If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again. This seems to be key in any great sporting triumph. As the German team paraded the World Cup trophy through Berlin to the Brandenburg Gate last week, it was hard to be anything but impressed by the newly-crowned world champions.
Germany made the semi-finals of the last two World Cups, they also reached the same stage of the last two European Championships. They have been manoeuvring towards this for some time and it must feel like they finally got what they deserved as this win was years in the making.
In almost all of the past 10 years, I’ve trained in Portugal for a two-week warm weather camp. A few years ago I was there at the same time as the German national hurdles and sprint squad. Going to the track each day was a lesson in German technicality, professionalism and efficiency.
The squad would be at the track with coaches, sports scientists and physiotherapists. They were like a track army. They covered every angle to optimise their training.
The information they were able to gather during a training session was phenomenal. They had cameras set up at every angle to analyse their hurdlers and figure out where they could make gains. I watched in awe of their proficient approach.
Throughout my career there was always at least one German athlete who could sprint hurdle at a world class standard. I shared my first European outdoor medal with Kirsten Bolm. The next medal I won just inches ahead of Carolin Nytra.
They have an impeccable system of continuously producing girls that can run fast at the sprint hurdles and these athletes don’t exist by accident, they’re the result of a strategic coaching system.
When Mario Gotze scored in the World Cup final in the 113th minute to clinch victory for the Germans, it was the culmination of over a decade of planning. This project was started over 10 years ago when Jurgen Klinsmann was in charge. The team invested in youth, spending huge amounts of money during this time. One such player to emerge from the youth centres was super sub Gotze.
Alongside their youth policy, they made changes to their playing style and became technically better.
The German focus on youth was very much apparent when they won the Uefa U21 European Championships in 2009. Five of these players were named on the team sheet in the final against Argentina, a statistic that justifies their approach to developing youth soccer.
In the starting line up in the Maracana only two players, Miroslav Klose and captain Philipp Lahm, were over 30. The quality of the national league, the Bundesliga, has gone from strength to strength. In the World Cup final, nine of the team that started against Argentina play in the Bundesliga. The sheer quantity of high-level players produced by Germany is astonishing.
The coaches and the support team I saw in the German athletics team was nearly always the same faces. Consistently using the same coaches and support team appears to be a big part of German sporting success.
Joachim Low was the longest serving manager at the World Cup, this speaks volumes in a sport that traditionally lacks managerial loyalty.
Low was assistant manager to Klinsmann before taking the role in 2006.
The German fitness coaching team has remained the same for a number of years, led by Mark Verstegen. Superior fitness is key to the Germans play and Thomas Muller covered the most ground of any player at the World Cup while Germany ran 12 kilometres further than their Argentine counterparts in the final. This level of fitness poses a massive advantage, it’s like having an extra player on the pitch.
If you look closely at the German bench during matches you will see Dr Hans Muller-Wohlfhart. He has been a familiar face in German ranks for many years. In 2007, I met the doctor when I flew to Munich to get his opinion on a back injury. As I was waiting to see the doctor I had a chat with a really nice German man. His name? Franz Beckenbauer!
That’s the type of clinic that Dr Muller-Wohlfhart runs, each time I’ve been to Munich to see him there are superstars from world sport gathered to get his expert opinion.
Dr Muller-Wohlfhart was one of the most impressive people I had the pleasure of dealing with during my running career. His approach is definitely outside the box although he has courted his fair share of criticism and controversy for his lack of research-based treatments. But from my experience he is a sports medicine guru. He has been a constant influence on the German team since the late ’70s while maintaining his role as Bayern Munich’s team doctor and running a hugely successful clinic in Munich.
The one thing I learnt to expect over the years was that Germany would always produce strong athletes. The Germans also seem to have a conveyer belt of world-class soccer players that can be traced back to strategic planning over a decade ago. Their depth of players is incredible and with such a young profile they will be difficult to beat for the next few years. Perseverance is usually rewarded in sport and the German team winning the World Cup is an example of that as they continually changed and adapted to become the team they are now. The strategic planning from over a decade ago has paid off of spectacular style.