There may not be widespread enthusiasm for this World Cup among the German public, but that does not reflect Hansi Flick and his reinvigorated squad. After what, by their standards, was an early exit from the European Championship last year, Germany quickly rebuilt under their new manager…
Hansi Flick knows what it takes to win the World Cup as a coach: the 57-year-old was Joachim Low’s assistant at Brazil 2014.
A former Bayern Munich player and German FA sporting director, Flick owes his current role to a superb 18 months as a coach at Bayern, culminating in their victory in the 2019-20 Champions League final. A very public falling out with Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic last spring made him the continuity candidate to succeed Low after the Euros.
Flick transferred a lot of personnel and tactics through his successful Bayern side. His Germany also likes to press high and dominate the ball in a 4-2-3-1 system. Fifteen games brought nine wins, five draws and one loss, 0-1 to Hungary in the Nations League, where Germany finished third in a four-team group.
He is both a meticulous worker and a great man-manager. The team is quite in love with him.
The last name you haven’t heard of yet
One of the lesser-known national team players is 22-year-old Nico Schlotterbeck. The Borussia Dortmund defender has an outside chance to make the starting XI in Qatar after generally solid performances in his debut season at Signal Iduna Park. Before that, he was at fellow Bundesliga side Freiburg alongside his older brother Kevin. Their uncle Niels (Hansa Rostock) and cousin Michelle (Hoffenheim Women) also played professionally.
An aggressive centre-back on the forefoot, Schlotterbeck is a bit of a fan favorite for speaking his mind and not caring all that much about the consequences. For his introduction to the Dortmund team, he chose a song called Layla – a party anthem that had been banned in some venues due to its sexist lyrics.
There’s something of the lovable thug Kevin Grosskreutz about him – although he’s highly unlikely to urinate drunk in the lobby of a five-star hotel, as the World Cup winner did 2014 (non-player) Grosskreutz.
Germany has rhythm, variety and quality in abundance. Thirteen different players have scored a combined 43 goals during Flick’s reign, and that was without the new additions of 17-year-old starlet Youssoufa Moukoko (Dortmund) and Niclas Fullkrug (Werder Bremen), Germany’s top league striker this season. . The two should make up for the loss of RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner, who was the national side’s most prolific striker (eight goals) under Flick before suffering an ankle injury.
Another traditional quality that will hopefully be on display again is Germany’s ability to come together as a team, both tactically and spiritually, in a big tournament. Die Nationalmannschaft rarely boasts of the best individuals, but collectively they tend to gel and hide their weaknesses better than most.
Speaking of which… Flick would love to have a superstar centre-forward who strikes in goal regularly, but in truth Germany haven’t had that player since Miroslav Klose retired – and even the 2014 winner and better goalscorer at the World Cups (16 goals) was especially happier playing a deeper role behind another centre-forward.
The national team found other ways and other players to fill the void, but against deep defensive lines a more orthodox centre-forward was sometimes missing. In Moukoko, 17, and Fullkrug, Flick has options, but it will be a brave enough call to start either without them having previous experience at this level.
While Germany’s full-backs are solid and functional rather than spectacular, another concern could be the slight lack of depth in central midfield. Germany have three big players in Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Ilkay Gundogan – four if you count Jamal Musiala, who can play a deeper role – but not much behind them.
It’s official, Germany is no longer “Die Mannschaft” (the team). The moniker was introduced in the wake of the 2014 World Cup triumph, but fans and media have always seen it as terribly contrived – no one has ever mentioned them that way, apart from the homepage of the German FA and sponsorship advertisements. It has always been “Die Nationalmannschaft” (the national team) or “Die DFB-Elf” (The German FA XI).
This summer, the unloved moniker was quietly dropped.
Unfortunately, the decision came too late for kit maker Adidas, whose most expensive replica World Cup shirt still features ‘Die Mannschaft’ printed inside the collar.
In case you were wondering, the black vertical stripe is inspired by the very first national team jersey from 1908, not the mysterious monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Expectations at home
There’s not a lot of enthusiasm for this World Cup in Germany, but that’s more to do with the fact that it’s taking place in Qatar than with Flick and his men. They are highly regarded, on the whole, and should give a much better account of themselves than Low’s last side, knocked out in the Round of 16 at Euro 2020.
It’s Flick’s first big tournament, he’s not under pressure to win it. However, he will have to qualify for the knockouts and show that he is developing a team that can participate in the next Euros at home in two years.
A quarter-final exit at the hands of Brazil or a similar result would be considered acceptable. Anything less than that, probably not.
Read more: See the rest of The Athletic’s World Cup 2022 team guides
(Main graphic — photo: Getty Images/design: Sam Richardson)