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The Strange Case of the German Winning Mentality (theory)

Winning mentality: A mindset that helps you to achieve your goals. It is referred to sports and seen as one of the major traits an athlete needs in order to succeed at the highest level. The winning mentality does not only allow you to ensure victory but it also helps the athlete concerned to make, often sensational, comebacks at any moment. Even if down, this particular mentality, which also requires the tunnel vision (preached by Oliver Kahn), still provides hope and the absolute desire to win. In the course of history, especially German football teams have been feared for having the infamous winning mentality. However, recent results have rised the impression this specific mindset has gone lost in the German camp. Why?

Bayern have lost this year’s Champions League final in penalties after leading and dominating. Even worse: Heynckes couldn’t gather five fieldplayers to compete in the penalty shoot-out and had to call his goal keeper up for this. Also, Bayern haven’t been able to win any big match in the Bundesliga since the Champions League final 2010 which, as we all know, was lost 0-2 to Inter Milan. Meanwhile, the German national team has lost five semis or finals within the last ten years without scoring once.

Where’s the connection, you may ask. Well, Bayern Munich, as most successful German club ever, has always put the most players at the German national coach’s disposal. That’s why I think the lack of winning mentality at “Die Mannschaft” can also be connected with the German record champion. However, I wouldn’t say this mindset has gone lost within the last ten, but the last two years. (I’ve only used the last ten years of the German national team to convince you.)

In my opinion, there are two ways how to get the winning mentality. Fairly nobody has got it right from the first breath of air, so most people need someone who kind of transmits it to them. Either in talking to that person or just being a winner and thus teach the newbies how to get it. In football, experienced players can play that role and so can great managers who have already won one or more major titles.

Now, this should explain why Germany lacked winning mentality when it mattered most in the semis against Italy. After being 0-2 down because of tactical errors by the manager, there was no real leader who was able to take the sinking ship over to rock it. As Joachim Löw has sorted out his old, experienced players in the course of the years (such as Ballack), there was nobody who can change the course of the game with one single action. Of course Lahm, Schweinsteiger and some other German players are very experienced, too, but it’s nothing new that they can’t lead a team as well as Michael Ballack did, for example.

Joachim Löw hasn’t won any major title in his career yet. The German cup (1997 with Stuttgart) doesn’t count as such in my opinion. Löw is one of the best managers in the world in his age but unlike his contemporary Pep Guardiola, he seems to lack experience at the highest level. Not to forget that Guardiola has been trained by Johan Cruyff, a winner, among others. This doesn’t have an effect on tactics but the Spaniard knows how to inculcate the mentality of a winner in his players. Besides that, Guardiola didn’t really need to do this a lot in Barcelona since some of his players had already the winning mentality thanks to several titles in the precedent years under great managers (Van Gaal, Rijkaard).

However, that doesn’t explain why Bayern hasn’t won anything since 2010. Jupp Heynckes is a very good manager and so was Louis Van Gaal. Both of them have won titles en masse and could transmite their winning mentality to the squad. They didn’t reach the Champions League final in their first year for nothing. But somehow it was never enough in the league under Heynckes. Van Gaal did win the double in his first season, Heynckes lost the triple in his first one. The explanation is as simple as logical: in his first season, van Gaal had Mark van Bommel, captain and already nicknamed “aggressive leader” by Ottmar Hitzfeld. Mark van Bommel was the one to motivate his team mates when they were 0-2 down to Fiorentina in the round of 16 as well as to ManUtd in the quarters. In the end Bayern always went through. The Dutchman also didn’t hesitate to tackle one of his opponents to put down a marker.

Bayern have been lacking this in the crucial games of last season. So did van Gaal in his second season in Bavaria because his defensive midfielder wasn’t only a true captain on, but also off the pitch. He didn’t fear to speak up and address serious issues in public. Philipp Lahm does the same very well, however, he seems to be less influental on the pitch. So is Schweinsteiger who loves to disappear when it matters most. Also, playing Thomas Kraft, the young goal keeper from the own youth academy, instead of the experienced Jörg Butt in the second half of last season was seen as one of the major reasons for Van Gaal’s failure. In the end, you always need some winning mentality on the pitch.

