Hansi Flick came to work a little late. The warm-up program of the German national soccer team was already coming to an end, and yet it would of course be misleading to conclude that the national coach was not keen. Flick had barely greeted his employees and let his gaze wander across the field when his voice echoed across the pitch.
“Jamal!” Flick called out to the young Munich player Jamal Musiala. “What kind of header is that supposed to be?” Nothing escapes the national coach.
“Hansi conveys fun in football, fun in winning. With ease, joy and freedom,” national player Thomas Müller said in an interview with “Kicker”. “But when working on the pitch, he demands full focus.” It is this mixture of seriousness and ease with which Flick has brought the German national team out of the bad mood and back into the light.
How stable the good mood is again will probably only become clear in the next eleven days when Flick and his team – in that order – meet Italy, England, Hungary and Italy again.
The new Nations League season begins this Saturday (8.45 p.m., live on RTL) with the away game in Bologna. If you had said last summer that in this duel a team full of self-confidence meets one with nagging self-doubt, it would not have been a surprise. Only one would have thought that the self-confident team would be European champions Italy.
It’s the other way around.
The German national team has not lost a game since Hansi Flick replaced Joachim Löw as national coach in late summer 2021. After eight wins to start with, she didn’t win for the first time in the 1-1 draw against the Netherlands in Amsterdam at the end of March. And even if qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar was only a formality – thanks to rather moderate opponents: “The team showed that they simply want to give 100 percent everything,” says Flick. “This mentality, this attitude is well received.” It is above all the national coach who stands for this attitude. “We have opened a new chapter with Hansi,” says Oliver Bierhoff, manager of the national team.
This also applies to the European champions, but the current chapter is rather bleak for the Italians. On Wednesday, coach Roberto Mancini’s team returned to the place of their triumph 324 days after winning the final at the European Championship. This time, however, Wembley Stadium was not a place of joy and pride. In the so-called Finalissima, the Supercup of the continental champions from Europe and South America, the Squadra Azzurra Argentina was almost pitifully inferior.
In the end it was 3-0 for the Argentines. “Despite everything, it’s still a nice moment in our career,” said Mancini after the game. Because taking part in this duel once again reminded us of the high point of the past year. Since then, however, the Italians have been going through difficult times. Because they lost to North Macedonia in the play-offs for the World Cup in Qatar, they did not take part in a World Cup finals for the second time in a row.
“Nevertheless, we don’t underestimate the reigning European champions,” says German international Serge Gnabry before the duel in the Nations League. At the European Championship a year ago, the Italians were still the measure of all things, winning the title was considered a triumph of technology, tactics, talent and team spirit.
Even Flick identified himself as a fan of this Italian team on Friday before leaving for Bologna. “The way they played football was remarkable,” he says. “They were very brave, acted very high, put the opponent under pressure and always had good solutions, even when in possession.”
But the exhilaration of the Italian summer is long gone. “After the European Championship we had a really hard time scoring goals. We have to find solutions for this, be faster,” says national coach Mancini. “But it won’t be easy to build a team that satisfies us in the short term.” The reservoir of young players moving up is manageable, very few are already playing in Serie A. Nevertheless, Mancini said after the defeat against Argentina: “I still have enthusiasm.”
With the 37-year-old Giorgio Chiellini, one of the defining figures of this generation of Italian footballers, ended his international career after 117 international matches in London on Wednesday. The Cavaliere kept the team together, especially at the European Championships a year ago.
What the new team will look like, who will lead it – all that has yet to emerge. Roberto Mancini can try this task again – just like he did after missing the 2018 World Cup. “He did a fantastic job,” says Hansi Flick. “And he will try the same thing again.” Perhaps the future begins this Saturday in Bologna.