Low: My job is very draining
Life could hardly get much better for Joachim Low at present. Six months on from leading Germany to their fourth FIFA World Cup™ title at Brazil 2014, he was named Coach of the Year at the glamorous FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala 2014 on Monday evening.
A native of the Black Forest town of Lorrach, situated in a corner of Germany close to the borders of France and Switzerland, Low is now renowned the world over as an unassuming and thoughtful man. Football fans across the globe are also well aware of how he sets his team up to play, and yet for all that is known about the 54-year-old, he retains an almost mysterious air.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Low gives revealing insights into his life as Germany’s national team coach, highlighting where he draws the strength from to work hard in achieving his objectives. Furthermore, Low speaks about perfectionism, the desire to shape a new era in football and how the game will change in future.
FIFA.com: Congratulations on winning the FIFA Coach of the Year Award for 2014. What does the prize mean to you? Joachim Low: Of course it’s a terrific award and a great honour. I’m very proud to have won it. I think the whole team, including the players, coaches, the team behind the team and the national association deserved it last year, especially after the World Cup. I’m so thankful to everyone who worked with me in helping us achieve our objective.
As you say, winning the World Cup was a collective achievement. Is there anyone else you would like to thank? My family, my wife and everyone who has always supported me, even in difficult times. My thanks go to my closest friends, who were there when things sometimes didn’t go so well and people were disappointed. They’re with me not only in the good times, but throughout life and I’m so thankful for that.
Is the award the perfect end to a perfect year? If you win the World Cup then of course it is perfect - you can’t get any better than that. It had been our aim for several years and was the result of a lot of hard work and of some very good decision making within the national association. It was also due to the good coaching and structures that exist in Germany and we’re delighted about that.
I believe the pace of the game will be greater than it has been recently - and it is already close to the limit.
Is there any way to top this? The big challenge is to stay at the top. Winning a title is fantastic but repeating it is tough. Football is always looking to the future: people keep developing and the game keeps developing. Spain managed to do it, so we should use them as a kind of role model.
What do you think makes the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala evening so special? I think the way FIFA have set it up is great. It’s exciting and everyone’s waiting for the results. The biggest names in football are there. It’s a special occasion and the highlight of an interesting year of football.
How has your life changed since winning the World Cup with Germany at the Maracana stadium?
It hasn’t actually changed that much. Of course the amount of attention I draw wherever I go has increased, but my home environment with my family and friends has stayed the same. We’ll never forget winning the title, and the joy and emotions we felt will stay with us forever. It was fantastic. Having said that, you do need to find a way to turn your attention to the future, to see what it will bring and figure out how to maintain the same level. There are a lot of important tasks coming up and we can’t keep dwelling on the World Cup win forever.
You are said to be very meticulous, almost a perfectionist. How close did Germany come to perfection in Brazil? I don’t think you can ever obtain perfection. As a coach you always find little things that can be improved. Even with us you could see that our performances varied from game to game. Sometimes you have matches like the semi-final against Brazil where everything goes like clockwork and you know how it’s going to end. However, you also get games like the one against Algeria in which you need to fight: you need to go into extra time and get the better of your opponent by battling and showing your commitment. Things don’t always work out the way you’d like them to and your opponents always have something to throw at you as well. That’s why you need to look at tournaments like that as a whole. Clearly, anyone who wins the title at the end must have done a lot of things right.
New targets now have to be set on the road to UEFA EURO 2016, while the team needs to at least maintain its current level as a new crop of players come into the side. Which of these aspects will be the most difficult to implement? All of them together! We’ve had a lot of personnel changes as some of the players who made significant contributions to our stability have now retired from the international scene. On top of that, the heavy strain of the World Cup meant that some players were injured after the tournament, or weren’t on form, so we needed to bring in some fresh faces. It’s a process and doesn’t happen smoothly overnight. On the other hand, football is always developing and you need to have an idea of how you want to progress. How should the team be playing in two years? So even though we were close to our best, we also need to develop in terms of our playing style, tactics and personnel over the next 18 months.
Can you specify how you want the playing style to develop in that period, compared to what we saw at the World Cup?
That’s a very complex topic. I believe the pace of the game will be greater than it has been recently - and it is already close to the limit. Players’ physiques will develop and technique will need to adapt a bit accordingly. Players who are technically gifted and able to play in tight spaces without much time on the ball will be even more in demand. Which players can identify spaces? And where should they go when they have space? How can the ball be played to them? Those will all be important factors because the game will get tighter overall. Teams will be increasingly compact and that will make it all the more difficult to break them down.
Can Germany win the 2016 UEFA European Championship in France and shape a new era in football? That’s always an important aim. When you win a title you’re always happy to start off with, but you can’t stay satisfied for too long because time moves on. If you define an era and win three consecutive tournaments like Spain did then that shows a great deal of quality, intelligence and ambition. Our next task is to ask ourselves: how can we stay at the top?
How do you switch off when you are at home? I do different things. My job is very draining. Constantly being in the public eye and being there for the team requires a lot of energy. It’s only natural that I need some time to rest. What do I like doing? I enjoy simply being at home by myself, or spending time with my wife and my family. Sometimes I invite close friends over. I like doing exercise, going into the mountains for a bit, going mountain biking, jogging or playing football; I do normal things that everyone else enjoys as well. I make sure I give myself some downtime occasionally, where I turn off the phone and just enjoy the peace and quiet.
In the film Die Mannschaft (The Team), you can be seen going for early morning jogs on the beach in Brazil by yourself, and it became something of a ritual for you during the tournament. What did you think of in those periods? About football or other things?
Oh, a lot of different things. I got up early as I always do, and over there the sun rose at six in the morning. It would already be warm by then. There was peace and quiet at that time of day as hardly anybody else was up - most of them were still asleep. I used it as time for myself to do a bit of exercise. I always had a lot of thoughts in my head: what happened the previous day? How can we beat the next opponent? I thought about other things too, though. Sometimes I tried to switch off from football and just listened to music on my headphones. It was always different. Having that hour every morning to do what I wanted was important for me.
If a Ballon d’Or was awarded for outstanding ability in your private life, what would you win it for? That’s a tough question. It definitely wouldn’t be cooking!
A few weeks ago, Jurgen Klinsmann told us in an exclusive FIFA.com interview that he finds it remarkable that you always find time to have an espresso with a friend. Yes, you have to do that. It’s something I like to do when I have the chance - to go with a good friend or two to a cafe and have an espresso. It helps to switch off from football too.