BERLIN: Germany head coach Joachim Loew dropped a bombshell on Tuesday by telling 2014 World Cup winners Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and Thomas Mueller they are no longer in his plans.
Loew told the Bayern Munich trio before he names the squad for the friendly against Serbia in Wolfsburg in two weeks and the Euro 2020 qualifier against the Netherlands in Amsterdam on March 24.
"I am sad about this news, because it has always been the greatest thing for me to represent my country," Boateng posted on Facebook.
"I respect and understand the decision.
"I was once young myself and reliant on older players to make room for me, but of course, I wish we could have had a different 'goodbye'."
Between them, Hummels, Boateng, both 30, and Mueller, still only 29, boast 246 appearances for Germany and were at the heart of the team which won the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
However, last year's debacle at the World Cup finals in Russia saw Germany crash out after the group stage due to below-par performances from Loew's trusted stars.
"2019 is the year of a new start for the German national football team," said Loew.
"It was important to me personally to explain my thoughts and plans to the players and managers of FC Bayern," added Loew, who flew to Munich to speak to the trio.
The 59-year-old, who masterminded Germany's 2014 World Cup triumph, thanked "Mats, Jerome and Thomas" for "many successful, extraordinary and unique years together."
Loew's decision heralds the end of an impressive international career for Mueller, who broke through as a raw 20-year-old at the 2010 World Cup and went on to score 38 goals in 100 appearances.
Hummels and Boateng, Germany's successful centre-back partnership before the disaster at the finals in Russia, have played in 70 and 76 internationals respectively.
Other big names could also find themselves surplus to Loew's requirements in the coming weeks.
Germany captain Manuel Neuer, 32, has a battle to keep his goalkeeping shirt from Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 26.
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"I said last year that Manuel is number one right now, but this year we have something like a new start and Marc will get his chances too," said Loew before Tuesday's announcement.
Loew already has options for Hummels and Boateng at centre-back in Bayern's Niklas Suele, 23, Chelsea's Antonio Ruediger, 26, and Paris Saint-Germain's Thilo Kehrer, 22.
A new-look forward line played in the 3-0 win over Russia and 2-2 draw against the Netherlands, in late 2018, with striker Timo Werner, 22, flanked by Bayern Munich winger Serge Gnabry, and Manchester City's Leroy Sane, both 23.
With a year to go before the European Championship, Loew feels now is the time to remove more of his old guard having already last year dropped Sami Khedira, another 2014 World Cup winner.
Loew was heavily criticised in the wake of last year's debacle in Russia for failing to give chances to the reserves, many of whom had won the 2017 Confederations Cup, when his World Cup plans fell apart.
"In the year of qualifying for the European Championship 2020, we are sending out a clear signal: the young national team players will have the space they need to fully develop," said Loew. "They have to take responsibility now."
Loew's boss, German Football Association president Reinhard Grindel, who also took flak last year when Mesut Ozil retired from Germany duty amid claims of racism, welcomed Loew's move.
"I welcome the fact that he is now making decisive progress in transforming our national team and starting the qualification for Euro 2020 is the right time for personnel changes," said Grindel.
However, Ozil could not resist taking a shot at Loew for ditching close friend Boateng.
"Chin up, bro. I feel sorry (that) one of the best German players of the last decades has to leave the national team in that way. #Danke @JB17Official," Ozil wrote on Twitter.