The architect of Germany’s resurgence as a football superpower has warned Fabio Capello he must restore team spirit and pride before banishing the memory of the “worst” English World Cup squad in recent memory.
England manager Capello has claimed that the emergence of young players Joe Hart, Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll is comparable to the talent unearthed by Germany prior to their run to the World Cup semi-finals last year.
But Germany general manager Oliver Bierhoff, whose work with national coaches Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Low since 2004 has led to an overhaul of German football, claims success at international level is about more than the potential of rising stars.
And the former Germany forward believes that England — eliminated in the second round at the World Cup following a 4-1 defeat by the Germans – must work towards rediscovering the spirit of Euro 96 and focus on every aspect of the game if they want to challenge for international honours again.
“In the World Cup last year, it seemed to be the worst [England team], but in 1996 they were good and together.” Bierhoff said. “There was not a big communication and team spirit in the England team.
“It happened to me with Germany in Euro 2000 when we didn’t go through the group, but at the World Cup in South Africa we had a strong team spirit and the discipline to do what coaches asked of the players.
“England had quality players, but you could see they were not communicating any more.
“England has some excellent players, but something was missing. If you read some discussions from the outside and also what you saw on the pitch, there was no reaction. They were missing something, some basics that you need to bring.”
Bierhoff explained that those ‘basics’ start at a young age and revolve around instilling discipline, respect and pride into players before they become established stars.
He said when he became involved with Germany in 2004 “we found that they [the players] just threw their kit on the floor after training and, on one hand, these were spoilt kids. But we created this situation. For 15 years, we had everything done for them — a bus driver, everything done perfectly for them.
“But we wanted to give them initiative, so now the players all divide up the socks and the shirts, the shorts. It’s a rule they developed by themselves. You must give them their own identity.
“A national team is a national icon, the property of people, and we [the national teams] don’t pay our players anywhere near what they get for their clubs, so it is more a matter of pride at being selected among the 20-23 best players in the country.
“We tried to develop something which you can feel now — someone who is excluded from the group, wants to get back into the squad.
“At the end of the day, to be remembered as a true great you need to play in the World Cup finals and the players know this. If you play a great World Cup, then you become part of football history. That is something that for sure motivates the players.”
The current stand-off between the Football Association and Arsenal and Liverpool, who are set to fight plans to name Wilshere and Carroll in the under-21 squad for this summer’s European Championship in Denmark, highlights the age-old tensions between club and country in England.
But Bierhoff insists it is beneficial for all parties to have players involved at major tournaments — regardless of the age group.
He said it is “crucial” for clubs to work with national teams, and added: “I think the development of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Muller would not have been the same at Bayern Munich if they hadn’t played in the national side. Each helps each other. We try to show there is a relationship between the Under-21 team and the senior team which is very important.
“We wanted also to give the players a certain identity and philosophy, irrespective of whether you are under-15, under-16, under-21 or senior team.
“If you let players feel, by communicating, that it is very important for their development and their personality that they have a good under-21 tournament, then they do well.
“It was a very good thing for us in the World Cup that a lot of our players like all played together in the under-21 side. They all had success together so it helped team spirit so a lot of work was already done when they progressed to the senior side.”
The Bierhoff plan
Oliver Bierhoff, general manager of the Germany team, claims England must follow the path to football rehabilitation before thinking of winning the World Cup.
Here is the former Germany striker’s blueprint for success:
1 – End club versus country stand-off: Resistance from Arsenal and Liverpool to Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll being selected for U-21 duty this summer would not happen in Germany, where Bierhoff claims clubs such as Bayern Munich appreciate how international success goes hand-in-hand with the development of their players.
2 – Instil respect at a young age: Working in tandem with coach Jurgen Klinsmann in 2004, Bierhoff banned players from throwing dirty kit on the dressing-room floor for kit-men to collect. The move was done to prevent players becoming ‘spoilt.’
3 – Flood domestic football with domestic talent: Fifty-three per cent of players in the Bundesliga are home-grown due to the investment in youth football in Germany. There is no limit on foreigners in Germany, but Bierhoff believes strong youth systems produce talented players, avoiding the need for foreign imports.
4 – Build for the future and stick with the plan: Bierhoff and Klinsmann cleared Germany’s old guard in 2004 and promoted youth, with last year’s World Cup semi-final finish a reward. The Germans also highlight Spain’s success in forging a young team and allowing them to grow together.
5 – Put glory before money: German footballers are told that, while they can earn big money and fame by starring in club football, they must achieve success at a World Cup to become legends and earn their place in the history of the game.