The German question
Fill in the blank: Germany are the _________-best team in the world.
It might seem like a trivial question after they’ve been eliminated from the World Cup – who cares how good they are if they aren’t going to win it? But in the coming days and weeks there will be debates and discussions about the future of German football, and implicit in a lot of those conversations is that German football needs some fixing.
If you take the rankings from the tournament, they’re no better than 17th. But that instinctively feels wrong – are they really worse than teams like Denmark, or Japan?
Despite their early exit, our League of Nations model rates Germany as the ninth-best team in the world: in a tight cluster of teams behind Brazil and Spain, and still not far off the likes of France and Belgium. They lost by a narrow margin to Mexico, and dominated two games against Sweden and Korea without finding that finishing touch. On another day, they might have won both by a healthy margin. That’s football. In the same way we wouldn’t draw major conclusions three games into a league season, we shouldn’t draw major conclusions from three World Cup matches.
That’s not to say Germany haven’t disappointed. They started the tournament as fourth-favourites in our model. But it would be overly dramatic to describe this as a crisis. There’s no reason to conduct a ‘root and branch review’ of the national team, or to overhaul talent development processes across the country. They’re a good team – still among the world’s best if not right at the top – that had a bad but slightly unlucky tournament, so there’s no need to overreact. They could even take inspiration from Borussia Dortmund during their own bad spell three years ago.
Football’s low-scoring nature makes it the most random of sports. Not even the Germans can escape that fact.