Another reason for Van Gaal’s success is that he put himself in the focus of attention – unlike Jupp Heynckes whose interviews have never raised huge media response. Right from the first presser, the Dutchman’s statements mesmerized the journalists who didn’t care that much about the players anymore. Other managers such as José Mourinho and Jürgen Klopp have known quite a lot of success with this medium, too.

Speaking of which, Klopp and Dortmund are a case apart. They haven’t got a manager who’s won a major title in his career (no title at all as a player and as a manager until joining the BVB) and only one experienced player in the squad who could transmit the winning mentality to the younger ones. Sebastian Kehl, their 32-year-old captain did win the German championship with them in 2002 and has participated in two Word Cups (2002, 2006).

The condemned live longer. Kehl can tell you a thing or two about it. Many experts didn’t expect him to be a regular starter anymore when Klopp began to rejuvenate his team. Despite being an injury-prone, the defensive midfielder has almost played each time he could. Klopp does appreciate his experience that has often helped the young team, especially in the crucial fixtures. This has worked very well in the Bundesliga as two consecutive salad bowls prove, however, in the Champions League, Kehl and his little sheep were stretched to their limits. Only four points out of six games speak for themselves.

With this, let me conclude that Dortmund don’t have as much winning mentality as Bayern used to have. But they have been successful thanks to Jürgen Klopp. He seems to be a pretty good psychologist since he has managed to thrill his young group of players thus far that they would die on the pitch. They tackle each match with an incredible high amount of adrenaline as the milometer shows in the end of every game. You barely find a team who runs more. However, only adrenaline doesn’t help and in the end of their last Champions League campaign, the BVB could only lick its wounds.

That doesn’t mean, though, that Dortmund won’t get the winning mentality. Each title brings a bit of winning mentality along. Combined with intelligent signings, a coach who knows how to motivate his team and the newly acquired experience, Dortmund might soon have an astonishing amount of winning mentality. Bayern should be aware of this (and I am sure they are).

So far, as you can read between the lines, I’ve (unintentionally and) solely been criticizing the managers. In the end, the managers are the ones who chase the experienced players. However, if you dig deeper, you might find a connection between Germany’s successful youth academies and the lack of winning mentality. First of all, this isn’t Bayern’s fault for sure. They’ve never trusted in lots of young talents at the same time. However, the more talents have seen their star rising, the faster the winning mentality has gone lost, it seems.

The talents themselves are – of course – not the problem but it’s the system they have gone through. At the time Stefan Effenberg, Michael Ballack and Oliver Kahn (among others) were still the leaders of the German national team and of Bayern Munich, too, the term ‘flat hierarchy’ wasn’t even known. The captains were the undisputed leaders and the manager’s extension on and off the pitch. Back then, the German team mainly consisted of workers who also thought as such: we listen to the foreman (captain) who listens to the boss (manager). It was that easy – and successful.

However, in the course of the years, especially after the miserable European Championships 2004 in Portugal, the Germans decided to change their formation and new managers with new ideas kind of conquered the federation. Jürgen Klinsmann and his assistant Jogi Löw established a new mindset which has been quite, but not totally successful. It says that the whole team is equal and has only one “boss”; the manager. The youth sides and academies of the DFB soon applied this so-called flat hierarchy as well.

What did start so well, was soon in danger, though. The former leaders saw their power threatened and didn’t want to accept each innovation. So they were eliminated slowly but surely. Even though Lahm and Schweinsteiger still played together with such players, they haven’t been able to lead their teams properly. Why? There’s nobody who can lead the team (due to the flat hierarchies) and the managers themselves (such as Löw) can’t transmit experience, serenity or winning mentality in the crucial moments since they have eliminated their extensions themselves.

Please rate (stars below the article) and share this! 🙂 You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter.

PS: Bayern fans can blame Jürgen Klinsmann. 😉


4 comments on “The Strange Case of the German Winning Mentality (theory)

  1. Alibipass
    July 13, 2012

    I blogged a counterstatement to this great article, thanks to @postitionsspiel for this excellent blog! Here is the Link to my counterstatement: http://alibipass.blogspot.de/2012/07/gewinnermentalitat.html

  2. Pingback: Gewinnermentalität | Alibipass

  3. Matthias
    July 28, 2012

    What Happened to your twitter Account?

    • alibipass
      July 28, 2012

      Hey @positionsspiel hope you’re alright? Miss your tweets!

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