How Spain & Germany reinvented football


A Spain v Germany final at this summer's European Championships would surprise few in the game of football.

Having overtaken the Netherlands in FIFA's world rankings, Germany are now second on the list behind Vicente del Bosque's side.

Whilst the Dutch, England, Italy and France all hold aspirations of reaching the showpiece event in Poland & Ukraine, there is little to suggest that any have the ability to stop either of European football's new powers.

But these aren't teams that have enjoyed constant glory on the international stage over recent decades, with Spain's back-to-back successes at Euro 2008 and then the 2010 World Cup coming after 40 years of failure.

West Germany won Italia '90, and success at Euro 96 followed for the country as a whole on English shores. But, despite reaching several major finals, further success has eluded the nation, and criticism over the playing style followed.

So, they re-invented themselves, with a plethora of young players getting their chance to embarrass England in South Africa two years ago. They fell to Spain in the semi-final.

We should get used to seeing these two sides meeting in the later stages of major competitions, because Spanish football in particular has created a dynasty that could last for years to come. Germany appears to be the only country who have followed the lead.

France laid foundations for others to copy with their success in the late 90s, reaping the rewards of a training camp at Clairefontaine which saw the best young players work together from a young age.

Where France failed to succeed was replacing the older breed with younger, up-and-coming talent. There subsequent demise, not helped by the stubborn nature of manager Raymond Domenech, led to major tournament failings over the past decade. Under a new manager, with young players like Yann M'Vila, Marvin Martin and Loic Remy coming through, they appear back on the right track.

But Spain may have moved too far ahead of Les Bleus, helped largely by the La Masia training complex at Barcelona, which has helped shape both domestic and international dominance.

The philosophy is simple - technique and tactics are the key. When thinking of Spain's current top players, Andres Iniesta and Xavi come immediately to mind. Then there is David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa. The list of 'small' talents goes on, and it's not just in the current team.

Spain's U19s and U21s won their respective tournaments this summer, whilst a penalty defeat to Brazil in the U20 World Cup quarter-final was a blemish on the potentially perfect record.

Sergio Canales, Isaac Cuenca, Thiago Alcantara, Martin Montoya, Iker Muniain and Oriol Romeu are just a handful of names to look out for, and all of them can play exactly the same style of football that's been so successful in the past four years.

As for Germany, there recent rise towards the top of world football is based around changes made over a decade ago. 121 national talent centers were agreed to be created in 1999, with head of development at the time, Dietrich Weise, looking to copy the aforementioned French model.

The results weren't instant, and it wasn't until Jürgen Klinsmann's appointment as manager in 2004 that the affects began to be felt. Michael Ballack and Oliver Kahn had helped maintain a certain level of success, but not ultimate victories on the highest stage.

After two years as the Spurs legend's assistant, Joachim Löw got his chance following the 2006 World Cup, a tournament which swelled interest in football again as it was in their own backyard.

Defeat to Croatia in Euro 2008 was a setback, but it gave Löw a new perspective on tactics, ditching the traditional 4-4-2 for a more expansive style that Spain were showing was the way forward.

Young players were starting to seep through the academies at a quicker rate too, with Bastian Schweinsteiger's initial emergence now followed by Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze.

Marco Reus, Toni Kroos and André Schürrle are also 22 or under, and a big part of the German national team.

Manuel Neuer is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, whilst Phillip Lahm adds experience with the captain's armband.

For all the quality players Spain have, they also rely on Iker Casillas between the sticks, as well as Carles Puyol at centre back to add some old-school determination to the touch-and-move skills that make them so great.

England have shown that they are ready to adapt, with the St George's Park National Football Centre in Burton the focal point for possible change in the game in this country.

However, the project has stalled, with the £100 million price-tag proving a major burden in the completion of something that was started in 2001. Notably, a similar time to when Germany began to implement their plans.

How the Three Lions could benefit from a crop of young players currently bulging out of their side. Whilst there are several 'stars of the future' within the ranks, few would grace the German side, and even less the Spanish - Jack Wilshere possibly the only exception.

These two have laid down the gauntlet, with only France seemingly close to the pair. As for Holland, they could benefit from the Ajax academy, but the Godenzonen are currently a club in crisis, which doesn't look good for Bert Van Marwijk.

England must learn from the best the international game currently has to offer, and change with the time if they are to compete at the highest level.

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