Saturday, 3 June 2017

Löw: "Champions need Competition too", 01.06.2017

Germany manager Joachim Löw and the national team have an intense few weeks ahead of them preparing for a friendly in Denmark, a World Cup qualification game against San Marino, and then the Confederations Cup in Russia. The 57-year-old World Cup winning manager speaks with on his inexperienced squad, the hopeful talent in it and the anticipation for the tournament in Russia, as well as the political situation in the World Cup 2018 host country.

Question: Joachim Löw, how good are the espressos in Russia?

Joachim Löw: I have to say – they’re decent. I’ve not had any bad experienced so far (laughs).

Question: So you’re looking forward to the Confederations Cup?

Löw: Yes, very much so. We’ve got time now to build chemistry within the team, which is good. I think the tournament is exciting for us because we can gain more experience – especially for this squad...

Question: ... a very young one without many World-Cup-winners.

Löw: The goal is to win the 2018 World Cup and retain the trophy, and taking part in the Confederations Cup is a part of that. I’m hoping that three or four, or even five players make an impression in the tournament, and are then in a position to put pressure on the established World-Cup-winning players as we go into the 2018 World Cup. We want to have players on a different level, and that’s important to me.

Question: Does that mean that you’ve already decided on 80-90% of your 2018 World Cup squad?

Löw: Not necessarily, no. We have around twelve or thirteen World Champions who are established players, and I know they have a lot of experience and a lot of quality, players like Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira, Thomas Müller, and Mesut Özil. But what’s most important is to keep rotating the squad, and that happens when the young players impress and want to fight for a place in the team. That makes those players who have already shown their quality continue to produce good performances. These players have quality, but they also need some competition so they still have something to prove. I want us to stay hungry.

Question: But the World-Cup-winners have an advantage?

Löw: Yes, that’s right. The players I named are constantly playing at the top level of international football and are key players for their clubs. I’ve also been pleased with their performances after the World Cup. Despite this, we want to always set out reminders that these players can’t rest on their laurels. They need to be pressured by younger players so that they continue to develop further and become a better and better. Every individual has to play to the best of their ability at the World Cup – maybe even better than they ever have before. A team will struggle if that’s not the case.

Question: Are you therefore treating the Confederations Cup as a tryout?

Löw: Yes, that’s how I look at the Confederations Cup – it’s important. We have talented players in the squad, in the Bundesliga, and in the clubs – but the Bundesliga isn’t the benchmark for us, it’s the best players that are the yardstick. Messi and Ronaldo. Julian Brandt, Leroy Sane, Joshua Kimmich, Julian Weigl, Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry and other players are very talented and have so much potential, but they’re not the best in the world yet, nowhere near! We need world-class players if we want to win a title.

Question: What do you make of the breaks between the big tournaments?

Löw: Over the years I’ve learnt that one needs to make changes, regardless of whether you’re successful or not. Not always abruptly, but over certain phases of time. We’re all waiting for every second-year in the cycle – the ones in which we play in a big tournament, so the Confederations Cup is an important stepping stone. We’re now together for four weeks, and we’ll play seven games including the two international friendlies. This gives me time to evaluate the players and decide who needs to work on what.

Question: What effect has the U21 European Championship had on you, in terms of not being able to select even more young players?

Löw: It’s a shame that Leroy Sane has withdrawn from the squad. He has incredible potential and a tournament would have been great for him – whether he played in one for us or for the U21s. There are players who have played well for both teams. The U21 European Championship is as important for us, and it’s good that the players will be looking to prove themselves there as well.

Question: What players will take on positions of leadership at the Confederations Cup? Is Julian Draxler a logical choice for captain?

Löw: Julian should definitely take on more responsibility as a leader. He’s one of the leaders of the next generation after Manuel Neuer. Draxler can play for Germany consistently when they retire. He’s become a better player and person throughout his time in Paris. Shkodran Mustafi is a player who can organise players well and is very communicative. Besides them, it remains to be seen who will emerge as a leader, which is exciting and nice to see.

Question: What do you make of the political climate of the countries in which you play?

