German football suffers slump

Joachim Löw
Joachim Löw

When the draw for the quarterfinals of the Champions League was made on Friday, German interest was somewhat limited.

In fact, the only interest there had something to do with what could have been, rather than what was because, for the first time since the 2005/06 season, no German club was in the hat for the draw of the round of the last eight.

Bayern Munich, Schalke 04 and Dortmund were not only beaten by Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the round of the last 16, respectively, they were simply outclassed.

The only Bundesliga club that retains an interest in European football is Eintracht Frankfurt, who won 1-0 at Inter Milan to go through to the quarterfinals of the Europa League.

For German football fans, the Champions League results were a stark reminder of the disappointment they suffered last year, when the national team were eliminated in the first round of the World Cup in Russia.

Further disappointment was to follow as Joachim Löw’s team were relegated from Group A of the Nations League. They have since slipped down to 16th in the world rankings.

This prompted Löw to take the bold step of scrapping Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller from the team, in effect telling them that their days as national team players were over.

What made the decision remarkable is that the players are 30 (Hummels and Boateng) and 29 (Müller) – in other words, still well within the age brackets where they can perform at the highest level.

Results for Bundesliga clubs in European competitions seem to suggest that this might no longer be the case.

Hoffenheim were knocked out of the Champions League without winning a game, while Bayern, Schalke and Dortmund followed in the first knockout round, with a combined five defeats and just one draw.

In the Europa League, RB Leipzig failed to advance out of the group stage, while Bayer Leverkusen were beaten in the first knockout round.

Not surprisingly, the press were merciless, with The Guardian writing: “Yes, the evidence is there that Bayern are on a downward spiral, as the situation of the once-impressive Franck Ribéry shows. The 28-time Bundesliga champions have become complacent. Possibly as a result of all the success at home.”

Bayern coach Niko Kovac said that the defeat against Liverpool was deserved: “We were shown our boundaries.”

Germany have, of course, found themselves in a similar situation before.

Die Mannschaft failed to win a single game at the 2000 and 2004 Euros, and in European club competitions, the results were equally disappointing as Bundesliga teams failed to make their mark.

At the time, the German Football Association acted rapidly, investing heavily – as did the clubs – in youth football and academies, and, within a few years, the investment paid dividends. The German Under-17 team qualified for the European Under-17 final four times between 2009 and 2015, with some of the players involved in those tournaments going on to win the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

They are – to some extent – now victims of their own success as other countries followed their lead and pursued a similar development programme, with England leading the way and reaping the benefit with age group success.

German Football Association director Oliver Bierhoff is aware that something needs to be done.

“We want to go back to being one of the leading countries in the world. That is our goal in all areas,” he said recently.

He was critical of Bundesliga clubs looking overseas for youngsters.

“We need to ask ourselves why our clubs are looking more and more towards French and English youth players. We have good young players in Germany, but the numbers are going down,” he said.

Bierhoff said that the changes did not need to go as far as after 2000, when German football restructured, but there needed to be a “rethink”.

“In future, we will question everything and we need to start with the content of coaching children. We can’t have any areas that remain untouchable. We need to call them out and then see what is doable.”

Champions League and Europa League draws

Champions League quarterfinal draw:

. Ajax vs Juventus

. Liverpool vs Porto

. Tottenham vs Manchester City

. Barcelona vs Manchester United

Champions League semifinal draw:

. Tottenham or Manchester City vs Ajax or Juventus

. Manchester United or Barcelona vs Liverpool or Porto

Europa League quarterfinal draw:

. Napoli vs Arsenal

. Villarreal vs Valencia

. Benfica vs Eintracht Frankfurt

. Slavia Prague vs Chelsea

Europa League semifinal draw:

. Winners of Napoli vs Arsenal will play winners of Villarreal vs Valencia

. Winners of Benfica vs Eintracht Frankfurt will play winners of Slavia Prague vs Chelsea

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