meant to be artistic and daring, brimming with style. They are meant to be the typical Turniermannschaft (tournament team), progressing to inevitable success to the rest of the game's chagrin.

But the vocabulary of German football has changed. Now Joachim Loew and his staff talk of making sure their side are Unbekummert -- unbound, carefree. It was that sense of freedom which captivated the world in Durban, and it is that which is the key to their Germany, the new Germany: an unbeatable lightness of being.

There is the lightness of experience which Loew's assistant Hansi Flick attributes to the "happy-go-lucky" approach to the game.

There is a lightness of touch, a style honed in countless training hours at the team's base at Erasmia, north of Johannesburg. Training sessions emphasise playing flat, firm passes on a small pitch, the tempo increasing steadily. And a lightness of structure, too. "We teach the players when to stick to their positions and when to wander," says Flick.

This is total football with a Teutonic twist. Loew and Flick have been lucky to be blessed with a group of such willing students, and fortunate that their philosophy is not at odds with the lessons their players learn at club level; rather, it is an extension of it.

Much has been made of the colour of the German side's skin -- three are of Polish stock, two boast Turkish ancestry, one Tunisian, one Nigerian and one Bosnian Serb, while Cacau and Jerome Boateng were eligible for Brazil and Ghana respectively -- but perhaps more important is the colour of the shirts they wear in the Bundesliga.

They all play in the Bundesliga, too, though Boateng will join Manchester City next season. The best-attended division on the planet has proved a fine finishing school. As the Bundesliga grows more exotic -- there are 255 foreigners in Germany's top flight -- so do its tastes. "The attractiveness of the play of many of the clubs is just one thing that has got a lot better," says midfielder Sami Khedira.

The most attractive of those clubs provides the backbone of Loew's squad. He bases his possession game on Bayern Munich, who have eight players in his squad. "The influx of players from the south (of Europe) is good for the team," says Khedira.

"They demand the ball, they have ideas that change the game in an instant. It has helped change the way we play." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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