The last friendly games before the pre-tournament get-together have often been unhappy affairs for Germany in recent years. In spring 2012, Joachim Löw’s team lost 2-1 at home to France. Two years earlier, Argentina came away with a 1-0 win in the Allianz Arena. There were wins against the Euro 2008 host nations Austria and Switzerland, but the 4-1 defeat by Italy in March 2006 was so bad that a number of media outlets and experts demanded Jürgen Klinsmann’s dismissal three months ahead of the World Cup.
Wednesday’s friendly against Chile (Wednesday, BT Sport 2, 7.45pm) in Stuttgart is unlikely to provide such dramatic consequences. But Löw didn’t even wait for the final result to sound an almighty alarm call. “The clock is ticking,” said the 54-year-old, “and only those who will hear it, will have a chance. The time until the tournament will be as tough for the players as the tournament itself,” he warned.
“There are some players who aren’t in the top shape needed,” Löw said. Everybody would have “to work harder” to get on the plane for Brazil, he added, “I expect a professional way of living.” Löw finished by vowing that he would “monitor the players intensely,” with a hint of a threat in his voice.
As Munich based broadsheet Süddeutsche Zeitung noted, the "tough guy" rhetoric was partially designed to counter lingering suspicions that the Germany manager is just a little too nice for the job at hand. Perception is important in football, and ever since the traumatic semi-final defeat by Italy in Warsaw at Euro 2012, neither Löw nor his team have quite been able to dispel doubts that they’re somewhat lacking in mental fortitude. He will be a lot stricter and less accommodating this time around, was his message on Monday.
Löw had visited him in London and talked to him about the World Cup over “a glass of tea” in a pub."
But Löw was also honest enough to single out Sami Khedira as a possible exception in his harsh new regime. The Real Madrid midfielder only just started some light training after rupturing his cruciate ligament in the autumn. Even “at 80 or 90 per cent,” he would offer “added value,” said Löw. Khedira, 26, is one of the key figures internally; someone who can unite a dressing room dominated by the two camps of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
And Löw and his staff suspect that might not just be a case of bad luck. Within the German FA, some wonder - privately - whether the never-ending list of injured Dortmund players are a result of the Jürgen Klopp’s aggressive playing style - and perhaps of too intensive training sessions, as well.
No more Mr. Nice Guy: Joachim Löw addresses his players ahead of the Chile match.
The players too, could do more, Löw seemed to suggest. He didn’t name any names but it was remarkable to see that two or three reporters asked Lukas Podolski on Tuesday whether he felt that these comments were directed at him.
“They are addressed to everyone. It would be foolish to think ‘I’m doing well, of course I’ll be there (in Brazil)’,” said Podolski, who also revealed that Löw had visited him in London and talked to him about the World Cup over “a glass of tea” in a pub.
Captain Philipp Lahm, who will line up in midfield against the South Americans, thought Löw’s warnings were seen as “positive” by the team. The 30-year-old was also asked whether Podolski’s team-mate Mesut Özil, the subject of much debate in Germany during the week ('Is he one for the big games?' Kicker magazine queried in their cover story), was the target of the manager’s clarion call.
“I’m not sure it was an attack on any player,” Lahm said.
“Everyone is expendable, everyone has to perform.”
He added that there was “no need to worry” about Mesut, “he will find top form again." You don’t have to read too much between the lines to understand that Löw demands more of the Emirates based duo.
Everyone is expendable, everyone has to perform."
Some of the players seem to feel the same way.
Podolski and Özil should both get a chance to prove the doubters wrong on Wednesday night. But the sheer fact that the latter is no longer seen as untouchable - Podolski has been a bit-player since 2010 - bears testament to the strength in depth in attacking midfield. In light of so many options, Löw can afford to pay less attention to reputations.
In other areas, there is not quite as much room for manoeuvre.
Hard work and leading a professional life are such basic requirements for any professional football player that Löw shouldn’t have felt the need to talk about them in the first place. That he did, in such plain terms, betrayed some real dissatisfaction on his part. That’s why the Chile game has suddenly become rather important. A good performance will lighten the mood, while a bad one will threaten to increase the manager’s misgivings about his squad’s level of readiness even further.
You can see Germany host Chile on Wednesday, BT Sport 2, 7.15pm.