The World Cup was just the beginning
As the sole head coach of the German national team for the past twelve months, Joachim Low is now the guardian of the legacy that he helped Jurgen Klinsmann build for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ in Germany. In this interview, Low not only looks back but also forward to EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.
FM: What changes occurred as a result of the World Cup in 2006?
Joachim Low: A great deal changed. The World Cup was the best thing that ever happened to German football. Before then, the rest of the world had never seen Germany from a euphoric and colourful side. The World Cup gave huge momentum not only to the national team but also to the Bundesliga. Just look at the packed stadiums now, for instance.
FM: That’s thank to you and Jurgen Klinsmann. Did you breathe new life into German football?
Low: No, it wasn’t all that bad before. Football fans abroad have always taken notice of German football and opponents have always had great respect for our national team. We took the job on to give a new impetus to the team — it was badly needed after EURO 2004 in Portugal. We pinned all our hopes on young talent because they are hungry for success and they are the future of German football. We knew even then that that was the only way to go about it.
FM: Your hunch proved to be right.
Low: The World Cup confirmed our strategy even though we faced fierce opposition in the months leading up to the tournament. But it didn’t put us off. In fact, I think we earned even more respect abroad as a result. German players are in demand-Jens Lehmann, Michael Ballack and now Christoph Metzelder are prime examples.
FM: Now you are the sole coach responsible for the national team. How has the promotion changed you?
Low: Teamwork was a top priority under Jurgen Klinsmann. We discussed everything together – often late into the night. I was in charge of the training sessions and decided what had to be done and Jurgen often watched what we were doing. So the work is not so different now because I was always directly involved with the team and gave the players tactical instructions. The big difference is that I am much more in the public eye and bombarded with requests to meet the media. But I’ve learned to cope with it.
FM: How is it going with the German team eight months before EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland?
Low: The World Cup was just the beginning. German football should have been much more productive in the past few years, especially with regard to training players. We can’t let up on this. We must take the next steps if we want to reach the goals we have set ourselves. We intend to develop a standard philosophy reaching right down to the youth sector. Only if each and every one of us raises his game can we become European champions. And that can only work by concentrating on individual play. A trend that has evolved over the past few months is that players are receiving more individual attention and we can do a lot more in this direction. If each one of the players can work on his weaknesses, the whole team will benefit. We strongly believe in this.
FM: There is also a greater trend towards more attacking play, especially in your team. Not so long ago, the German team was synonymous with a strong defence.
Low: I don’t use the words “defensive” or “attacking” in my work. You have to be able to master both aspects of play in football. One thing I am sure of is that we’ll never be a team that holds back, waiting to pounce on a counterattack. The German team has to act, not react, and these tactics suit the team’s character.
FM: Talking about reacting, how do you react to the famous new names playing in the German league such as Luca Toni and Franck Ribery? Aren’t you worried that a Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski or Philipp Lahm could be sidelined?
Low: Competition teaches you valuable lessons. They’ll have to learn to cope with it. I’ll give you an example. Before the last World Cup, no-one knew how Podolski, Schweinsteiger or Lahm would react to such a situation during the tournament. They were not exposed at Bayern Munich because the spotlight was on Roy Makaay and Michael Ballack but during the World Cup they were thrust into the limelight. And they came out of it very well.
FM: So the tournament was a good educational experience for those players?
Low: The World Cup was a seminal experience for them and it took them one step further in their careers. These players might not be at the peak of their powers at EURO 2008 but could well be a few years later. Another point to mention about the new players in the Bundesliga is that it shows the standing that German football enjoys in European football. We can all benefit if players like Toni or Ribery play in Germany.