In football-obsessed Germany, rarely has a national coach been as popular as Joachim Low, a native of the Black Forest who celebrates his 50th birthday on 3 February. His expertise from the dugout and personal elegance are the ideal attributes for the top job in a country which has won the FIFA World Cup™ three times, where knowledge and proficiency are valued above all other qualities, but which has always demanded idols with personal charisma and a strong personality.
The former forward, fondly nicknamed Jogi, remains the all-time leading scorer for Freiburg, although his playing record for his country amounts to just four U-21 appearances. His skill as a coach is more highly regarded. As Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistant, Low was widely acknowledged as the brains of the operation. His meticulousness and tactical wisdom have earned him a reputation as a guru of the game, while his highly fashionable dress sense and natural charm make him a perfect figurehead in a media-intensive world.
Above all else, Low is hungry for success. He succeeded Klinsmann after Germany 2006, with a brief to develop the national team’s newly-acquired attacking instincts. He frequently refers to 'possession quotas', by which he means the interval between a player receiving a pass and releasing the ball. During his time in charge, this measure has decreased significantly for Germany, leading to a much higher tempo.
Low’s Germany are now aiming to play attractive and successful football in South Africa. The nation currently lying sixth on the FIFA/Coca-Cola-World Ranking will travel to the 2010 finals with their customary ambitious targets. While on a visit to Cape Town, Low met FIFA.com for an exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: Joachim, you’ve been to South Africa a number of times in the build-up to the FIFA World Cup, and you’ve got to know Johannesburg and Cape Town quite well. What are your impressions?
Joachim Low: Cape Town is fascinating, a fabulous city with an unbelievably beautiful setting: the ocean, the mountains and a terrific atmosphere. The people here are open, friendly and multicultural. Johannesburg is obviously rather different, but South Africa 2010 will be a tremendous World Cup.
What’s your plan for Germany in the run-up to the tournament?
We began making preparations at an early stage, and also commissioned analyses of the contrasting micro-climates and altitudes affecting the matches in South Africa. We’ve talked it all through and worked hard on that aspect. But the World Cup starts for real now. We can finally step up our preparations because we know who we’re playing against and where.
Looking back briefly to 2009, it was an eventful year with a happy ending for Germany, wasn’t it?
My verdict on the year is positive. We came through our World Cup qualifying group undefeated and we beat the Russians twice. They were very strong opponents, so our victory away to them was a real highlight.
So you’re fully satisfied?
Between times there were a couple of matches where we fell short of peak performance. It’s pretty normal for a national team when there’s nothing really decisive at stake. But all in all, the team’s come on well and played some good football. When it really mattered, we were highly disciplined, and our quality was very high – there was some really excellent football at times. So we’re basically well set. We have a good team with a lot of experience.
In which particular areas have Germany improved most in recent years?
I believe we’ve made real progress tactically. We started the process with Jurgen Klinsmann in 2004. We made a few changes and tried a different direction. We gave a very good account of ourselves at the 2006 World Cup – we were very, very good at times actually. Then we made the EURO 2008 final, and now we’ve come through World Cup qualifying undefeated. So I do believe there’s been improvement, especially from younger players like Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker, all of whom now have 50 or 60 caps. They’re still at a good age for footballers, but they’re experienced as well. So, overall, I reckon we’ve developed well as a team.
Germany were third at the last FIFA World Cup and runners-up at UEFA EURO 2008. Can you win South Africa 2010?
Germany always approach tournaments aiming to go as far as possible and preferably reach the final. That’s the way it is. Obviously, there are five or six other nations - Brazil, Italy, France and England to name a few - who will also feel they have a realistic chance of winning it. We definitely boast the quality to go a long, long way, as we showed at the EURO. We’ll do everything in our power to do just that.
You face Serbia, Ghana and Australia in Group D. That’s not going to be easy, is it?
The group is tough, very tough. Serbia and Ghana have some exceptional players. Australia are a good team too, and they’ll be totally fired up against us. We have a lot of very hard work coming up.