Löw: We communicate with our President, Reinhard Grindel, who is leading the delegation in Russia. The DFB pay a lot of attention to the situation. I think that it’s important to use the opportunity to look behind the curtain when you go to a country, and then formulate and express an opinion. We’ll talk to the team before we go to Russia, like we did prior to the tournaments in South Africa and Brazil. We can’t forget that we’re the guests in Russia and are participating in a football tournament, and we shouldn’t expect football to solve problems and misunderstandings that politics can’t solve. But we certainly won’t just turn a blind eye.

Question: What exactly do you mean?

Löw: We spoke about the problems that exist in South Africa and Brazil. I see it like this: As a team, we have the opportunity to meet people thanks to sport. It’s about meeting others, and football has the amazing power to bring people together, regardless of skin colour, race, and political opinions. That’s what we play for. Our players are open-minded and should look at what’s going on and formulate an opinion. We should be open-minded to the football fans in every country –that’s important. I think that Russia is a great country for football and that’s something that we have in common. Our team can contribute something in that regard.

Question: Will you convene with your opponents in the discussions that Reinhard Grindel mentioned?

Löw: That’s not what we have in mind, especially given that we’re operating on a tight programme with many busy dates set for the calendar. Our President knows more about it than I do, as does Oliver Bierhoff, and they’re both in discussions about it. However, I think that the team and delegation already play a role. We want to show what we stand for – that the Germany team is one of tolerance, freedom, and one that looks forward to going to any country, and that is open to understanding the cultures and mentalities of people all over the world. That’s what’s important for me.

Question: Are you looking forward to the World Cup as much as you were in 2016, given the criticism on FIFA and the hosts, Russia?

Löw: Yes, we’re looking forward to it as much as we would any other tournament. I’m excited for Russia, because they’ve been friendly to me so far. You get the sense that the Russians are Germans share a respect for one another. But we’re focused on the football, the team, the tournament, and the opponents. The boys have worked hard for their success in sport and are thankfully fully focussed on that. There were discussions in countries like South Africa and Brazil, where millions demonstrated on the streets one year prior to the World Cup. We’re very aware of that.

Question: How much does the Confederation Cup mean to you?

Löw: I know from my own experience that the Confederations Cup is great preparation for the hosts. We did a lot in 2005, and it helped improve the spirit of the team. Russia are looking forward to it and are taking the tournament very seriously. As a manager I have to ask questions like ‘how big is the strain on the players whom I’ve relied on for eight or nine years?’ and ‘how will they cope with a tournament like this?’

Question: And?

Löw: I know what it means to be together for eight weeks like we did in 2014 or 2016 after a difficult football season. It takes a toll on your mind and body. Then the players start training again two or three weeks afterwards as they return to their regular league schedule. That has consequences, like players constantly getting injured because they’re not 100%, as they haul themselves through a season losing more and more form. Three tournaments in three years is the limit, in my opinion.

Question: Are players like Mario Götze and Jerome Boateng examples of that?

Löw: It’s still too early for me to be worried; I know that players do get injured.

Question: The German clubs were eliminated from international competitions due to injuries at the most crucial times this season. Is this a warning to you?

Löw: Not in the Champions League, no. Bayern could have done it against Real. Bayern were very good and at least Real’s equals – they’re always in the conversation to win the Champions League, but at this top level it always comes down to the little things and exceptional circumstances. Borussia Dortmund had to deal with the terrible attack. They had a good season in my mind. As for the Europa League, I had hoped that one of the teams would go a bit further than they did. Schalke had one foot in the semi-final.

Question: Do you ever get tired of football?

Löw: No, maybe just three or four weeks after a tournament. Tournaments last half a year for us when you include the preparations and the crazily intense discussions. As the manager I’m always in the spotlight. When the tournament is done, I feel fatigued a few days after, regardless of the result. It’s the same after every highlight. There’s so much emotion and then I say: let me relax for two or three weeks in peace. I want to refuel and enjoy other things.

Question: That seems difficult given the constant stream of football.

Löw: It’s a dangerous game, we can’t exhaust ourselves. You can get the impression that it’s oversaturated sometimes. The players go on holiday for a few days at the end of the season, but can’t really enjoy a proper holiday because they always have a training programme of sorts. Then they have to return after two weeks. It’s not good in the long-term. There are lots of tournaments, like the Club World Cup, the World Cup, and the European Championship. I think to myself that if you have a good product and you want to make it even more desirable, then perhaps a longer break would be better.

