Relatively speaking, Joachim Löw gets a lot of stick. For a man whose tenure as a national team coach has played a major role in the complete renovation of German football's international image, for a man who has reached the semi finals of every single major tournament at which he has been coach or assistant coach, he has to face rather a lot of criticism.
Imagine you are Löw. Borussia Dortmund believe you to be inherently prejudiced against their players, FC Bayern complain that you pick their players just after they've returned from injury, and the whole country complains that you pick the wrong players. On top of this, they expect you unconditionally to win at least one World Cup or European Championships in your tenure. It must be a little frustrating.
The frustration came close to surfacing on Wednesday, when Löw gave a press conference in Düsseldorf prior to his side's potentially decisive qualifying fixture against Ireland tonight. Faced with a barrage of questions over the same old sticking points, Löw felt compelled to defend himself.
“If anyone thinks I pick players (according to the club they play for) is pretty removed from reality...it's normal that the clubs protect their players and that a national team trainer gets criticism, but in this job you can't blow with the wind. I am the Germany coach. I make the decisions. However many self-proclaimed Germany coaches there may be elsewhere.”
It was not a rant. There was no anger, no malice in his declarations. It was merely an eloquent rebuke to all those who have drenched him with various criticisms in recent weeks and months. And it garnered him some credit in the press yesterday morning. One point remains sore, though. However much Löw still impresses before the microphone, there are still hundreds if not thousands who cannot comprehend his refusal to pick Bayer Leverkusen's Stefan Kießling.
They have a point. Kießling won the Bundesliga's “Goal Cannon” equivalent of the Golden Boot last season, and is still in the form of his life. The gigantic Leverkusen striker who, after a poor start at the club in 2006/7, was labelled “the most expensive Bratwurst ever to have come out of Nuremberg” has become invaluable for the Champions League side. He is now arguably as crucial and inherent a piece of Bayer Leverkusen as Ulf Kirsten once was.
Like Kirsten, though, Kießling's relationship with the national team has been less than happy. Despite a handful appearances as a youngster and an inclusion in the World Cup squad in 2010, Kießling has dropped off Löw's radar, the Germany coach preferring to stick with established strikers Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez. Their differences came to a head this year when Kießling declared that he never wished to play for the Germany again while Löw was in charge, only to qualify the statement last month by saying that, in an emergency, he could be counted in.
That was about the time of an apparent emergency. Both Klose and Gomez have long been ruled out of this international break, and it seemed the time was finally ripe for Kießling's return. Once again, though, Löw did not nominate him, meaning his squad for the games against Ireland and Sweden will contain just one out and out striker.
Cue outrage, disbelief, the works. How could the Bundestrainer not pick the most in form German striker in the Bundesliga when his two favoured strikers were both out injured?
The answer is simple. Because Kießling, rightly or wrongly, has no role in Löw's system. He also hasn't played international football for over three years, and his inclusion would be as much of a risk as his non-inclusion. National teams are not simply a ranking of the eleven best players in a given country, they represent the best team which a country can put out from the players it has. It is a truth Alf Ramsey was well aware of when he picked Geoff Hurst over Jimmy Greaves, and one which Sven Goran Eriksson was unable to accept when he perpetually picked both Lampard and Gerrard together, instead of sacrificing one to make room for Owen Hargreaves.
Arbitrary those examples may be, Löw clearly knows what he is doing. His sticking points have cost him dearly in the past – picking Lukas Podolski ahead of Marco Reus was a catastrophic error in Poland and the Ukraine – but he is not the sort of manager to be held to ransom by the press or by one, in form player. He confirmed as much on Wednesday.
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