All Whites must rebuild using German ingenuity

MARK REASON
Last updated 06:24 17/11/2013

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OPINION: Twelve years ago England went to Germany and won a World Cup qualifier 5-1. You can imagine how insufferable the England fans were. But out of the ruination, Germany rebuilt, as they tend to do. Out of the rubble has grown one of the most dynamic young football countries in the world. The lesson for New Zealand football is as clear as the spookily parallel scoreline.

That German side limped on into the World Cup finals, something the All Whites will surely not now do, and ludicrously came second. But the luck of reaching the final through consecutive 1-0 victories over Paraguay, USA and South Korea was not lost on Germany's bosses. The great re-build began any way.

England could also have learned from that game, they could have learned that the young Steven Gerard had to be the midfield boss of a generation. But they had a cautious manager. Sound familiar? Sven-Goran Eriksson ground out satisfactory results, but there was no joy about England. The ‘golden generation' turned to dross.

Germany turned to youth. The next World Cup was played in their country, and although the home side didn't win the trophy, they inspired a nation, perhaps many nations. Their young left back, the 22-year-old Philip Lahm scored the first goal of the tournament after just five minutes.

Jurgen Klinsmann's side seemed a beacon of youth, in hope for the future. The average age of the back four was 24. The 21-year-old Schweinsteiger ran the midfield. There was another 21-year-old up front as Germany attacked in waves.

That philosophy was taken on. Bayern Munich are now the best club side in the world. The 2010 World Cup team were as exciting as their predecessors. Germany lived and breathed football again.

Now please don't tell me, New Zealand football, that you are not Germany. That is a statement of the blindingly obvious. Football is not the nation's number one sport. You have a fraction of the resources of the European giants and a fraction of the expertise. But that does not mean you cannot have the same philosophy. It does not mean that you cannot dream, that you cannot give youth a chance.

The All Blacks have done precisely that under Steve Hansen. He could have just grown old with the great team that he inherited. But he has brought in the kids, one after another, and he has given them permission to dare.

Perhaps the most depressing thing about the All Whites' 5-1 defeat on Wednesday night was the manager's reaction. If Ricki Herbert had taken the blame, then I could have respected him. But instead he threw his players under the bus that he had parked in front of the goal.

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He said, "You've got roles and you've got responsibilities and people to pick up. We align those very clearly to the players and it becomes a one v one confrontation. We got outdone in those areas." In other words, it was my players' fault. That is unforgiveable of a manager. If New Zealand football had any doubt about Herbert's future, then those words should have made up their mind.

Herbert's tactics were a disaster. The moment he lost the towering Winston Reid, everything had to change. A team plays to its strengths. The All Whites' strengths lay up the pitch. Instead Herbert chose to allow a back five with an average age of nearly 33 to be put under siege.

He picked a right back who had been dropped from the Phoenix squad and asked him to push onto the player in front of him, leaving a huge hole between Bertos and the narrow central three which Mexico poured into.

He picked a left back who had such a terrible previous system, he was released by the Phoenix. The only blessing for Lochhead was when the officials took mercy on him and didn't award an obvious penalty when he had no idea whether he was in the Azteca or the Cake Tin.

The central three looked old and slow.

Former coach John Adshead suggested a very good plan in midweek. He would have had Sigmund, who is a superb anticipator but can get caught out in a flat back four, playing as a shield in front of a four man defence. In front would have been a midfield full of attacking threat.

That would have given Mexico something to think about, which is exactly what you want to do with a side full of insecurity. Instead they were given hours on the ball, allowed to play, allowed to grow in confidence. And if Herbert were honest, he would acknowledge they could have scored 10.

But Herbert said, "I've put my loyalty, my life, everything into rescuing - and I'm quite happy to say this - rescuing football in New Zealand. Professional football was gone, you've got a great football club there now [Wellington Phoenix], whether I'm there or not, but I instigated that, I put my life and my energy into it." All right, give the man a gold watch. Herbert is the past, he is no part of the future. His co-tenure of the Phoenix and the All Whites was a huge conflict of interest, as was obvious in his selection for the Azteca.

Bertos or Storm Roux? An ageing Phoenix fullback convert or a 20-year-old playing for the A-league champions?

Germany would have picked the future. Herbert fell back on the past. And it has come back to haunt him. It's time to bring on the kids. It's time to be German about this.

- Sunday Star Times

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