Hans-Peter Briegel is very much correct in asserting that a team does not need 75 per cent possession to win a match or a tournament.
Briegel, who tasted victory at the 1980 European Championship as part of the West Germany team, cited the example of France, who were as comfortable out of possession as they were with the ball when winning the World Cup last summer.
France had the right kind of squad to play the reactive game. Why blunt the weapons of Kylian Mbappe, to name just one, by playing passes straight to his feet when the option was there to knock the ball long for him to gallop after on the break?
It was that devastating pace which made teams wary of France; the games against Argentina and Belgium, in particular, demonstrated what happens when a probing team gets caught upfield against a low block with counter-attacking assets lying in wait.
That type of football worked for Didier Deschamps and worked for his players. Those who say it was a shame that a squad containing the talents of Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Nabil Fekir played on the break should take a nice long look at the French trophy cabinet.
There is more than one way of winning a football match; the aesthetes who demand possession, complexity and daring in their teams would do well to consider that. That thread of Briegel’s argument rang true.
In the same soundbite he laid the blame of current German football failures at Pep Guardiola’s door.
“A very simple principle has escaped our minds,” he said in an interview with La Repubblica. “In football, the result is more important than controlling the game.
“Of course, since Guardiola arrived at Bayern Munich, something has changed. We had the illusion that in order to win you needed 75% of the possession.
“But having control of the ball is not enough to get a result, not always at least.”
Many in Germany are conducting some soul-searching after a chastening 2018. Their 2017 could not have gone any better with victories in the Confederations Cup and the UEFA Under-21 European Championship. But German football has slipped massively and is now in the midst of its worst run of results in 40 years at senior level, after Monday night’s 2-2 draw with Netherlands.
Joachim Low first presided over a group-stage exit at the World Cup in Russia. Then, he watched helplessly as the 2014 world champions were relegated to League B in their first-ever Nations League campaign. Nobody is really sure why German football has suffered so badly.
There have been arguments over the atmosphere in the German Football Association (DFB), which led to the resignation of Mesut Ozil from the national team. There have been grumbles that too many of the senior cadre have been fattened on the fruits of success and are in place because of their reputations rather than their current usefulness.
Low has to carry the can for the failures of the senior squad, though. If the players he picked don’t perform, then he’s got to do something about it.
But for Briegel to lay the blame at the feet of Guardiola is nonsense. Indeed, it could be argued that Germany would not have won the World Cup four years ago without the influence of Guardiola.
He had just finished his first season at Bayern Munich and his fingerprints were all over Low’s team. Guardiola had switched Philipp Lahm back to the midfield position in which he played as a teenager but where he had never played as a senior. Low copied that.
The World Cup-winning team was stacked with Bayern talent; six of Pep’s players started that final against Argentina. Captain Lahm, Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller were then joined in extra-time by Mario Gotze, who scored the winner.
Germany played patient, possession-based football and discarded the in-your-face physicality and counterattacking raids of tournaments gone by. There were flaws in their game but what Low was going for was more control and it owed plenty to the influence of Guardiola.
“The influence of Guardiola’s idea of football has led to Bayern Munich becoming appreciated worldwide for their attractive football and also improved many German players,” ex-Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn has told Bild.
“Through that, Guardiola indirectly has a stake in the German 2014 World Cup triumph.”
Pep was the coach of Bundesliga champions Bayern that season and he was in charge of the league champions in Spain in 2010 too when they won the big one. Vicente Del Bosque – like Low – made great use of Pep’s players. It’s no coincidence that success has come for national teams in countries where Pep’s football culture has prevailed.
It’s happening again in England, where Gareth Southgate is following the much-vaunted England DNA template. Again, this has a lot in common with what’s been going on in Spain and Germany in recent years. Win the ball back quickly, use it wisely and look for the right moment to penetrate.
By utilising Manchester City players like Kyle Walker, John Stones, Fabian Delph and Raheem Sterling, there is no mistaking that Southgate is drawing on Guardiola for inspiration.
Spain and Germany – between 2010 and 2014 – showed that coaches who adapt Pep’s format to their own specifications will be rewarded. Germany and Spain both fine-tuned their systems based on Pep’s playing style or else with players who knew it inside out. That alone flies in the face of Briegel’s misguided analysis.
It worked for Germany in 2014 because they had the players. Maybe at 2018, the likes of Neuer, Boateng, Muller and Mats Hummels have been shown to be past their best, particularly for the style of football Low is looking to implement. Guardiola’s style has proven to be compatible with German footballers and German culture.
It is not the reason for its failures, but, in contrast, could very well be responsible for its recent successes.