COMMENT: The former national team coach oversaw a huge period of change during his time in charge, helping to regenerate football in the country
A decade ago, the notion that Germany could be among the favourites at a World Cup on South American soil seemed a ludicrous one. With an ageing team, Rudi Voller’s side had been knocked out at the group stage in Euro 2004 without winning a match, even against whipping boys Latvia.
The World Cup, in Germany no less, was two years away and radical action was needed. Voller resigned immediately and Jurgen Klinsmann was installed a month later. He brought with him Joachim Low, a young former Stuttgart coach. The rest is history.
Klinsmann was faced with doubters from the off. In spite of his glittering international career as a player, he had no experience as a coach and had a huge rebuilding job on his hands.
To his credit, he took everything in his stride despite the doubters. Oliver Kahn’s powers were on the wane and Klinsmann took the huge step of stripping him of the captaincy, with Michael Ballack taking the armband.
It was a controversial move, but one that paid off. Ballack relished the role and became both the poster boy and the leader of a new generation of Germany stars. Kahn, meanwhile, was replaced as first-choice keeper by Jens Lehmann.
The personnel changed drastically too. In Portugal in 2004, Germany had a squad with no fewer than nine players over 30, playing the same old tired tactics.
Two years later, that figure had shrunk to five and the youngest members of the European Championship squad, Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm, were given important roles in a far more attacking team. A new breed of Germany star was arriving.
Of course, their World Cup campaign ended in tragedy. After a pulsating semi-final tie with Italy, Klinsmann’s side succumbed to two extra-time goals from the old enemy, but an impression had firmly been made.
Podolski was named the best young player of the tournament, Miroslav Klose was top scorer and Germans had a national team they could be proud of once more.
Four years earlier, they had been dragged over the finish line by Ballack’s brilliance and Voller’s knack of uniting his players. It was the last hurrah of the old generation and they had vastly exceeded expectations. This time, there was the sense that there was more to come.
Klinsmann stood down at the conclusion of the tournament, with Low taking up his old post. The legendary striker had won himself a reputation as a coach, re-established Germany as a major force in international football and was promptly rewarded with an order of merit from the German government.
His work was done, but not forgotten. “Klinsmann gave us structure, especially in the fitness department, but everything else is thanks to Low,” Thomas Muller said recently.
Oliver Bierhoff, a part of the coaching team of both Low and Klinsmann, credited his old boss with introducing “speed, quick passing, movement” and getting the team to “play the ball forwards and not, like in the past, sideways”.
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