The Scotland assistant manager has ties with Germany, so much so that he was recently installed as one of the favourites to join former German international Felix Magath’s backroom staff at Fulham.
So it is fitting that McGhee’s first full qualifying campaign as Scotland assistant manager should start with a game against Germany, whom he believes are among the strong favourites to win the World Cup this summer. McGhee spent just over a season playing in the Bundesliga for SV Hamburg, where he played with Magath, and he has maintained contacts made in the country in the mid-1980s.
He praised the way Germany have remained true to their principles despite Spain having caught the imagination in recent years with their brand of tiki-taka football. The German method is more reliant on power and strong surges up the field but is still represented by such technically accomplished young footballers as Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze. According to McGhee, this team is the future. “I think they’re brilliant,” he said. “Even although the World Cup is in South America, I don’t think it’s impossible that they will be world champions.”
McGhee revealed that the German model is the one that the Scotland coaching staff have studied most closely, even though he acknowledges that manager Gordon Strachan might have to now limit how much he says on the subject, with Germany now confirmed as group rivals. But McGhee could not hide his admiration for the way Germany have picked themselves up again after failing to make it out of the group stage in Euro 2004.
“I went to a conference a few years ago and listened to Matthias Sammer [now Bayern Munich sporting director] speaking about his belief in German football at a time when German football seemed to be getting really psyched-out by the Spanish and by Barcelona,” he said. “He stepped in and said: ‘look there is a lot good about German football so let’s stick to our principles’. You can see that now in Bayern Munich and the German game in general and the standard of German players.”
McGhee was impressed with the stance taken by Sammer, who at the time he heard him speak was the technical director of the German Football Accociation, with chief responsibility for the national youth teams. He is also a former European Footballer of the Year who, as well as winning more than 50 caps for Germany, played for Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan.
“A lot of it comes from him, that kind of belief that they don’t do what Spain or Barcelona do but do what they do best and it would be good enough to compete with the Spanish model,” added McGhee. “And I think the way they have progressed since then has been fantastic and I don’t think you can see past them in the group.”
In McGhee’s eyes, it is more realistic for Scotland to attempt to follow the German template than the Spanish one. “If you asked us who do we want to play like we wouldn’t say Spain. Given what we know about Scottish mentality, temperament and players, the model we should be looking at is Germany’s.
“One of the things that Sammer said was that this Spanish team have three or four players who are three or four of the best the world has ever seen. So that makes them impossible to copy. He said: ‘forget that and look at what we do’. Look at how we do it and develop it into a form that can compete with the Spanish game.
“The Spanish game is still up there,” noted McGhee. “You just have to look at Barcelona winning in Manchester [v Manchester City] last week to know that they are still formidable. But I think the pace and the power of the German game and the directness makes them so impressive.
“Whoever we got from Pot One was going to be difficult so then you think about who would the supporters want to watch,” he continued. “I think Germany will be a great spectacle but it will be the other games that will decide qualification not the games against Germany.” For Scotland’s sake, McGhee stressed that he hoped Germany would manage to live up to their reputation and dominate the group, meaning Scotland could focus their minds on beating Poland, Republic of Ireland and Georgia to second place – and automatic qualification for Euro 2016.
“I think they will look at the group and think there is no-one to trouble them,” he said. “If Belgium were in the group it might be different but I don’t think they will fear anyone in our group. So if they go and wipe the floor with everyone else and we can have a go at trying to get something from them then that will great.”