Yoga and bowling should take away the frustration. This week, the national players completed relaxing exercises on rubber mats on the campus of the German Football Association (DFB) in Frankfurt am Main, and one evening they also went to throw strikes at the “Magic Bowl” in Oberursel.
After the disappointing 3:3 in the 1000th DFB international match against Ukraine last Monday in Bremen, the pros around Joshua Kimmich wanted to clear their heads. It was the tenth winless game from the last 14 international matches under national coach Hansi Flick, and the Bremen spectators whistled his team out at times.
On Thursday, Flick’s selection traveled to Warsaw, where they will face Poland this Friday (8.45 p.m., ARD). The second of three games of this international trip is more than a test. After Monday’s weak and sobering performance, it’s about saving the mood around the team. And for Flick, it’s about disproving at least something of the growing doubts about him, his coaching team and his work. Even though it’s not a competitive game, the pressure is on.
Critical questions after Flick
“Ultimately, the result is what counts. It’s our job to deliver results,” said Jonas Hofmann from Borussia Mönchengladbach. And DFB sports director Rudi Völler demands: “We have to tackle each of the remaining international matches just as consistently and, above all, as concentrated as an important qualifying game.”
In the past four international matches, the national team have conceded eight goals. Flick and his team have to seize every opportunity to improve. And to create a spirit of optimism. Although Völler’s statements in interviews, which sometimes seemed like a demand for the population to be excited about the European Championship, recently gave a different impression – the spark for this has to come from the team. Flick’s elf is obligated to deliver.
The home EM starts in less than a year. During this week, the association did a lot to draw attention to the tournament and to create anticipation. Tournament boss Philipp Lahm and DFB President Bernd Neuendorf met Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, the national team and Flick celebrated the 365-day countdown to the European Championship with around 400 fans at the Frankfurt Hauptwache. Scholz said goodbye to the meeting with Lahm and Neuendorf after just 15 minutes “with maximum anticipation,” writes the German Press Agency.
Völler heard live on the radio how the euphoria at the European Championships was going. Between 80s songs he had selected, listener questions were read to the 63-year-old this week on Hit Radio FFH. The first question was about Flick’s future – a listener wanted to know whether the former successful coach of FC Bayern would remain the national coach despite everything. “Yes, of course,” Völler replied. Flick is “an absolute top coach who does everything to ensure that we bring the enthusiasm back to Germany in the next few games.”
Not everyone finds it as natural as Völler for a long time. In the Bundesliga and among former national players and coaches, the largely lacking development of the team is lamented. “How is that supposed to go well?” asks the specialist magazine “Kicker” in its headline on Flick’s EM project.
The criticism of the national coach is great. His experiment with a three-man defense chain did not work against Ukraine, but Flick probably wants to stick to the system for the time being. In the media, comparisons have recently been made to the last few years under his predecessor Joachim “Jogi” Löw. There is talk of “EM alarm”. And successors are already being traded, the name Julian Nagelsmann is played. According to media reports from France, the 35-year-old is expected to sign with Paris St. Germain next week.
What can give Flick and his ailing team hope: Poland national coach Fernando Santos disrupts the game against Germany. The 68-year-old Portuguese said he would have preferred to prepare his team for the important European Championship qualifier against Moldova next Tuesday. Poland are under pressure in Group E.
However, now of all times, with all the defensive problems, it is against Robert Lewandowski, one of the best strikers in the world. With the star of the Polish selection, Flick won the treble with FC Bayern in 2020.
“We just have to deliver”
For the German team, above all, a stable center field is elementary. Against Ukraine, Flick had Leon Goretzka, who was often disappointing in the second half of last season, play as a “six”, Joshua Kimmich was a little more offensive. Now Ilkay Gündogan is also available to the national coach. The 32-year-old only joined the team on Wednesday evening, he had won the Champions League with Manchester City last Saturday and made the treble with the top English club perfect.
Many experts and fans think: Gündogan should now be set. Although in the past he often didn’t play as well in the national team as he did for City. Flick’s substitution of Gündogan (for Goretzka) in the first game of the World Cup in Qatar, which was desolate from a German perspective, six months ago had initiated the defeat against Japan (1: 2) – and was the beginning of the early end of the tournament for Germany. “If we still want to create a spirit of optimism for the European Championships at home, then we have to start now with a sense of achievement,” says Gündogan. “We just have to deliver. We have a duty as a team, and I personally feel a great motivation to put the lack of success of the past tournaments behind us.”
The national team needs a stabilizer, a clock, a framework. Flick has to find the right role for Gündogan. He has been playing for Germany since 2012 and has not yet won a title with the selection (he was injured in the 2014 World Cup triumph). Gündogan emphasizes that he wants to take on even more responsibility. Flick may not let him play in Poland from the start, Gündogan should start in the third international match of this trip against Colombia on Tuesday (8.45 p.m., RTL) in his hometown of Gelsenkirchen. The competition in midfield is enormous, Emre Can from Borussia Dortmund is also hoping to play and will probably be one of the starting XI in Poland.
Lahm captained Germany to the World Cup nine years ago in Brazil. Before the Poland game, he emphasized: “Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka, who I see as responsible, have often won the championship with FC Bayern. They won the Champions League in 2020. So you can. They also have to form a core in the national team and create a team.”
Strong criticism of Kimmich
Kimmich, who FC Barcelona is said to be interested in, has been heavily criticized like Flick. Record national player Lothar Matthäus says “Sport Bild” about Kimmich’s performance at Bayern: “The people next to him have recently been constantly worse: it doesn’t matter whether it’s Goretzka, Sabitzer or Gravenberch. Because they had to do unfamiliar work for Kimmich.” Matthäus explains: “I still see Joshua Kimmich as an absolute leader. But he has to step back. From time to time he overdoes it with his announcements, with his gestures,” says the Sky expert. “That can often get on the nerves of other players. As a coach, I would first talk to Kimmich himself, then in front of the whole team, about how he should behave in the future so that things go better.”
According to the report, a group of national players questioned Kimmich’s role around the World Cup in Qatar. The allegations in the national team: too many alibi gestures on the field with which he publicly underlines his ambition – but these are not effective.
Flick’s struggling national team needs leadership. Kimmich wants to prove that he is the right person for it. At 28 he is old enough to take responsibility. He and his team cannot afford any further significant defeats.
A lot is at stake this Friday evening in Warsaw. It is anything but an ordinary test match.