Only 65 days separate the end of Joachim Löw’s 15-year reign as Germany coach and the start of the Hansi Flick era. Germany’s defeat in the last 16 of the European Championship was the final indictment of a failed regime.
A bruising 2018 World Cup and an underwhelming performance at Euro 2020 has left Germany scarred and in desperate need of a coach who can elevate the performances of a talented squad. The hope is that Flick is that man.
“Everyone can be satisfied with Hansi Flick in charge because he did such a great job at Bayern Munich,” former Germany defender Markus Babbel told DW.
“He will be given time, but we are Germany, we need results. We are in a similar situation to Italy a few years ago. We need to put together a new team, and that will be Flick’s goal.”
‘Fear in his eyes’
Flick’s immediate aim is to qualify for the 2022 World Cup and lift the pessimistic mood that has engulfed the national team.
The rot set in under Löw from 2018. But a big-money contract awarded to the coach just before the last World Cup and his controversial decision to banish Thomas Müller, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng from the international setup – only to reinstate two of them this year – eroded confidence.
“The DFB (German Football Association) also made many mistakes,” Babbel explained. “Oliver Bierhoff [Germany’s team manager] had to realise that Löw no longer had the fire. To be clear, Löw did incredible things for German football, he won the World Cup, but since then it hasn’t been the same.”
‘No Plan B’
Müller, who was ultimately unable to make his mark in Euro 2020, has spoken of Löw’s lack of tactical ideas – a view shared by Babbel.
“That’s exactly what it was,” says Babbel, who won 51 Germany caps between 1995 and 2000. “Löw had only one plan A and if the plan didn’t work, he couldn’t react. The team had to find the solution itself to get to the goal, but it never came from the coach.
That could be seen clearly in the defeat by England, who dominated midfield against Germany – a situation the former Bayern Munich and Liverpool player considers unacceptable given the talent Germany has in that position.
“With all due respect, when you play against England, who have Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice in midfield, who play for Leeds and West Ham. These are top players but if we had gone with Kimmich, Kroos and Goretzka, I’m sorry, but then we’re talking about a different class here.”
‘A lot of energy in training’
One of the players Babbel omits in his list but seems set to be central to Flick’s plans is Ilkay Gündogan. The Manchester City midfielder missed the game against England through injury and has been speaking before Thursday’s game against Liechtenstein about the experience of working under the new man in charge.
“The first two training sessions have given us a real taste for more,” Gundögan said on Tuesday. “We need to push on and implement the coach’s ideas as quickly as possible. There’s been a lot of energy in training so far.”
“We of course want to command and win all three games – that has to be our benchmark,” he continued. “We can be very optimistic about being able to execute the playing system that we’re being given and use it to full effect.”
Marco Reus, who decided to sit out Euro 2020 but is included in Flick’s first squad, has also spoken positively of the first sessions with Flick: “I’m happy to be here working with the new head coach. The first sessions have been very positive; we have trained well and with a lot of intensity.”
‘I would have liked Kane’
Reus may prove to be Flick’s main striker, given that Germany have struggled for a regular goalscorer since Miroslav Klose’s retirement seven years ago – and Babbel wishes they had someone like England’s Harry Kane in their squad.
“We are strong in midfield, but we don’t have wingbacks or a proper striker like Harry Kane, who I would have liked. He was criticized early in the tournament by the English press, but I wish he would play for Germany because he is what we need.
“Timo Werner, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane are all top wingers but not strikers, so we have a big problem. Also our centerbacks, some are okay but they are not top class, so I think it will take time and 2024 will be the target. I don’t think we will be ready for the World Cup.”
The European Championship of 2024, a tournament that Germany will host, seems like a realistic goal for Flick, who will look to quickly integrate the fresh faces of Bayer Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala, who was given his Bayern Munich debut last year by Flick. But for now, his job is to bring back the feelgood factor and breathe new.