Joachim Loew led Germany to the highest point in their recent history with victory at the 2014 World Cup, but is bowing out on a low after almost 15 years as head coach.
The 61-year-old, known as “Jogi” by his compatriots, will step down after this summer’s European Championship having been on the Germany bench since 2006.
His run at the helm of a German institution rivals Angela Merkel’s 16 years in office as chancellor.
Loew’s glowing reputation was tarnished after leading his team to a series of humiliating defeats that started with a disastrous World Cup campaign in 2018.
There were already loud calls for Loew to step aside after Germany failed miserably in their defence of their title, crashing out of the tournament in Russia at the group stage.
Nevertheless, the German FA (DFB) held off, reiterating instead its confidence in Loew, under contract until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
It was a historic 6-0 trashing by Spain last November — Germany’s heaviest defeat since 1931 — that sounded the death knell.
Loew himself had in October rejected all criticism.
“I’m above all that,” he said, but the phrase would only earn him the ire of fans.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of his closest colleagues said at the time: “Jogi sees himself as the coach of the world champions and lives in his own world”.
– ‘Upset the apple cart’ –
Loew, a former centre-forward who played most of his football in Germany’s second division, arrived at the national team as assistant coach to Jurgen Klinsmann in 2004.
After taking the reins as head coach in 2006, he led the team to the final of Euro 2008 and the the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup.
Four years later, he won the ultimate prize in Brazil, a 1-0 win against Argentina earning Germany the 2014 World Cup after a thrilling campaign in which they also trounced the host nation 7-1 in the semi-finals.
Under Loew, Germany ditched their reputation for defence-minded football and began to play a faster tempo.
The coach himself became an icon in Germany and began appearing in advertisements, peddling skin-care products for Nivea to holidays with Tui.
Fashion columnists dissected his attire and trademark mop of black hair. His dark blue V-neck pullover and close-cut dark coloured shirts sold out in stores.
Buoyed by the popular support, Loew pushed on as national coach, but his career was in fact already heading downhill, plunging irreversibly during the Russian campaign.
While the DFB repeatedly held off from sacking him, Loew had already lost his shine.
After a difficult autumn that was topped off by the defeat to Spain, a poll at the end of November found that 84 percent of Germany fans wanted him to go.
German media were also increasingly vocal in their criticism of the coach.
The main charge against him is his stubborn refusal to change tactics despite poor results.
In 2019, he called time on the international careers of 2014 World Cup winners Thomas Mueller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels.
His obstinate refusal to consider them in the team increasingly appeared out of touch with reality, especially when Mueller and Boateng helped Bayern Munich win the Champions League last season.
Yet defending his strategy, Loew in December still insisted that he was “absolutely convinced of the road we have taken in 2019.”
“There is no reason to upset the applecart.”
– ‘High ambitions’ –
Behind his unassuming exterior, Loew, who was trained as a wholesale trader, harbours high ambitions of a place in the history books.
Just after lifting the World Cup in 2014, he voiced his wish to be Germany’s first coach to also win the European championships straight after a global crown.
“No German team, not the legendary 1954 one, the 1974 squad nor the 1990 one managed to win a tournament after a victory” at the World Cup, he had said.
But hosts France knocked out Germany at the semi-final stage of Euro 2016, leaving Loew to set himself another challenge — winning consecutive World Cups.
However, shock defeats to Mexico and South Korea at Russia 2018 shot Loew’s dream down in flames and heralded his slow goodbye.
Nevertheless, with 120 wins in 189 matches as head coach of the German team, Loew would still have a place in the record books with a tally that will likely stand for quite some time.