The Last Word: A crazy half-hour hardly means new Löw for Germany
It would be churlish to treat a freakish match as imploding a whole philosophy
With this lot on the ball, it's hard to know what they might be on. In possession, whether their mail-order quacks have dosed England players into somnambulism or a form of St Vitus Dance, the net result seems more or less the same.
Jogi Löw presumably runs a rather more sophisticated regime. To judge from his own team's troubles this week, however, he too experienced something of a mix-up. For whoever was supposed to distribute, say, some eyeball-spinning Amazonian guarana cordials, at half-time in Berlin on Tuesday, plainly sedated the German team with the valerian, camomile and lavender infusion intended to relax them after the game.
Surrendering a four-goal lead to Sweden over the last half-hour has brought this captivating Germany team to a momentous crossroads. It is almost as though Arsène Wenger, in introducing the wholesome airs of the Bundesliga to his own team, has released some noxious backdraught into the national dressing room of Mertesacker and Podolski. Now the German press is wringing its hands over a dazzling but porous young side, so tormented by a silverware drought that it can freeze at 4-0.
If the melodrama of Tuesday's game has infected the reaction, Sweden's injury-time equaliser will fester in the same recesses of the players' own psyche as the mugging of Bayern in the Champions League final and that timid semi-final against Italy in the summer. Whether or not the three traumas disclose a latent weakness, they could allow one to develop now.
The case for the prosecution increasingly focuses on Löw, with his metrosexual chic and lush mop of dark hair. Comments attributed to Michael Ballack's agent a while back, to the effect that the national team nowadays included "a bunch of gays", gave offensive expression to mistrust of a delicacy that extends from ornate attacking to statuesque defending. And Löw (though married) is accused of a camp obsession with style – on and off the pitch.
Summoned from obscurity by Jürgen Klinsmann, he was hailed as author of a new flamboyance. But his critics have since come to suspect that a midfield so congested with flair could make Sam Allardyce resemble Arrigo Sacchi. They find Löw's motivational wavelength too vague – certainly compared with Jürgen Klopp, the demonstrative team-builder at Dortmund.
And on the field, too, there is a perceived lack of leadership. The captaincy, as ever in football, is a red herring. Philipp Lahm is a perfectly dependable figurehead. But many feel the team overall lacks authority.
Now it is certainly disturbing that something like this should happen so soon after Bastian Schweinsteiger confessed public dissatisfaction with team spirit. But that hardly justifies distasteful suggestions that the Germans need some kind of enforcer, to redress an aberration from national caricature. Where, after all, is the "Caudillo" who turned Spain from serial bottlers to world champions?
The reality is that Tuesday's chaos would almost certainly have been stemmed by Khedira and Hummels, both absent through injury. True, Löw did not fill the void very sensibly. (Kroos and Schweinsteiger only insure the base of midfield against teams set up to defend – like Sweden, in fact, in the first half.) But there is no accounting for the scatty display of Neuer, in goal, nor for an opponent like Ibrahimovic.
Löw does need to adapt better in adversity. If he wants to emulate Spain, then he must start with the same defensive bedrock. Remember, Germany had already contrived to concede five times against Switzerland earlier this year. Now Balotelli and Ibra have both shown that the defence, when isolated, can be bullied.
In principle, however, it would be churlish to treat so freakish a match as imploding an entire philosophy. England do not have one midfielder fit to remove splinters from the backsides of those stuck on the German bench.
The biggest change, since the summer, is that Reus must now start every time. Opponents can no longer concentrate on stifling Ozil. Reus, Hummels and (unbelievably) Müller are still only 23; Ozil is 24 and Khedira 25. Still they keep coming: Kroos is 22, Schürrle 21, Götze 20. Julian Draxler, barely on the fringes at 19, must be bemused by the English media's delusions about Cleverley and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Germany eviscerated Ireland last week, and the first hour against Sweden likewise suggested a new maturity. These guys have been on a pretty giddy learning curve. Whether it was nerves or complacency that caused them to lose their footing as they approached a new summit, they remain young enough to learn a lesson – and develop a head for heights.
And it's far better, surely, to play through the odd living nightmare than an induced coma.
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