All sporting events have their myths, the useful narratives hanging from them while the flags are lowered on the final day and we have to find out what was last month, all this effort, all that emotion, all that money. Remember how the 2012 London Olympics brought us together as an open and multicultural nation inspired by a more active future? We were told that the 2006 World Cup was about the patriotic celebration of a new Germany. And maybe it was.
However, the immersion in the Bundesliga in the past three weeks suggests that the most tangible legacy was the wholesale adoption of pressure.
It is hard to believe that, even 20 years ago, Germany was a football culture skeptical of pressure. That when Hoffenheim's then manager, Ralf Rangnick, tried to explain zonal marking on television, he was fired as a boffinish crank. That the great old men of German criticism insisted that the game was all about character.
So when the national team of Jürgen Klinsmann and Jogi Löw reached the semifinals playing modern and brilliant football and Jürgen Klopp explained everything on TV, the nation suffered massive revelation.
Jürgen Klopp in 2005 as coach of Mainz, before Germany learned to embrace the pressure. Photography: Boris Roessler / EPA
German football is now pressing with zeal for a convert, as much tactical discussion focuses on pressure variations. At Borussia Dortmund, Lucien Favre's style is widely accepted. What is questioned is whether he has the psychological advantage in the biggest games, a return to the concerns of the old school experts within a context that takes haste as a given.
Not only are pioneers like Julian Nagelsmann of RB Leipzig and Marco Rose of Borussia Mönchengladbach, whose team is in action on Sunday, together with Borussia Dortmund. Every game is highly percussive and aggressive. Bayern Munich's victory over Dortmund on Tuesday was not only a tense title decision, but also an openly modern game of exceptional quality.
German coaches, or with experience in the Bundesliga, seem to be the most innovative in the world. Klopp is at the forefront of this. Liverpool's victory in the Champions League last season confirmed the preeminence of this style of play at the elite level.
Of course, it is a little more complex than that. If necessary, Liverpool – or Bayern, or Dortmund, or Leipzig – are able to retain possession. Pep Guardiola's teams have always pressed and responded, and the Manchester City manager himself has become more direct in the past decade. But still, the basic principle remains: Klopp would never speak, like Guardiola, of how 15 passes are needed – if there is no immediate accountant – for your side to define.
And so, one of the basic dialectic that seems to govern tactical evolution – attack x defense, individuality x collective organization, possession x position and, here, physical x technique – has returned again. How else, after all, a skillful touch, precise passing and astute movement could be overcome, but creating a way to play more and faster (and smarter) to win the ball back?
International teams hardly ever have time to achieve these levels of mutual understanding
Which is good for the club game. But pressing like Liverpool, Leipzig, Dortmund or Gladbach is very difficult, if not impossible, without regular drilling. Since the resumption, the Bundesliga defenses have struggled, as if Covid's dismissal and restrictions following training had interrupted their coherence and they needed to familiarize themselves with the organization, which is usually almost instinctive.
International teams almost never have time to achieve these levels of mutual understanding, which is why clubs and international football increasingly look like different games. This may explain how Portugal managed to win the Euro and France World Cup without pushing aggressively and without adopting a particularly complex pattern of offensive play.
"Football is constantly evolving," says Gérard Houllier in Matt Spiro's new book, Sacré Bleu. “Spain had a philosophy that worked. In 2014, Germany took full advantage of the Spanish game of possession and added its own physical and powerful qualities. France increased the speed. When Spain dominated, we thought you needed 70% of possession to win, but France showed that you can be dangerous with just 30%. "
In 2010, Spain, with a team formed mainly by Barcelona, played a pragmatic variant of guardiolist football, which used possession as a tool for wear. Germany in 2014, with a team largely formed by Bayern, was undoubtedly not as good as it was four years ago, when Spain defeated them in the semifinals, but was highly effective on the counterattack (Löw looks almost old) . formed by modern German standards). France's success in 2018 was largely the result of a solid defense (despite the chaotic 4-3 victory over Argentina and the 4-2 victory in the final) and Kylian Mbappé's lighting pace.
Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé (from left to right) celebrate France's victory at the 2018 World Cup. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters
Whether this constitutes evolution is debatable. This side of France was not based on a club and was by no means a reinterpretation of a pre-existing style for international football. Didier Deschamps 'achievement, as Spiro's book makes clear, was rebuilt after the disgrace of the players' rebellion in 2010 and Laurent Blanc's subsequent gaffes, promoting a cohesive squad with a genuine spirit.
In part, this was achieved by discarding several members of the talented but problematic Génération 87, players like Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa, Samir Nasri and Jérémy Ménez, something that was not necessarily a question of character. "We did a lot of technique with them," suggests Houllier. "We needed to adjust our training methods, to become more like the Spanish, focusing more on collective training exercises and collective games."
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And this is perhaps the biggest change in the last 10 to 15 years. At best, football has become more team-based, both from an offensive and defensive standpoint. This is the essence of Guardiola's work on positioning and Klopp's pressing strategies. Still, Deschamps' success came with nothing more complex than the basic counterattack.
There is no discernible French school. It is not insignificant that the only French coach in one of Europe's top four leagues is Zinedine Zidane (who is still one more than the English who work in elite foreign clubs).
Germany may have left in the first round of the last World Cup, but the Bundesliga represents the vanguard. Watch Gladbach de Rose or Dortmund de Favre on Sunday afternoon: it's modern football.