Now that the excitement of the World Cup 2014 has died down and we have had time to digest the memorable moments of the tournament, this is a good time to reflect and examine why Germany won the trophy.
There is a general consensus that the Germans were deserving winners.
They went to Brazil after passing through a period of failure and underachievement. They had failed to win the World Cup since 1990, finished dead last in their group in the 2000 European Championship and went to the semi-finals in their last 4 major international tournaments but failed to win a trophy.
In discussing the reason for their success in 2014 one could look back to the beginning of the century when Germany revolutionized the game at home by instituting far-reaching reforms with a focus on youth development, by introducing a new policy to include immigrant players in the national team and by using scientific methods to help with the preparation and performance of players.
These were no doubt contributing factors but in my opinion the overriding reasons for their World Cup success were the development of team discipline, an emphasis on attention to details and the team’s overall efficiency.
In the World Cup Germany won the hardest group in the first round including a 4-0 win over Portugal. But it was in the knockout rounds that the overall quality of the team began to appear when they patiently overcame a resolute Algeria and beat host and favorite Brazil 7-1 in the semi-final.
How were they able to do this? The short answer is that it was largely due to discipline. In 7 games, they never conceded a penalty, got only 6 yellow cards and never received a red card while suffering the third most number of fouls of any team.
This discipline did not emerge overnight. As head coach Joachim Loew said «it was the product of many years of work». It started 10 years ago from the days of previous coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
They adopted a ‘team-first approach’ to their game I.e. the players must maintain a belief in collective goals and a consistent commitment to training and preparation on a daily basis.
What emerged from the experience of watching the German team in the World Cup was a model for a young player to learn by evaluating his or her own commitment to the team.
The standards exhibited by the Germans were that a player must make the most of every opportunity on the field, buy into the team’s collective goals, set aside one’s own personal agenda and focus on the team’s objectives.
A high level of mental discipline in controlling emotions in the heat of the competition is also important. A player must stay disciplined and not lose control of his emotions, get sent off and leave the team to play a man down.
Regardless of how much discipline a team has, the process of finding ultimate success is not complete until it acquires another standard set by Germany, namely, attention to detail.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Before the World Cup 50 students from the University of Cologne compiled a database of information about every team, their structure and players which was made available to the German squad.
In Brazil, the Germans set up base by building a 14 villa luxury compound in the middle of a small town of 800 people protected by high walls and armed guards.
It was located in a tropical area in order to prepare the players for the hot conditions they would experience. Care was taken to use grass on the training pitch that was identical to that used on Brazilian pitches.
The camp was like a fortress, made to exclude all outside distractions but ideal for focus and concentration. The players were isolated from the outside world and were given new cell phone numbers to avoid receiving calls from anyone. And of course they had the usual complement of physical fitness specialists and psychologists.
Attention to detail also focused on tactics on the field.
Each player knew what he had to do and did it. Each of the 6 matches leading up to the final was treated as a warm-up and there was no celebration for winning until after the final.
After a close extra-time win over Algeria in the round of 16, the captain Philipp Lahm was moved from the midfield to full back for the last 3 matches. This change of tactic worked because after that they scored 9 and conceded only 2 goals.
It was noticeable that when Germany was defending, their front men retreated into deep positions to help the defense especially to recover balls that rebounded from their keeper. In contrast, when Mexico lost to Holland the Mexican strikers failed to do this; in the 88th minute Mexico was leading and a shot rebounded from Mexican keeper Ochoa and went straight to Dutch attacker, Wesley Sneijder who was unmarked and able to convert it. This neglect of a small detail cost Mexico a place in the quarter final.
GOAL EXPECTATION AND EFFICIENCY
In a study conducted among European clubs for the season 2012-2013, to measure the overall efficiency of teams (I.e. the number of goals scored in relation to chances created), two measures were used:-
«Shooting efficiency» measures whether you score more goals than are expected (probable) given the quality of chances you are presented with, and
«Defensive efficiency» measures to see if the number of goals conceded is lower compared to the expectation.
Interestingly the only team that appears in the top 15% in both measures is Bayern Munich (STATS BOMB- Goal Expectation and Efficiency, by Colin Trainor, August 6, 2013). The relevance of this is that the German national team is predominantly made up of Bayern Munich players. They are almost one and the same.
Not for the first time the words «Germany» and «efficiency» appear in the same sentence. In the World Cup this efficiency traversed onto the field of play. In the game against Brazil, Germany were outshot by Brazil 18-14 despite the one-sided result and in the final, Argentina created 3 clear chances and missed them while Germany created one which was taken and so they won.
With the largest population and the richest economy in Europe, Germany has an available pool of young talent and could spend about 1.1 billion dollars since 2001 on the soccer revolution. What has emerged is not a once-in-a-lifetime «golden generation» of players but a sustainable system that can produce great players at the highest level for a long time.
Victor A. Dixon
July 31, 2014