Monday, July 03, 2006

 

The Conversion of a Panzer to a BMW Roadster

Converting an imprenetable slow moving panzer to a thrilling speedy roadster is by no means easy. In this case the mechanic is none other than Juergen Klinsmann and his vehicle is close to 100 years old. Throw in factors such as incredible pressure, intense scrutiny, filling in the shoes of a highly successful predecessor, with very limited time and you have the makings of a highly interesting saga.

In the last World Cup Klinsmann's predecessor of Rudi Voller took a team that was not regarded highly to the World Cup Finals then stumbled slightly 2 years later at the European championships and was put under such intense pressure he had no choice but resign. Finding a replacement and having him succeed was not an easy task. As it turns out, the replacement found has brought on some major changes in the style and strategy, possibly paving the way for the future of German football very bright.

Although Germany have conceded just 3 goals in 5 matches, this German team has clearly been converted from defense-at-all-costs approach to a fast all out attack - somewhat akin to how Klinsmann himself played the game. Clearly, the German team have looked impressive in all of their games so far.

Add to this typical of German strategy, where clever schemes are devised to play the ball to the positions that they want, and attack their particular opponent where their opponents are strongest. One of the most obvious points are the corners. There is a stark contrast between the English team which seem to more heavily focus direct attacks on the net as compared to the more often indirect attacks by the German team by putting the ball into the corners where the opponents more easily surrender position and then later put across crisp crosses. I've often noticed the English media always seem to believe that the Germans are simply great at headers, but I wonder if this is a forest through the trees thing. The German teams may focus their practising on crosses knowing that this might be the one aspect others pay less attention to and therefore provide better probabilities.

The German press and media ranks up there for criticzing their team and coach. It is quite interesting to note that the man the Germans call "Kaiser" - Franz Beckenbauer and his allies have been and are able to escape the same criticsm. Take the ongoing saga of Klinsmann selecting Jens Lehmann ahead of Oliver Kahn - who was himself was selected as the most valued player by winning the Golden Ball Award at the last World Cup. So far, Lehmann looks like a pretty good choice. If Klinsmann decided that Kahn and Lehmann were pretty much even, then perhaps the decision was based on Lehmann would be less scouted (I concede this argument is not strong due to Arsenal and EPL are typically much more available). More likely Lehmann was selected due to more hunger (waiting on sidelines watching Kahn for 2+ World Cups). Another likely factor in the Lehmann decision was chemistry - Kahn is much more vocal and commanding then Lehmann, once Ballack was selected as captain Klinsmann may have wanted to avoid potential conflicts with Ballack and Kahn both being strong personalities.

Klinsmann himself was well aware of the pressures from the media and fans: "If we lose against Argentina Friday, then the debate will start all over: wouldn't it be better to play more cautious? First secure the defense? Wait for a counterattack? That is why it is so important that we advance to the final."

Now in place are all the factors needed to provide the match of this World Cup. Germany versus Italy has the potential makings of a classic and it's happening this weekend. The 2nd Finals before the Finals (Germany vs Argentina was the 1st Finals). Either of these 2 teams could win it all. Surprisingly, the odds are indicating Germany will win this massive battle.

The German media have now changed their position. Before the Germany vs Argentina game, if Germany were to have lost that game then Klinsmann and his changes would have taken the brunt of the heat. Forgotten would have been the media and press criticsm on Rudi Voller to force him out and that no-one else wanted the job of coaching the national team. Forgotten would have been the fact Germany has not exactly played well in the past half a decade. Forgotten would have been the fact Germany went into this tournament as an underdog. Forgotten would have been the German team winning their first 4 games and thereby providing their most impressive start in 30+ years. Is it any wonder whoever took the job would not jump at the chance of moving back from the U.S. to Germany?

It is quite possible that no one has changed the German teams look in the past 50 years as has Klinsmann - possibly for the better, and this fact cannot be understated. One needs to look no further than the gutsy decision Klinsmann made to stick with the youngster Podolski through thick and thin. Indeed the Podolski decision has recently only paid off the past couple of games. Even a relatively young player like Michael Ballack's has criticized Klinsmann's strategy of not enough focus on defense:
“Jurgen Klinsmann has put together a very young team over the last two years and we are always making the same mistakes and we have the same problems in defence,” Ballack said on the eve of Germany's final warm-up against Colombia. We have a very, very attacking style as we showed against Japan but we are losing too much possession. The coach knows what I think as well as what other players think. We have already spoken about this but it's up to him to make the final decisions.”

Through all of this pressure Klinsmann has remained cool and collected and remarkably clearheaded. If Klinsmann is able to pull this team together with the unprecented changes made he will surely go down in history as a fabulous underdog story.

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