Joachim Low, the beleaguered head coach of Germany, is running out of allies, following the historic 6-0 defeat to Spain that not only cost his team a place at the next Uefa Nations League finals but has saddled the most successful German coach of this century with a horrible blemish on his record. It was the country's worst defeat since 1931.
Although the influential team manager, Oliver Bierhoff, who speaks for the German Football Federation, immediately backed Low to remain in his job through next summer's European championship, the media have turned sharply. "Time to squirm, Jogi," said Bild-Zeitung.
A number of former captains slammed Low's team selection and focused on the boldest of his decisions since Low oversaw Germany's shock group-phase exit from the 2018 World Cup. Nine months after that, he controversially discarded the experienced trio, Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng, and Mats Hummels
The calls for their return are now deafening. Ex-skipper Bastian Schweinsteiger, who with Muller, Boateng and Hummels won the 2014 World Cup under Low, criticised the lack of leadership in the side, noting that in the behind-closed-doors atmosphere of Seville’s Estadio de la Cartuja, it was Spanish voices that were heard louder than those of German players. “There was no fighting back, it didn’t feel like a team out there,” Schweinsteiger told the broadcaster ARD.
“Players like Boateng and Muller have just won a treble with Bayern Munich, the best club side in Europe. They are in the first-team there. They are German. Why aren’t they doing it for the national team?”
Low’s answer, as he spelled out to Muller, 31, Boateng, 32, and Borussia Dortmund’s Hummels, 31, is that he wanted a “fresh direction” for his Germany. If a 6-0 loss to a vibrant Spain was its destination, then, say his critics, he should be ready to backtrack.
Boateng and Hummels played 43 times together for Germany, mostly in partnership in the centre of defence. Logic says a Germany side that concedes two headed goals from corners before half-time against Spain needs better organising at the heart of defence. And though the rout by La Roja was spectacular, bad habits had already been fomenting. Germany let in eight goals in their previous five fixtures.
Thus the case for Boateng and Hummels. The case for Muller rests on his form for Bayern, outstanding in the run-in to winning the Champions League in August. He was the Bundesliga’s leading provider of assists last season and leads that list so far this season. Low’s needs in attacking midfield are perhaps less pressing than in central defence, but Muller has a unique gift for working his way into unexpected space.
Beyond that, Muller is a galvaniser, a big-voiced leader. Lothar Matthaus, who captained West Germany to victory at the 1990 World Cup, put it bluntly. “After a defeat like this, you need leaders, and if leadership comes up, you have to mention Muller. This team is lacking a loudspeaker.”
As for the designated leader, captain Manuel Neuer, a day that began with immense pride ended horribly. Neuer set a new national record for the number of caps for a Germany goalkeeper – 96 – on Tuesday. After Spain's Ferran Torres, the Manchester City winger, scored the second goal of his hat-trick 10 minutes into the second-half, Neuer whacked a goal-post in frustration. "We lacked the right body language and there was too little communication," said Neuer of the debacle.
“We lost sight of our plan,” admitted Low, “and were left wandering all over the place.” To inevitable questions about his future, he replied: “That’s for others to answer.”
Bierhoff has answered. "We have absolute trust in Low," he maintained, "and this match will not change that." It is the same leap of faith Low's bosses made two and half years ago, when defeats to Mexico and South Korea turfed the then champions out of the Russia World Cup.
Since then, the reputation of various German coaches have soared: Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, Hansi Flick – Low’s assistant at the 2014 World Cup at Bayern – and the likes of Thomas Tuchel at Paris Saint-Germain and Julian Nagelsmann at RB Leipzig. If and when Low does leave, the shortlist for a successor will be very distinguished.
But none of those stellar managers are available now, with less than eight months to go until the European championship. And that tournament does not start gently. Germany face world champions France first, and then Portugal. The time to correct the shambles of Seville is short.