Neil Humphreys: Sane saves manager Loew’s job
German winger shows where coach went wrong
Last year, Leroy Sane might have got Joachim Loew fired. Yesterday morning (Singapore time), the Germany winger almost certainly saved his manager's job.
And the funny thing is, their mercurial working relationship is entirely Loew's fault.
At last year's World Cup, Germany's coach behaved like the man who had everything.
Hubris seemed to consume him. His squad selections appeared to be the work of a manager showing off.
He left out Sane, Nico Schulz and Serge Gnabry simply because he could, as if having such an embarrassment of riches was almost an inconvenience.
His talent-stuffed bench couldn't even accommodate an emerging Manchester City superstar in Sane.
But Germany went out in the group stages.
Sane's omission alone should have warranted the sack, but Loew survived. Or he endured.
Either way, he made amends against Holland yesterday. Sane, Schulz and Gnabry all started. All three scored in the 3-2 win.
In the fledgling Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, Loew looks more like a man who almost lost everything. Humility has replaced the hubris, sort of. He still can't resist showing off with his squad selections.
He recently ended the international careers of Thomas Mueller, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng and turned to the one that he ignored before the World Cup.
Sane represents both a new day for the country and perhaps a last throw of the dice for an old coach.
After 13 years at the helm and no wins since the World Cup, Loew was just about done. His decision to axe Mueller, Hummels and Boateng was part of his much-publicised umbruch - a break with the past.
The German public largely backed the policy, but not the approach.
He was considered too rash again, too certain of his radical departures and selections.
His 23-man squad for the Serbia and Holland games included eight players born after 1996.
His starting XI against Serbia had an average age of almost three years younger than his first XI in the World Cup opener against Mexico.
Loew had gone for broke. He had bet the farm on men like Sane, men he didn't believe in just 10 months ago. And he got lucky.
Without Mueller, Germany no longer boast a forward with even a passing resemblance to a conventional No. 9, forcing Loew to pair left-sided winger Sane with Gnabry, a fellow wide man once considered not good enough for Tony Pulis' West Bromwich Albion.
But the 23-year-old is now settled at Bayern Munich, while Sane continues to benefit from the unorthodox man-management of Pep Guardiola.
At City, Sane and Raheem Sterling are very much the yin and yang of their manager's philosophy.
The flakier Sterling gets the carrot (an approach that currently works for both City and England).
And the harder-headed Sane often gets the stick. Guardiola rarely compliments his German winger, constantly demanding more of the 23-year-old.
In fact, Sane has perhaps morphed into the Sterling of seasons past, with flickering images of his undeniable brilliance occasionally overshadowed by too many moments of mediocrity.
Last season, Sane picked up 10 goals and 15 assists for City in their title triumph and collected PFA Young Player of the Year honours, but his eternally dissatisfied coach demanded more of the German. Guardiola saw too much potential and not enough end product.
Indeed, Sane's three goals and four assists in his last nine City appearances hint at his inconsistency.
They all came in just three games.
Still, they offered glimmers of progress. Guardiola's stick is shaping a hungrier, more dynamic footballer, one less willing to drift out of games.
Against Holland, he sought possession at every opportunity, often cutting inside in search of space around the six-yard line, a common attacking move at City and one that led to his opener for Germany.
His unlikely strike partnership with Gnabry also bore the hallmarks of City's fluidity, with a couple of diminutive forwards swopping positions and nipping around centre-backs (one of whom was Virgil van Dijk).
This is where Loew might have struck lucky.
Marco Reus' late injury practically threw Sane and Gnabry together, and Sane's tidy interplay could probably be attributed to Guardiola's stick on the training ground, rather than Loew's instructions.
But the gamble just about came off, with the Germans chalking up their first win on Dutch soil since 1996.
Whether a corner has been turned or the last-minute victory was a fluke remains to be seen, but Sane has clarified matters with regard to his international standing.
Guardiola may still harbour doubts, but Loew will never drop the German again.