A year after the World Cup and with a EURO qualification match against the Netherlands looming on Friday (20:45 CEST), Joachim Löw sits down for an interview with DFB.de editors Steffen Lüdeke and Gereon Tönnihsen to take stock of the rebuild within the national team. However, the head coach prefers not to dwell on the subject too long, choosing instead to focus on the important task that lies ahead for the team and himself, as well as what still needs to be done.
DFB.de: After missing the last two matches due to injury, how are you feeling?
Joachim Löw: I’m feeling really good. My absence in June was first and foremost a precaution. Now I’m back to full health and am itching to get back to work with the team. As a coach, what you want is to be on the pitch with the players and to help both them and the team improve.
DFB.de: What was it like having to watch the team on TV?
Löw: To be honest, it wasn’t great. As I just said, as a coach you want to be on the sidelines when your team is playing. But, obviously the team and my coaching staff made things easy for me. Both the results and the way we played against Belarus and Estonia were very convincing.
DFB.de: How much of a hand did you have in the day-to-day processes?
Löw: The coaches and Oliver Bierhoff are in constant communication, which was also the case in June with our international fixtures. We start preparing for those matches weeks in advance. When I had to announce my absence, we had already planned out our training sessions and had completed our analysis and discussion of our upcoming opponents. Marcus Sorg and Andreas Köpke both have a lot of experience; we maintain a close relationship with one another and are well used to working together. Everyone knows what makes the others tick. I also have a lot of faith in Antonio Di Salvo, who is usually part of the U21 coaching staff and who also helped us out in June.
DFB.de: It’s been nearly a year since you shared your analysis of Germany’s first-round exit at the World Cup 2018. At the time, you said “We need to adapt our way of playing to become more flexible and variable. If you want to win a tournament, then you need to have this feeling of desire and enthusiasm that grows with each round.” Where would you say the team are at now?
Löw: You can feel a real sense of optimism within the national team once again. I can feel the excitement and the positive mood overall. We are still at the beginning of our journey, but everyone is on board with our new path forward. The younger players especially are looking to take advantage of the spaces available, and we want to give them that. But, we also need to be patient with them and allow them to make mistakes. How we deal with mistakes is a key topic for us. If you choose to not start from scratch, but instead make the decision to adapt your formation like we did, then there are some mistakes that are likely to happen. What we’re still lacking in comparison to teams like France is stability and resilience, to name just two examples. That’s not just as a team, but on an individual level as well. That’s what we need to and will continue to work on.
DFB.de: At the time, you also said that your words were “almost arrogant,” because you wanted to push the team’s dominance. How difficult is it to change your own pattern of thinking? How is it possible to do so?
Löw: I just mentioned the culture of mistakes. How we deal with mistakes is something that starts with the coaching staff. I always need to scrutinise my own actions. Trust me: I always look to myself first before looking at other things that could have been better. That’s what we did after the World Cup in 2018: I listed my own misjudgements and drew conclusions from them. The overarching question is ‘what am I fully convinced by?’ One example of this is the fact that I remain fully convinced that we need to define ourselves with possession-based football, that we set the tone of the match and that we are the ones to react first. We have a team with a strong technical ability and have the quality and the right players to do so. But, we need to become faster, especially mentally. With an eye on keeping the right balance, we need to also be aware of when we might need to dial it back a bit, in order to calm things down. We need to be more flexible and variable.
DFB.de: Following the World Cup, there was plenty to be said about ‘possession-based football’ – it almost seemed as though it would become the ‘non-word of the year.’
Löw: One thing is certain for me: if you look to defense to be your saving grace, then you won’t have any long-term success. It’s nonsense that France could have become world champions only in this manner. After all, you need to have the ball in order to score. I’d put it like this: having possession should not be the be-all and end-all. Instead, it should always accompany another idea that should develop out of having possession. For me, the semi-final matches in last season’s Champions League were indicative of this. First and foremost, each of the four teams wanted to score goals. The way Liverpool, Tottenham, Barça and Ajax presented themselves was terrific.
DFB.de: How has your team’s manner of playing changed since Russia?
Löw: As I said, we’ve made several changes but are far from finished. We want to become more consistent and stable while finding the right balance between offense and defense. We also need to continue working on becoming more efficient.
