Jonas Hofmann just sat there as things started to move around him. He sat on the substitutes’ bench, his gaze was vacant. The national player didn’t even try to give the wrong impression. His mood was bad, and after the 1-1 draw of the German national soccer team against Hungary, everyone could see that.
Hofmann felt guilty. “I like to put myself in the foreground and say: Sorry,” he explained after last Saturday’s draw in Budapest. Hofmann presumably robbed his team of their first win in the third game of the Nations League.
A good 20 minutes before the end he ran unchallenged towards Peter Gulacsi. Hofmann could probably have shot the ball past the Hungary goalkeeper without too much trouble; instead he decided to cross the ball to Timo Werner, which, however, landed on Hungarian central defender Willi Orban.
“I’ll take that on my cap,” Hofmann said later, still in a state of believable contrition. “We don’t have to talk about it: it has to be a goal.” What had led him to make the wrong of two possible decisions in the given situation was a mystery to him. “The funny thing is: I saw the opponent to my left and still play the ball. Some synapses probably didn’t fire properly.”
But just as Hofmann had the victory on his conscience, he could also claim to have saved his team from the first defeat under national coach Hansi Flick. In the early stages, the offensive player from Borussia Mönchengladbach managed to equalize to make it 1-1. The goal, including how it came about, was a rare bright spot in Germany’s generally somber performance in Budapest.
Sluggish, uninspired and tired – that’s how the national team came across at the end of a long season. And when something of the definitely existing potential flashed, then Jonas Hofmann usually had his feet in the game. “He made a good game for me,” said national coach Flick. “He often got behind the defensive line, tried everything and rightly scored.”
The Germans have now scored three goals in three Nations League games, and Hofmann was involved in all three. 1-1 in Italy, he set up the equalizer via Timo Werner’s upper arm, scored the lead in the 1-1 draw with England and scored his fourth goal in the 1-1 draw in Budapest immediately after Hungary’s 1-0 13th international match of equalization.
Hofmann, 29, is the winner in the national team among all the draws – which was not necessarily to be expected. Only in October 2020, at the advanced age of 28, did the Gladbacher celebrate his debut in the national team. And although he has been convincing with strong performances in the club for years, he was long ignored by Flick’s predecessor Joachim Löw.
Under Flick, on the other hand, Hofmann was used in ten of the twelve games, seven of them in the starting XI. And in the two most recent encounters against England and Hungary, he even experienced an upgrade from the national coach.
After Hofmann had recently helped out primarily as a right-back, he has now moved back into attacking midfield. Although the position in the back row is new to him, it seemed to give him a better perspective of regular appearances, at least for the national team. The competitive situation in external defense is much more relaxed than in attacking midfield. But Hofmann has now been able to assert himself there as well.
Löw already saw the Gladbacher as a potential right-back at the European Championship a year ago. The practical test failed mainly because Hofmann injured himself in preparation. So he only got to know the unfamiliar role under Flick. “I still like it. I’m getting more and more into it,” he said at the beginning of the preparation for the Nations League games.
Hofmann has now proven in Hungary and against England that he is still valuable up front. He has a good feeling for space and can be played again and again with clever deep runs. He has often scored a goal like the one against Hungary after a long pass behind the chain. “Hoffi thinks very vertically,” his former club coach Marco Rose once said about him.
Similar to what is currently happening in the national team, things went well for Hofmann in the club last season. He stood out from a team that only performed moderately. With twelve goals Hofmann was the top scorer of his team. “It’s certainly an advantage that things have gone well for me personally at the club,” he says. “As a result, I was able to travel to the national team with a certain self-confidence and self-image.”
This Tuesday he is returning to his actual job with fresh self-confidence. The last game of the season, the Nations League match against Italy, will take place in Mönchengladbach’s Borussia Park (8.45 p.m. / ZDF). “Of course I’m really happy,” says Hofmann.
He can’t even be sure if he’s playing at all. If Hansi Flick wants to distribute the burden to some extent, the Gladbacher would have to stay outside (for the time being). On the other hand, the national coach has already stated that he really wants to win against Italy. In this case, he shouldn’t actually be without Jonas Hofmann.