22 years of German European dominance, came to a grinding and spectacular halt in Rotterdam. Rain and a lot of it lashed down on the pitch, causing the initial game to be postponed. Steffi Jones, clearing her teams dug-out of water. The next day she could not bail out her team, as Denmark produced the unparalleled shock in recent European championship history.
Knocking the holders out, in a engaging and demonstrably compelling game. The only time in recent history, the 3rd place World Cup play-off defeat to England a benchmark. For German failure at a major tournament. But where do Germany go from here on in, how do they recover?
Not the time to ditch Jones
German sides have often been built upon resilience, an ability to weather the harshest of footballing storms. It’s a trait that is inherently built into the very core, of every German player. That trusted resilient approach was lacking, lost in a mix of self doubt and pressure. Jones will have to help her players rediscover it, and in part the DFB must allow her to do so. Any knee-jerk reaction by the German football association in removing Jones from her position. Would only cause more problems than it would solve.
Following her teams shock defeat, Jones was frank in her assessment. Brimming full of hope, despite her teams exit she said: “My motivation is still there. We’re in a process. This experience is tough to take, but also important. We will come out the stronger for it. The DFB will sit down with me in the coming days. I want to carry on.”
Germany feel change of European football hierarchy
It’s too simplistic an argument, that firing Jones would benefit Germany. It simply would not, it must be conceived that the football hierarchy has fundamentally shifted in the last four years. At what can only be described at a breakneck speed. Germany are in a position that they need to find their place in it. Football has moved on with teams like England and the Netherlands improving. In some areas overtaking them, in terms of identifiable development.
Teams now have an unwavering belief that Germany are vulnerable. Once the air of invincibility is removed, as they have experienced. That susceptibility to be able to beat them, becomes a more common occurrence. For the last few years there have been indications that German dominance had been coming to an end. With the margin in victory being greatly diminished. Other nations building forward momentum. Germany in essence stagnating despite massive investment. Euro 2017 has accelerated and further pronounced that belief.
The DFB have invested in both playing staff, back-room facilities with every barrier to the team not giving a performance removed. Nothing has been left to chance. The infrastructure is there, the world-class players are in place. Participation levels in the domestic structure have always been consistently high. It’s league structure the Bundesliga, always fiercely competitive. There is perhaps little to change when it comes to the technical elements of German football. What is clear, other countries have finally played catch-up.
It will come down to a few basic structural changes and uncharacteristic shift in German mindset. For decades the team that Silvia Neid struck fear into the opposition. That very facet almost raising the white flag from the opposition, well before kick-off. Is gone, Germany will have to change their approach.
“Expectations are always high for Germany, but our attitude and body language weren’t right today.”
The same lack of intensity and poor mental application littered German performance. Not fully comfortable in themselves, not fully switched on. Taking tournament progression for granted.
The Nadia Nadim goal a perfect example of that lack of tactical and mental application. Germany need to re-group and not automatically believe they are entitled to win.
Change through humility
Teams have turned up not fully expecting, perceived weaker sides to offer up a challenge. Germany have to be included in that list. To truly learn, Jones, the DFB and players must do so with humility. Fundamentally accept the disheartening defeat, realising in the process that they need to examine in forensic detail. Their short-comings at Euro 2017 and go about in an open process correcting them.
Common sense and a degree of pragmatism are needed. Players must be given the chance to feedback in open dialogue their concerns. Failure to see the glaring problems, they have encountered to listen in a non-constructive atmosphere. Will see the team be subject to more, tournament heartache.
Germany fail to take their chances
On the pitch performance has been an issue, with only one goal coming from open play. Opposition teams using their physicality to disrupt the German game. Despite the plethora of chances created it was the inability of the team to break stubborn opposition down. Teams playing a hugely defensive game, hitting them on the counter. Denmark in a spectacular and damaging way. Italy producing a fine display that almost bore a more meaningful outcome.
Mixed with link up play being far to intricate, almost as if at times they were running out of ideas. Germany need to rediscover the art form of breaking teams down again, that has served them well over the years.
They have also missed the presence of Alexandra Popp, who despite her undesputed ability to back herself. Always seemed to get Germany out of trouble. There were few players who you could sense, could get the team out of the quagmire they dug themselves into. Mandy Islacker and her colleagues getting into great positions but not being clinical with the chances created.
Underscoring a huge problem, composure in front of goal. That comes through a mental resilience, calmness and technical application. Germany now need to go back to basics, to find that lost composure. To not play themselves into corners, literally and metaphorically.
It’s been a hard lesson for a country so successful to learn, it’s not one that isn’t impossible to put right. The road to recovery will take a boldness and openness to change, to stick with Jones to deliver a positive response to this period of seemingly tumultuous transition. For the German public and broadcasters to give her a second chance. Their reign is over, the question is can they regain their crown?