Bierhoff: Germany can challenge Spain at Euro 2012

Germany general manager Oliver Bierhoff hopes Spain’s players will be too tired after a grueling club season to defend their European Championship title next year, when he expects his squad to reach its peak.

Germany’s vibrant, young side reached the semifinals at last year’s World Cup before losing to Spain, which followed its Euro 2008 triumph by capturing the global crown.

But Bierhoff, who oversees the development of the national game in Germany, doesn’t anticipate the Spanish being as strong at Euro 2012.

”Spain is for sure at the moment the best team in the world,” Bierhoff said on the sidelines of the SoccerEx conference in Manchester. ”Hopefully, perhaps in another year, the players having success with Barcelona and other teams are getting a little bit tired, a little bit older.

”We have a very young team, but we know that when you start a tournament you start from scratch.”

The fact that more than 50 percent of players in the Bundesliga have come up through club youth systems has created a greater competition for places for the national team, which also reached the 2006 World Cup semifinals.

”I can see the difference in our players from 2006 to 2010, the young players coming now are better technically educated, more used to the media, physically much better,” Bierhoff said. ”In 2006 we still had problems with a lack of speed and technical issues. With these young players you can see they have had a good education in the clubs’ technical centers.”

But Bierhoff, whose goal clinched Germany’s win in the Euro ’96 final, is concerned that the Champions League has overtaken the World Cup as the ”pinnacle” for players.

”Financially, 20 years ago it was more important for a player to play in the national team than now,” the former AC Milan striker said. ”Now he gets very well paid by his club and the club has a huge interest in him not getting injured, the Champions League is becoming more and more important.

”(The national teams) don’t pay our players anywhere near what they get for their clubs so it is more a matter of pride at being selected among the 20-23 best players in the country.”

Players are also too focused on making money out of commercial deals.

”They get more tired psychologically – we see it with our players now with all these things around; media, personal sponsors, club sponsors,” Bierhoff said. ”The peak for the top players is becoming narrower and narrower. Once you had a 10-year career at the top and the brilliant players did it at the World Cup.

”Now, after three or four or five years, it seems like the player is gone. Look at Ronaldinho, Ronaldo (of Brazil) and other players.”

Bierhoff along with coach Joachim Loew introduced a disciplinary code designed to stop players becoming ”spoilt brats.”

”After training they would just come in and throw their dirty shirts and socks and shorts down and leave it for the kit man to tidy up,” he said. ”Now they do it themselves. They turn their shirts inside out, they put all the socks and shorts together.

”We needed to change the atmosphere after Euro 2004. It had seemed to the people that the players didn’t want to play for the team, that it was not fun. But in Germany the national team is an icon, it is the property of the people so we needed the players to be able to bond together. We helped them develop responsibilities to help them grow as people because we wanted them to respect not only their fellow players but the staff who worked with them.”

Germany was beaten on Tuesday for the first time since last year’s loss to Spain at South Africa 2010, with Australia winning the friendly 2-1.

”The strategy of the coaches is to try to introduce younger players at a moment when you are not forced to introduce them so they have time to grow and develop,” Bierhoff said.