Life after Hansi Flick started with a 2-1 win over France. Is this a result that Germany’s next coach can build upon, or merely a false dawn?

Many will be familiar with Gary Lineker’s famous quote from 1990 after England lost on penalties to Germany in the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup:

Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.

At this current time, this quote hasn’t aged well from a German perspective. The trajectory of the German men’s national team has been trending downwards in recent years and a 4-1 home defeat to Japan was possibly the lowest point in that period. All this just nine months before they host the 2024 European Championships.

The loss to Japan meant that Germany had lost three consecutive internationals for the first time since 1985, back when Franz Beckenbauer was coach. This led to the dismissal of Hansi Flick – the first ever men’s German national team coach to be sacked from his position.

Few would have backed them to defeat France on Tuesday night, with the threat of a four-game losing run for the first time in 110 years leering over them. But of course, they won. Goals from Bayern Munich forwards Thomas Müller and Leroy Sané helped interim coach Rudi Völler win his first game in charge of the national team since he resigned from the role in June 2004.

Was this victory the start of a new, revitalised German national team or simply a false dawn? In Germany, the word mammutaufgabe is used to describe a particularly difficult challenge ahead. How much work will the new coach need to put in to make Germany potential Euro 2024 winners?

When it Counts, Germany Were There

Germany have long had the reputation of being the perfect ‘tournament team’, with German players and coaches making correct decisions at vital moments, often driving opponents to despair. After all, only Brazil (five) have won more men’s World Cup titles than Germany (four), while they have also secured three European Championship titles – the joint most alongside Spain. There’s been little evidence of their tournament prowess in recent years, however.

Germany have been eliminated in the group stage at both of the last two World Cups – in 2018 and 2022 – after making it past the first group stage in each of their 16 previous World Cup tournaments.

Overall, the Germans have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 12 matches at major tournaments (World Cup and Euros), further extending their longest such streak.

At the last European Championships in 2021, Germany snuck into the knockout stages with six minutes remaining in their final group game against Hungary, before losing meekly to England at Wembley in the round of 16. At that tournament, they led matches for just 14% of the time, while they were in a losing position more often (48%) than all but three teams (North Macedonia, Poland and Turkey). It was their earliest exit from a European Championship since 2004.

Even Lineker had to adapt his famous quote.

Ahead of next year’s Euro 2024 finals, there is a feeling of urgency in the country that they need to win the first tournament on home soil since the 2006 World Cup. Of course, back then, Germany entered the finals as host nation after a disappointing tournament preceding it – exiting Euro 2004 at the group stage. In 2006 they were excellent and went on to reach the semi-finals before an agonising extra-time defeat to eventual winners Italy.

This time around, the German FA (DFB) had hoped to be able to rely on Flick to boost the national team’s hopes and get fans onside, but the demoralising defeat to Japan was too much to bear. Since detailed data collection began on every German national team game in 2009, they have never allowed more shots on target in a single match than they did versus the Japanese last week (11). At the other end, Germany tallied just 0.69 expected goals (xG) – this was the second lowest in Flick’s reign as coach, just ahead of their match in June 2023 versus Colombia (0.23), which ended in 2-0 defeat.

Germany 1-4 Japan September 2023

How Quickly Times Change

Joachim Löw left the position of German national team manager following their poor performance at the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2022 but is fondly remembered for winning the World Cup in 2014 and taking charge of more games than any other manager of the nation (198). After his departure, excitement quickly built about a new era, with new coach Flick starting with eight successive victories, albeit against teams ranked significantly lower in the FIFA Rankings.

After stretching his unbeaten start in charge to 13 matches (W9 D4), Flick then saw his side lose half (six) of their next 12 games and that eventually led to his dismissal. His sacking came after just 25 games in charge – only Erich Ribbeck (24 games between October 1998 and June 2000) lasted fewer matches than he did in the position. Alongside Flick (48.0%), Ribbeck (41.7%) was also the only manager since 1926 to post a win ratio of under 50% in charge of the German men’s national team.

Hansi Flick Germany

World Cup 2018: The Start of the Downfall

Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup under Löw was perfect. They won every single one of their 10 matches while scoring 43 goals and conceding only four. With a maximum of 30 points and a goal difference of +39, it was the best qualifying performance by a European side for a World Cup of all time.

