Santo Andre, Brazil: The most enduring image of Joachim Loew at the 2014 World Cup for many Germans will be of an intense-looking man wearing a bathing suit, t-shirt, sun glasses and ear plugs while strolling barefoot completely alone on the beach.
The widely published picture of the lonely-looking Germany coach who had tuned out the world is an apt metaphor for Loew in Brazil with his absolute focus on delivering the only prize that success-spoiled and trophy-starved Germany will tolerate from him: Win it all or go away.
With the pressure of knowing that anything less than returning home with a fourth World Cup would be a failure, Loew has set out on a methodical, meticulous course to deliver his “golden generation” of Germany players to the promised trophy.
Everything he has done since a humiliating semi-final defeat to Italy two years ago in the Euro2012 and a disconcerting semi-final loss to Spain in the World Cup two years before that has been designed with Sunday’s World Cup final in mind.
“Pressure from Germany to win the World Cup? What pressure are you talking about?” Loew said with a rare flash of irony in a German TV interview just before the tournament began before bursting out in a hearty laugh with ex captain-turned-TV pundit Oliver Kahn when asked about the building pressure.
Indeed Loew, 54, and the German football association (DFB) have done everything humanely possible to shield the players from pressure and distractions of the tournament – everything has been subjugated to winning even more so than at any time in his eight years as head coach.
Loew, his coaching staff and many players they don’t read newspapers or pay attention to the media back home and they stay ensconced in their fortress-like compound at an isolated resort on the Atlantic Ocean in Northeastern Brazil except for matches.
The players and coaches all got new cell phone numbers that effectively cut off contact with the outside world and the media, which caused some grumbling among the beat reporters.
”I haven’t read a newspaper since we got here,” Loew told reporters after Germany squeaked past Algeria in the last-16 match, too narrow a victory for some that triggered a wave of criticism that Loew was either too stubborn to make some needed adjustments or not the right coach for the talent-laden team.
“We are focused on how we can win, not how we can avoid losing,” said Loew, always a sharp dresser who speaks with a distinct southern German accent similar to the dialect of his predecessor and friend Juergen Klinsmann.
It`s probably a good thing that he didn`t read the papers because even Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and 93 percent of Germans in one poll wanted him to move captain Philipp Lahm from midfield to right fullback.
Loew made the shift for the quarter-finals against but insisted it was not public opinion but part of his strategy.
The normally polite Loew did show a flash of anger after he was accused of being satisfied with the shaky performance against Algeria that reflected public opinion back home.
“Should I really be disappointed that we made it to the quarter-finals,” he growled. “Should I be deeply disappointed?”
It is a strange world in Germany at times. Loew is the most successful Germany coach in the last 30 years with 76 wins and just 15 defeats in 111 matches – or an average of 2.25 points per match – ahead of Berti Vogts (2.18), Juergen Klinsmann (2.00) and Franz Beckenbauer (1.85). But that is not enough.
Loew, who lost his driver`s license just before the World Cup began for too many speeding tickets, has come under considerable fire especially in the last two years despite a nearly unbeaten record in that period.
Germany played well at the Euro2012 and Loew looked like a genius for his wholesale changes before each match. But when Germany lost to Italy in the semi-final Loew took the blame for making too many changes. He has been in the firing line since.
With all the criticism, it’s small wonder that Loew has largely avoided the German media at the team’s base in a remote corner of Northeastern Brazil. In the last month he appeared at the press conference just twice - although he has been to 12 obligatory FIFA press conferences before and after matches.
But his players speak highly of Loew and try to tune out of the media as well.
"He`s always stuck to a clear, straight-forward line," said Lahm of Loew. "And that`s really important for the players. He`s always talking about the key issues and stays calm and concentrated all the time. But if you`ve ever seen him walking along the beach that`s where he lets off the steam."