Continuity is rare and seldom works for World Cup sides
Posted on December 9, 2016
WHEN GERMANY inevitably defend their World Cup title in 2018 in Russia, it is likely there will be half a dozen of their 2014 champion side kicking-off their campaign.
Germany’s overall squad in Brazil was one of the youngest, an average of 26 and 114 days, so there’s still mileage in their legs. When they lined-up in Euro 2016, Germany still had eight of their World Cup final team in their first game in France.
But be warned. Generally, a barely-changed World Cup winning team is rarely successful a second time around. When Italy the World Cup in 1934 and 1938, the second of those triumphs only included two of the 1934 side – the legendary Giuseppe Meazza of Internazionale and Juventus’ Giovanni Ferrari.
However, when Brazil won the World Cup in 1958, most of that team returned to claim a second successive title. In fact, when Brazil kicked-off their defence in 1962, no less than nine players who had won gold in Sweden four years earlier were in the line-up.
Five of that team started the 1966 competition in England, but as Brian Glanville said in his script for the FIFA film, Goal, they were all “eight years older”. Brazil’s 1962 team, at 30.7, had the highest average age of all World Cup winners – 30.7.
Sometimes, a successful team enjoys a high level of loyalty from its manager. That was certainly the case for England, who won the World Cup in 1966 and four years on, six of the winning team was fielded against Romania.
England’s team, which now included Keith Newton, Brian Labone, Terry Cooper, Alan Mullery and Francis Lee, had said goodbye to George Cohen and Ray Wilson, Jackie Charlton, Nobby Stiles and Roger Hunt. It was arguably a stronger unit, but Mexico 1970 saw them bow out in the quarter-finals.
Eight years after winning the World Cup, England found themselves as non-qualifiers for 1974 and it was not until 1982 that they played another game in the finals. The question was, had Sir Alf Ramsey held onto his 1966 squad for too long and neglected the development of younger players in the international arena. That said, the new generation, which included Kevin Keegan, Mick Channon and Martin Chivers, among others, struggled to live-up to the 1966 champions – but isn’t this the case for most World Cup winners?
Brazil, as in 1966, under-performed in Europe in 1974, but they had fielded just two members of their glorious 1970 side – Jairzinho and Rivelino. Brazil’s traditional ball-playing style that had captivated the world in Mexico had given way to the new European style demonstrated by the West Germans and Dutch. And of course, there was no Pele.
West Germany won in 1974 but by 1978, only three of their side, goalkeeper Sepp Maier, Rainer Bohnof and Berti Vogts were still starters in their first game in Argentina. Players like Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, Gerd Mueller and Uli Hoeness had all departed from the scene for various reasons.
Argentina won on home soil in 1978 and fielded nine of their team – the youngest to win the competition at 25.7 – as they began their campaign in Spain in 1982. With the new bright young thing, Diego Maradona, in their line-up, Argentina under-performed in Spain. Italy in 1986 and Argentina in 1990 both took three of their winning sides to start their bid to retain their crown. They had both seen significant levels of turnover.
The pattern does seem to be that in most cases, a lack of churn does not make for a good defence of the top prize. In 1994 (Germany). 2002 (France) and 2014 (Spain) all had seven players from their golden year start their next World Cup game four years later – and all flopped, mostly notably France in 2002.
Experience of winning major prizes is invaluable, but World Cup competitions sap the energy, especially if played in a challenging climate. According to the BBC, the perfect age for a World Cup player, 27.5. That means that in the periods between World Cups, international managers have to make sure that there’s a flow of players ready to make the move from the fringes to the national squad. Two years after Brazil 2014, you would assume that the top nations already know the players that should emerge before Russia 2018. Similarly, they should also know those players that no longer have a future on the international stage.
Turning over a winning team is also important for motivational reasons. Lifting the World Cup is the footballing equivalent of landing on the moon. Once you’ve won it, how can you better it? The next team that represents your nation needs to be fresh and ready for action, not still reliving past glories.
Germany will qualify for 2018 with something to spare. They have won all four of their games so far and have a goal count of 16-0. Qualifying competitions are no longer an accurate pointer to the relative strength of the top nations, but it is a fair bet that Germany’s squad remains intact and will be better equipped than most. It is difficult to see them under-achieving in Russia.