When Germany spectacularly crashed out of World Cup 2018 at the group stages, massive ramifications were anticipated but did not arrive.
Joachim Low retained his post as head coach, which he has enjoyed since 2006, and he largely retained the body of players he had taken with him to Russia.
Two exceptions were of course Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan, who dropped out of the international set-up amid a row over their pre-World Cup meeting with Turkish president Recep Erdogan.
Relegation from the top tier of UEFA’s Nations League, however, has prompted belated changes from Low, who stunned the footballing world as it was announced that he would not consider Bayern Munich trio Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller for selection again.
Although the trio were all mainstays of the national team long before they helped it win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Hummels and Boateng are only 30, while Muller will only hit that milestone in September 2019.
Why have Muller, Boateng and Hummels been dropped?
As Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp admitted, it’s difficult to put a precise explanation on why the trio have been axed from the national side without an official reason or even comment from Low.
“I don’t know the reasons exactly 100 per cent but what I would say is it is difficult to take the opportunity away for a player to qualify for a national team. I didn’t hear about a lot of similar situations,” he said on the eve of Liverpool's Champions League last-16 second-leg clash with Bayern Munich.
“A centre-half at 30 years is nothing, so age cannot really be a reason. Other reasons, I don’t know. If you are a player and you don’t really retire by yourself there should still be an opportunity to qualify for the national team. That’s my opinion but I am not in the situation.”
Although there is no concrete explanation, it is likely that a combination of factors have driven Low’s decision. For one, it is a dose of shock therapy after a wretched year, sending a message to the younger members of the squad; but additionally it is a response to the media and supporters who have criticised him for relentlessly picking his favourites, regardless of form.
Among the most outspoken critics of the current regime is Dietmar Hamann, a Liverpool midfielder who won 59 caps for his country.
“It bordered on embarrassment,” he said after the World Cup exit. “This is not how German football has been represented over the last four or five decades.
“I got knocked out in the European Championship group stages in 2004, but you've got to conduct yourself in a certain way and they didn't do that.”
Lothar Matthaus, a veteran of 150 Germany matches over a 20-year period that included World Cup success in 1990, has been even more to the point.
“I expect some clear messages from Jogi Low in the future,” he wrote in a Sky column to September. “These can and will be unpleasant truths for some players.
“But just as Niko Kovac moderates things at Bayern Munich, so must Jogi Low. No rewards for past achievements. Stop the unquestioning loyalty.”
What are the consequences?
It will only become clear whether Low’s fresh approach has worked during qualifying for Euro 2020.
Germany are thrown in at the deep end in terms of their quest to reach the finals, with a trip to Amsterdam to face a Netherlands side that eliminated them from the Nations League.
Ultimately, though, a group that also includes Belarus, Estonia and Northern Ireland should prove something of a formality.
In the short-term, meanwhile, there has been a suggestion that the snubbing of the three Bayern players could provide their club with fresh impetus.
Poor under Kovac in the first half of the season, Bayern returned in 2019 with fresh hunger, with eight wins from their first 10 competitive matches.
Klopp feels that the trio will feel they have a point to prove to Low.
“I was never in contention for the national team but if something like this happened to you when you are young, fit and healthy then I think I would try to show it was a mistake,” he told the media.
Certainly, it is a move that has split opinion and represents one last throw of the dice for the coach.
“We do not comment on sporting decisions of the national coach, the nomination of the squad of the national team is solely the responsibility of Joachim Low,” Bayern said in a statement.
“However, we believe the timing and circumstances of the announcement of this decision to the players and to the public is questionable. The last international match of the German national team took place on November 19, 2018.
“The fact that the players and the public were informed three months later, just ahead of important matches for FC Bayern next Saturday in the fight for the Bundesliga title against VfL Wolfsburg and a few days before the decisive second leg in the round of 16 of the Champions League next Wednesday against Liverpool, irritates us.
“In addition, we were surprised that this was done yesterday in the context of an unannounced visit by Joachim Low and Oliver Bierhoff [Director National Teams and Academy] at Bayern.
“Muller (100 caps), Hummels (70) and Boateng (76) have played 246 internationals for the German national team, which has had an extremely successful decade, crowned by winning the world title in 2014 as an absolute highlight.
“FC Bayern have great respect for the athletic merits of Thomas, Mats and Jerome for the national team and German football.”
The nature of the axing has provoked such emotions across the German footballing landscape. Franz Beckenbauer, universally regarded as one of the all-time greats, was similarly critical, though notably did not necessarily dispute the decision.
“Those are three extremely distinguished players; perhaps one should have been able to find another way. I probably would have done it differently, in a more human way!” he told Bild.
“A proper farewell came would have been the right framework or something of that kind. But simply telling them they won’t be selected anymore, that’s a bit questionable. This finality is why the players are probably disappointed.”
According to Hamann, meanwhile, it is a call that leaves Low more vulnerable than ever before.
“In a sporting sense, you can talk about the decision, but the style and timing of it doesn’t work,” he told Suddeutsche Zeitung. “These three players deserved a chance to say goodbye.
“I think this will catch up with Low sooner than he thinks,” he warned ominously.