DFB.de: Several veteran players are no longer with the team. Which of the younger members of the team have taken on additional responsibilities within the new squad?
Löw: The players know that there are many things in motion. There’s a new hierarchy that’s forming within the squad. I can see that there are several players who are happy to take on more responsibility. Defensively, Niklas Süle and Nico Schulz have done well to do recently, as well as Thilo Kehrer and Jonathan Tah. Joshua Kimmich is someone who already took on responsibility within the youth teams, and has done the same with FC Bayern. Players like Julian Brandt, Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry have plenty of potential. They participate a lot, even off the pitch. They come to me with questions; they want explanations and want to understand why we choose certain drills in training. The current generation is very eager to learn and are finding their place. I think that’s a good thing. Players like Julian Draxler, Timo Werner or Antonio Rüdiger are still young, even if they’ve been part of the team for a while now. We will find the right mixture. In addition to that youthful abandon and energy, we need the experience of players like Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos, Ilkay Gündogan or Marco Reus if we want to win matches.
DFB.de: In the hunt for EURO qualification, the Germany team looks to be on course to qualify. If you get a victory against the Netherlands, would qualification be certain?
Löw: We need to take it slowly. We have played three out of eight games. The only thing that is clear is our goal: we need to go into every game with maximum motivation, total concentration and the ambition to leave the pitch victorious. So far we have succeeded, and if we continue to succeed, then sooner or later we can book our ticket to the EUROs.
DFB.de: You will face the Netherlands for the fourth time in less than a year. Do you even have to still prepare for this matchup?
Löw: Of course, especially because it’s about the minute details when you have a high-profile opponent like the Netherlands. The Netherlands are the strongest opponents in our group, they are well-drilled, and they have a great team with some outstanding individual players. They had a great season in the Nations League. At this level, it can be crucial to really know every aspect of the game and prepare our players accordingly. That’s what the players expect from us.
DFB.de: We talked about the development of the team earlier. Are the games against the Netherlands the best indicators of this development? First there was a 3-0 defeat, then a 2-2 draw, and most recently a 3-2 win.
Löw: From the results you could interpret it that way, yes. But if you take a closer look at the course of the game, you might end up with different results. For example, the win in Amsterdam in March eventually ended in victory, but after a very strong first half, we got weaker in the second section and scored the winning goal only through a late counter-attack. If we’re honest, we didn’t win that game based on our performance alone, there was a lot of luck involved. That game also showed that we are still vulnerable in the second half and that we need to improve. We need to consistently be able to go the distance in each game.
DFB.de: Is it encouraging that at least three games could be home games at the next EUROs?
Löw: We have that in the back of our minds, but that’s not our focus just yet. In general, playing in a big tournament is always something very special, and of course nothing is more amazing that being able to experience it in front of your own supporters. For the players it isn’t a disadvantage because they will have this experience twice, as the 2024 EUROs will take place exclusively in Germany.
DFB.de: In the summer, you were at the finals of the U21 European Championship between Germany and Spain, which Germany lost 2-1. Are there younger players who could become an option for the senior national team?
Löw: There were several players whose performances were particularly pleasing. It is crucial for these players that they be used regularly at the highest level. We already have a very young team with several players that have made the jump from our own youth teams. There were five other players in addition to Lukas Klostermann, Luca Waldschmidt and Jonathan Tah in our squad against Belarus and Estonia who could have also taken part in the U21 EUROs. Now, Luca Waldschmidt is in the senior team squad. This shows that there isn’t a clear boundary between the U21s and the senior team.
DFB.de: What were your thoughts on the performance of Stefan Kuntz‘ team in general?
Löw: Good, I especially liked that his team had to overcome a lot of resistance. Getting in to the final was no easy task. After victories against Denmark and Serbia they had a very difficult first-round opponent in Austria. In the semi-finals the boys won despite being behind at half time. This is a testament to a good mentality and great hunger for success. Of course, this is also an indicator of the excellent work that Stefan Kuntz does.
DFB.de: Is this something that gives you courage – not least with one eye on the European Championship at home in 2024?
Löw: Absolutely, this bodes very well for the future. But we must not become overconfident either. We must be especially careful not to lose that fluidity between the youth and senior teams. There are age groups younger than the U21s that we are struggling with. Oliver Bierhoff has also repeatedly addressed this issue and is working on finding solutions.