But since then, a mix of failed experimentation with players and false dawns among those expected to be the future of the national team have merged to produce disappointment. Since the start of the 2018 World Cup, just one player – Joshua Kimmich – has played as many as two-thirds of the possible minutes for the German men’s national team. The lack of consistency in the side has been a key issue in their downward spiral over the last five years.

German Squad since World Cup 2018

There’s little doubt about the talent pool of German footballers currently. Some of the top players within the major European leagues today qualify for Germany. Nevertheless, Germany have been unable to find a suitable starting XI and bring harmony to the team. In the 62 matches since the start of the 2018 World Cup, 33 players have made their debut for Germany, including, most recently, 32-year-old Brighton midfielder Pascal Groß.

Flick used 25 different starting XIs across his 25-game tenure in charge of Germany, making him the first German coach to never start the same 11 players in more than one match. Due to this lack of success and consistency, confidence drained from both the most important players and the coach – so much so that you began to see Flick and his players praise opposition teams for their performance more so than their own team, which is rare to see from a German national team.

Underperforming in Attack

At the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Germany only had themselves to blame for their group stage exit. A large share of that blame was with the attack.

In all three of their matches at the tournament, they attempted more shots and had a higher xG total than their opponents. In the opening-game loss to Japan, the Germans led 1-0 and had more than twice as many shots as their opponents (26 to 12) and they accumulated 1.63 xG more, yet still got caught on the counter-attack twice in the final 15 minutes to lose 2-1. On MD 2 versus Spain, they had twice the xG of their opponents (1.29 to 0.62) but drew 1-1 and even in their final game against Costa Rica, they underperformed their xG by 2.06 – not that it mattered, as they exited the tournament with a victory, regardless.

Germany’s average of 3.48 xG per game at the 2022 World Cup was higher than any other nation. However, they also had the biggest underperformance of goals compared to expected goals (4.44).

Germany Goals World Cup 2022

Overall, it was common for Germany to create good chances under Flick. They had a higher xG total in 20 of their 25 matches during his spell in charge but converting them was the issue. Even across the five games that Flick managed after the World Cup, his side scored fewer goals (8) than their xG total (11.83).

Flick’s side couldn’t even rely on set-piece situations for inspiration in front of goal. Under his tenure, Germany scored seven of 60 goals from non-penalty set-play situations. Just four of those came from the 165 corners that they took across the time – an average of a goal every 41 corners. The last time that Germany scored a non-penalty set-piece goal came in a 2-0 friendly win over Israel in March 2022, going 18 successive games since without scoring in this manner.

Völler Focused on Defence… With Success

Völler stressed before Tuesday’s friendly against France that he wanted to stabilise the defence following a run of conceding 13 goals across Flick’s final five games – their worst such run since 1958. The interim coach definitely succeeded with that plan.

With Jonathan Tah and Benjamin Henrichs, he made changes in both full-back positions, which helped them stifle the French (assisted by the absence of a key threat in Kylian Mbappé, admittedly).

Excluding the late spot-kick from Antoine Griezmann, France only managed a non-penalty xG total of 0.38 – their lowest in 52 matches since posting 0.24 versus Turkey in a June 2019 European Championship qualifier.

France Shots vs Germany Sept 2023

Who Do Germany Turn to Next?

All things considered, whoever takes the reins of the men’s German national team next has a lot to do ahead of Euro 2024 at home. The win against France, even with an unused Mbappé on the bench, was a vital boost to the fragile German confidence, however.

There isn’t much time for experimentation now, and a fully functioning team needs to be found quickly. There are only three more friendly matches planned for this year as it stands, with matches against the United States, Mexico and Austria – managed by Ralf Rangnick – to come before hosting the European Championships. None of those are competitive games, which isn’t ideal.

Rangnick was one of the first candidates to take on the German job but was quick to publicly reject the link. The much-admired Jürgen Klopp has also been linked in a dual role alongside his responsibilities at Liverpool, but that feels highly unlikely.

Many more names have been linked, but Julian Nagelsmann is understandably a favourite having been out of work since his dismissal from Bayern Munich in March. At just 36 years old, he would be the second youngest coach to take over the German national team – only Otto Nerz was younger (34 years, 10 days) when he first took charge of Germany in 1926.

He denied it following the win over France, but Völler himself – also current Director of Sport at the DFB – could be tempted by a second permanent role in charge of the national team alongside assistants Hannes Wolf and Sandro Wagner. His first spell ended with a poor group stage exit at the 2004 European Championships and his resignation. Twenty years later, is it time for redemption?

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