When I was 13, I loved football, enjoyed writing and didn’t have a girlfriend so I decided to write a book entitled the 100 Greatest Players of all Time, for which I did a fair amount of research. One of the stories that I remember reading when exploring the career of Alfredo Di Stefano, the Argentine legend of the game who sadly passed away this week, was that in the 1940s, so dominant were his River Plate side that they employed a sporting tactic known as ‘five and dance’ where they would play exhibition football having attained a five goal lead, and not attempt to score another until, or if, the opposition scored one themselves.
If this story is true, then it would certainly have been a fitting tribute to Di Stefano if Germany, having racked up an astonishing five goal lead within the opening half hour last night, had toyed with and humiliated the tournament hosts as his River Plate side so often, ostentatiously did. That however, never has been and never will be the German way, as Joachim Low and his side pressed harder to accentuate the scale of the humiliation before ending up 7-1 winners on one of the most staggering nights in the history of the World Cup.
Brazilian fans and pundits will rightly site the missing Thiago Silva (suspension) and Neymar (injury) as the key reasons for their country’s on-field capitulation, but the truth is that this is simply an extremely poor all-round team; even had they been able to select their two best players, Scolari’s men would’ve still lost comfortably, though perhaps not quite by six goals. Without sounding melodramatic it’s hard to think of many names from this Brazil squad who may still warrant a place in future teams. Hulk and Fred have shown themselves to be horrendously out of their depth and may well never play international football again. Dani Alves’ star looks to be rapidly waning; Julio Cesar is also clearly not the player he was. Paulinho looks to be at a crossroads in his career where a fast turnaround in form is needed to prevent a potentially unrecoverable stagnation. Oscar meanwhile, surely has much more to contribute to his country but this run of mediocre form is beginning to teeter on the verge worryingly long, also.
As for David Luiz, with his transfer to PSG now completed it’s been interesting to regard him as a neutral, seriously for the first time. Admittedly at times in the tournament where he was leading from the back, exuding unrivalled levels of passion and hammering in 35 yard free kicks, I was thinking about how much I’ll miss watching him at Stamford Bridge; tonight though was a prompt reminder of what I’m certainly not going to miss. Luiz was tactically so poor in the build up to some goals; it was frankly embarrassing for a player of his talent. I was only ever an advocate of Luiz at Chelsea and I’ll continue to rebut those who insist he cannot defend, but the undeniable, ever present risk of a performance like last night’s certainly won’t be a missed concern now he’s moved on.
Back on topic, clearly, all is not well with Brazilian football. The decades long problem they’ve suffered of struggling to accommodate both the ‘technocratic’ aspect of coaching in the country with the demand for extravagant individual skill and flamboyance, from both the public and advertising companies has consistently churned out sides filled with technically average players led by often solitary geniuses, on whom the weight of expectation goes miles past unreasonable. Occasionally a few geniuses have come along together and it has worked but in the modern game, against sides as complete as this Germany team, there will surely only ever be one outcome from here on in, until things have changed substantially.
And they could certainly do a lot worse than to adopt the fundamental changes made by the German FA around 2004 – the fruits of which now compose by far the most talented and tactically intelligent squad of the tournament. In their opening four games Germany seemed to lack any clear system or methodology, with Low overly committed to fielding as many small, technical passers of the ball as possible in midfield. His changes made for the past two games however have resolved all issues as he looks to have found the perfect balance at exactly the right time.
Manuel Neuer is probably the best all-round goalkeeper I’ve ever seen. The defence is a solid unit and much better with Philipp Lahm in his regular right back position. The midfield trio of Sami Khedria, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos is a sensational blend of energy, intelligence and supreme passing ability whilst in men like Miroslav Klose, Thomas Muller and to a lesser extent, Andre Schurrle, they have forwards they can rely on to deliver time and again when presented with opportunities .
Both Argentina and the Netherlands would represent fascinating opponents for the Germans this weekend, with Argentina the only side who come close to matching the Germans for individual quality, whilst Louis Van Gaal’s men would be infinitely more of match than Brazil, tactically speaking at least. It remains at this stage however practically impossible to bet against the Germans for the final, whoever they end up playing. It would’ve been disastrous had Low not managed to win a trophy with this generation of talent – he’s now one extremely long awaited step from completing this aim, from way back when he set about establishing reforms in German football with Jurgen Klinsmann some ten years ago. Brazil need to take note and do all they can to emulate the work done by German football this past decade. They may always remain the ‘spiritual homeland’ of the game but the sport is undeniably changing and if they want to remain a competitive superpower then they have to start changing with it.