Lukas Klostermann actually had every reason to approach the business trip to the Franconian region with mixed feelings. In any case, his memories of Herzogenaurach and the past year are by no means all positive. Well, it was a European Championship and the first major tournament in which the Leipzig player was allowed to take part as a national player. But for him this tournament ended a bit earlier than for the rest of the German national soccer team.
Lukas Klostermann still traveled to Herzogenaurach on Monday “with a positive feeling”. “Basically, I was very happy,” he says, “because I knew what to expect here. It couldn’t be much better.”
A year ago, at the European Championship, some things could have been much better. For the team, but also for Klostermann. After just a few days he tore a muscle fiber, after which the tournament was over for him. For his colleagues, the event lasted only slightly longer, at least not as long as they had hoped. It was already over after the round of 16 and the 2-0 defeat against England.
The day after, the national players vacated their quarters on the premises of their supplier Adidas, which was to become something like the Franconian answer to the legendary Campo Bahia. On Monday, exactly 334 days after moving out, the team returned to the place, which offers all sorts of amenities and a lot of variety beyond the daily work, but which will also remain associated with the failure at the EM 2021.
Much of the national team is the same as it was a year ago, even the squad still has a number of overlaps with that of the European Championship in summer 2021. Of the 26 players nominated by national coach Hansi Flick for the four upcoming Nations League matches, 15 were at the European Championship a year ago. The biggest – and probably decisive – difference is in the coaching position: Joachim Löw is now called Hansi Flick.
“Hansi has his own way of doing things,” says Oliver Bierhoff, the manager of the national team. “He is very communicative, can inspire people and has a clear idea of what he wants to do.” With the change at the top, a new spirit has entered the team.
A year ago, the team was a mystery to many, maybe even to the team itself. That’s different now. “What we want to stand for is now very, very clear,” says midfielder Leon Goretzka. In his estimation, it’s “absolutely powerful football that’s a lot of fun for us and the spectators.”
The national team, sluggish and strangely weary a year ago, is spreading a new enthusiasm for what it does. Goretzka calls it “the spirit that Hansi wants to see”, genuine commitment in every training session; a feeling of responsibility for the big picture, which the players should also live beyond the training courses with the national team.
“One or the other has changed under Hansi Flick, which was also necessary because we wanted to go a new way,” says manager Bierhoff. “Hansi has an absolute claim to performance.” Lukas Klostermann reports that in the past few months he has had one or the other video connection with the national team’s coaching team, even when there are no games pending. “It makes sense to sharpen your senses in between,” he says.
After nine months and nine games under Flick so far, the national team is still undefeated. Eight wins at the start of his tenure were most recently followed by a 1-1 draw against Holland in Amsterdam. That’s a nice record for the new national coach – but in view of the overall mediocre quality of the previous opponents, there’s no reason to freak out right away.
The real challenges for the national team and their coach are now in the Nations League, with the two matches against European champions Italy (June 4th and 14th), against England (June 7th) and in Hungary (June 11th). “We already have our sights set on the world’s best,” says Flick. “After the games we know exactly how far we still have to go.”
It is a nice footnote in football history that the Germans have not only returned to their EM base, but are also facing two opponents in their Nations League group that they faced at the EM a year ago. At that time they could win neither against England (0:2) nor against Hungary (2:2). “Based on the past few years, you can’t say that we’re among the best in the world,” says Leon Goretzka. “But we want to go back there. We are on a good way.”
It was Goretzka who created possibly the only positive moment for the collective memory during the EM. With his goal to make it 2-2 against Hungary a few minutes before the end, the Munich player prevented the Germans from being eliminated in the preliminary round.
At least as important as the goal itself was the jubilation that followed the goal. After the equaliser, Goretzka ran full steam ahead towards the curve with the bull-necked Hungarian hooligans and countered their hatred of modern Western society with a heart he formed with his fingers. “Spread love,” Goretzka tweeted the day after. spread love
He probably won’t be able to count on too much love when he plays with the national team in Budapest in a week’s time on Saturday. Goretzka was asked on Tuesday how he felt about this game. He hasn’t really listened to his feelings yet, he replies. But the memory of the game a year ago is a very nice one. The gesture with which he enraptured the country “came a little out of the gut,” reports Goretzka.
That’s probably why she was remembered in this messed-up EM summer. Intuitively and instinctively, the national players rarely did anything right at the European Championship a year ago.