Is German soccer in trouble? A German club hasn't won the Champions League in eight years, and success in the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) has been few and far between as well. World Soccer chats with German national-team coach Joachim Löw, who explains the need for speed at the top level, not just in the legs, but in the mind, too.
World Soccer: Do you believe it is a problem that Germany doesn't have enough players in the top teams who play regularly in the Champions League?
Löw: It's a little bit of a problem. Brazil and Argentina have 40 players. Spain has 35. With Germany, sometimes we have 10 players in the Champions League. Or rather, 10 until December. Then, in the second half of the Champions League, we have Michael Ballack and one or two from Bayern Munich. The Champions League is the best place for young players, but we have this problem: a lot of players here in Germany with no experience of the Champions League. Last year, when we played Spain in the Euro final, the Spanish players in the starting lineup had played 80 Champions League matches between them that season and our team had played only 20 -- so 25 percent of what Spain had.
World Soccer: Does that make the UEFA Cup more important? Is Germany now in the second tier?
Löw: For German football, it's very important to have a club in the final [Werder Bremen lost to Shakhtar Donetsk in May] because for a long time, we have had no teams in a final. Bayern Munich was the last team to win the Champions League, in 2001. We've not had a lot of success in the UEFA Cup, either. Some people might say it's only the UEFA Cup, but it's still important for us.
World Soccer: If your players are not playing in the Champions League, how does the national team stay at the top level?
Löw: The national team has been successful in the last four or five years. We were third at the World Cup and ['05] Confederations Cup, then second at the European Championship. Currently we are top of our World Cup qualification group, so we've been successful, but I'm getting tired of telling everyone in Germany that we still need to educate. We need to do something special, that's very important. I see the top teams in the Premier League in England, or in Spain, and they are really high quality. I have spent some time with ArsèneWenger and Alex Ferguson, watching their training. It's speed, speed, speed. The mentality is to go at high speed all the time. I'm talking about training. In the matches you can see it, but in training I have also seen unbelievable speed.
World Soccer: But you need to have a clear picture of what is going on as well, don't you? It's not just about the ability to run fast.
Löw: Last year we did some analysis of different leagues in Europe because you can observe everything now with cameras. Then you can see the speed in the match. Some clubs are working on a super level because they have a philosophy for the whole club. I was in Barcelona and I saw the Under-17 team play a game in training against the first team. I didn't see any difference. Seventeen-year-old players from Barcelona with perfect technique, perfect position, perfect speed. Of course, maybe they did not have the 100 percent motivation of the professionals, but I saw something special. They practice in training from the age of 12, 13, 14, so when they go into the first team, they know what they have to do.
World Soccer: In Germany, they don't do that?
Löw: No. We have some clubs who are working very well with this type of education, like Stuttgart. But some clubs say they want to buy these players, then they sell them, then buy some more. Some clubs have three coaches in a year. Some clubs have bought 60 players in the last two or three years. Where is the philosophy? Where is the structure? In Germany, some things are good but we have to grow, we have to be better. If we are satisfied now, we have no chance. We always have to see what is going on in England, in Spain, in Italy, in France. What is good there? What can we take? Everybody has to think about what they can do better.
World Soccer: Is the growing number of foreign players in Germany a problem?
Löw: Yes, sometimes it's a problem for the national team. The young players don't always get the chance to play. The foreign players are very important for a league and we have some really top, top foreign players. But we have too many average ones. Sometimes when I see some teams they have 10 foreign players but I cannot see the face of that team, an identity. I see average players who are also earning a lot of money. Sometimes it would be good to give young players a chance.
World Soccer: You watch games all over Europe. Are there new tactics? Everybody seems to play the same way nowadays.
Löw: Tactics are different to systems. Some play defensive, some are more attacking. Some play 4-4-2, some play 4-5-1. Most important is speed and technique. You can do everything with top speed. Without speed you do nothing. Speed up here [points to head], speed in the technique and also 100 percent concentration on tactics. I saw the FA Cup semifinal, Chelsea-Arsenal, wow! The game was so fast, so strong!
World Soccer: So are you encouraging young German players to leave for the English or Spanish leagues?
Löw: It depends on the player. For Lukas Podolski, for example, he's at Bayern Munich and had some offers from foreign clubs and from German clubs [Podolski returned to FC Köln this summer]. But I know him and, for the next two or three years, it's better for him to play in this country because he needs a family around him, he needs the spectators, he needs a guarantee of regular first-team games. For other players, it would be good to have the experience of playing in a foreign country. For Ballack, it was very good to go to Chelsea from Bayern because he had won everything here. We have a lot of young players in the national team who are 20, 21, 22. It wouldn't be good for them to go to a foreign country. Maybe at 25, 26, 27, they would be able to do it.
World Soccer: Can you combine being a club coach and a national coach like Guus Hiddink did with Chelsea?
Löw: For me, no. It would be impossible. It's is very difficult because you have your brain with one team. Our task is to watch all the players two or three times a week every week. There is a lot to concentrate on. We have 30 players we have contact with every week. If I was also a club coach, and maybe in the Champions League, I don't know if I could watch all the players. It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For me it's not possible, but Hiddink is successful with it. I couldn't do what Luis Aragonés did, leave Spain after the European Championship final and then two days later start at Fenerbahçe. You have to prepare yourself for a job.