Belfast Telegraph

How nice guy Joachim Low is keeping his cool amid Germany's mini-crisis

 

In control: Joachim Low oversees Germany’s training session at Windsor Park last night
In control: Joachim Low oversees Germany’s training session at Windsor Park last night

By Julian Taylor

For Northern Ireland, if there is perhaps only once thing worse than an embattled Germany team, it is, potentially, an angry Germany team.

Joachim Low's side arrived in Belfast yesterday and you could sense, if not quite incomprehension, then a little uncertainty in the wake of Friday's night's shock defeat at the hands of the Netherlands in Hamburg.

Low has experienced virtually every conceivable scenario as manager of Die Mannschaft since taking over in 2006 and the pressure on his tracksuited shoulders ahead of facing Northern Ireland is significant. Not that this coolest of international operators was showing it as the whirr of camera shutters enveloped a surprisingly convivial press conference room at Windsor Park.

As expected, there is a battery of media interest travelling from Germany, all watchful before the team itself set about acclimatising to their surroundings.

And at least two journalists had long enough memories - 37 years to be exact - to mention a certain Norman Whiteside to this reporter.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill may not have an attacker with the blockbuster status of 'Big Norm' to face the Germans these days but there was still a collective agreement from the visitors that Low's outfit could be in for an aggressive, challenging evening.

Low, as suave and impressive as you assume from a coach of his long, exacting, pedigree, exuded the air of a fifth Beatle, albeit with a number of famous hits to his credit.

The Germany chief is well liked by his press corps, despite the obvious overbearing attention he elicits as manager of the national team - even in the midst of a mini-crisis, a recurring theme of Germany's pre-match press briefing.

"He is a very friendly man," says German radio reporter Jorg Tegelhutter.

"He is from around Freiburg near the Swiss border; he has a strong accent and is a very relaxed person. I have never heard anything negative or aggressive from him."

Yet, how remarkable it is to comprehend that, out of all those who lifted the World Cup as recently as 2014, only Toni Kroos and keeper Manuel Neuer, remain central to Low's plans.

His ruthlessness in jettisoning vastly-experienced stars such as Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez has been well documented.

"Some of us in the media have been discussing with Low of the possibility he should bring back Mats Hummels, but I think he is still going to keep with these current players," added Tegelhutter.

"He says he is going to trust with the players he has here and won't change too much. I think he will go with four defenders (against Northern Ireland).

"There hasn't been a lot of focus on Northern Ireland from Germany because of what happened against the Netherlands as there is still so much debate about what went wrong, especially as it is such a special game. We kept coming back to this game even though we are playing Northern Ireland."

Optimists of course, within the Green and White Army, might suggest that given two of the total of only 10 defeats in Euro qualifying history for Germany have been at the hands of Northern Ireland, maybe it's time for a review.

It's incongruous to imagine O'Neill having such luxury of personnel to take a scalpel to big names who are still young enough to contribute, but in view of Germany's terrible group stage exit at last year's World Cup and relegation from the Nations League, Low has taken the extreme option in order to give opportunities to a new generation.

The coach hinted of a little uncertainty surrounding his best team for tonight's big clash, now that Manchester City star Ilkay Gundogan is absent with flu, although Neuer will play.

The manager appeared to elaborate at length in response to criticism from predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann on Germany's current tactics although, frustratingly, translation was somewhat inadequately concise. In any language, admittedly, Low is a famed, cultured guru anyone would be intrigued to listen to.

Much, therefore, was left to the imagination, although the World Cup winner expressed the usual polite points about how impressive Northern Ireland fans have been in his experience over the last few years.

And with that, he skipped off to oversee training. Even with a hood up against the fine misty rain sweeping south Belfast, the veteran, at 59, still looked like a formidable gunslinger. Amiable and in control.

Belfast Telegraph

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