Question: Do you fear that there’ll be a point where there’s too much football?

Löw: We should remain realistic and not think of all the possible negative scenarios, as we all love football. However, it comes to a point where you have to ask ‘is there no limit?’ The European Championship was exciting, but I don’t find it that exciting when three of four teams in a group progress. It’s dangerous if a team can progress with three draws, because it means that the smaller teams will go in with the mentality of just defending, because they don’t have to necessarily win anymore. It just destroys the game. That has an effect on the quality of the game, and changes the way football is played. The game relies on the offensive, to act rather than to react and dig in with ten men.

Question: Is that not frustrating? Or do you still have moments of joy when on the bench?

Löw: Yes, because I also find it exciting as a manager to play against an opponent that sets up defensively, like Northern Ireland at the European Championship. We only won 1-0, but had ten massive chances. It’s enjoyable to watch my team play when they’re able to control the game like that, but for the fans watching in the stadium or on television it can be boring.

Question: What are your thoughts on the commercialisation of football – a topic that was brought up around the DFB-Pokal final?

Löw: The Pokal-final is a great end to the season and certainly a highlight of it – it’s like a public holiday for football. It deserves to have a big stage and be modern, young, trendy and fresh. Personally, I feel for Helene Fischer, and I’m sorry for the fact that she was whistled at – she didn’t deserve to be. I don’t think that the national anthem should be whistled at either – that’s disrespectful. The DFB-Pokal is a great competition as it’s the most important title alongside the Bundesliga which you can win in Germany. The clubs play on a huge platform and for big incentives. It’s clear that it has to be played out a bit.

Question: The DFB has attracted a lot of criticism. Does it deserve said criticism?

Löw: I find that the DFB is portrayed far too negatively. It’s obvious that sanctions aren’t popular with clubs, but for me fireworks have no place in the stadium because they’re dangerous and aren’t an expression of so-called ‘fan culture’. The DFB does so much good for football in society. It’s a shame that they’re the subject of so much public criticism.

Question: Is football harming itself?

Löw:The burden on the players is incredibly heavy. I ask myself: can a player play for twelve or 13 years at international level as was the case 15-20 years ago, or was Miroslav Klose just an exception? Can players who are 20 at the moment still improve when they’re 30, or will they get worse at 27 or 28 because of the burden?

Question: Is that true?

Löw:It’s not just the games. There are also very short breaks, short preparation times, the tournaments, lots of travel, lots of energy expired. I see signs of wear on relatively young players.

Question: Therefore, you’re giving lots of stars a break this summer.

Löw:Yes. I want to make sure that our players who have played in a lot of tournaments are rested for the upcoming season and can perform at their best next year, because they will have to. We’ll have a young and dedicated squad at the Confed Cup in Russia. We’re excited and we’re taking it seriously. Then next year Russia will see our world champions who want to build on their success.

Question:Should you successfully defend the World Cup title in 2018, will you consider stepping aside?

Löw:That’s still an incredibly long way off. But I know that there is still a good working relationship with the DFB. A tournament is always a point in time when you look at what the development has been and what the different perspectives are. Then you ask: is it ok? As the coach I have to ask myself whether I feel the team is achieving, whether we can still improve, whether I still have ideas. I don’t base this on the odd result, rather on the whole situation.

Question: Does this new, young squad of players for the Confed Cup also revitalise the national team coach?

Löw:Yes of course. Now we need to see if we can generate a certain harmony in a short space of time, a certain basis. We need to make things automatic, go back to basics and ensure the players take note of our philosophy. I find that exciting.

Question: Is development more important than the title for you then?

Löw:Both are very important to me. Development has always been important to me. I’m not a coach who only concerned with results. I want to see the team improve in their play and in other aspects. We always want to move with the times. Germany doesn’t believe, thank goodness, that if you just run and fight you will always get through. That was the case in the past and that was our strength. But everything has changed and we need to develop further in a footballing sense. Enjoyment is also one of the German values.

1 June 2017
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