R.ing, ring, ring. The alarm clock showed 7:00 a.m. It was the morning after the German national team left. The telephone! English media representatives contacted me again and again. They wanted explanations. They were looking for answers. “And in the end the Germans always win” – was Gary Lineker’s famous football quote no longer valid? It was almost as if they themselves couldn’t believe what had happened the night before. Did they really win? Defeated Germany? In the round of 16 of an important tournament? Was there really no English goalkeeper mistake? No penalty shoot-out? No failure?
Questions that I was allowed to answer early in the morning. So I explained to the BBC, for example, that this German team has almost nothing in common with the team that became world champions in 2014. The teamas the DFB calls it, is just left a team. It has lost touch with the world class – at least for the time being.
I watched the game against England at home in Zwiesel in Bavaria. One day after I witnessed one of the most exciting round of 16 games in history in Bucharest. Au revoir, world champion France!
What should I say about the German departure? In the end, I wasn’t even angry. Two teams played at eye level for a long time, but the English were hotter, hotter, faster and more venomous, they just wanted this victory more. Why that was so, why the national team has not reached the absolute top level for years, you have to analyze that hard – and without black, red and gold glasses on your nose.
If, like the national team, you only win one of four games at this European Championship and concede seven goals, then you can put yourself in a bad position afterwards and say: Actually, we would be good enough to become European champions! From time to time, however, football is also a numbers game, and the reality is simply different at the moment. Some say that Joachim Löw is as lame duck went to this tournament because his personal final whistle was already clear before the first whistle. I do not believe that. The team wanted, they tried – but they couldn’t do it anymore.
The dominance we’ve had before, with 75 percent possession of the ball, we put our opponents in place until a gap opens up and score goals, which this team is currently unable to do. And on the defensive it is not stable enough. The three-chain system was a risk from the start and never really worked at this tournament. Hummels did a good job, he unpacked his dreaded death tackle several times, but it was noticed that he lacks the pace a bit.
Ginter was also decent, as was Rüdiger – but together they just didn’t harmonize. You need a lot of time to set up automatisms; you can’t do that in a few weeks before an EM. When Julian Nagelsmann switched to the three-way chain in Hoffenheim, it was hard work, weeks of detailed, meticulous training until it finally worked.
Football has developed rapidly over the past few years. Small nations have perfected their defense, and the big ones, the Belgians, the Italians, the French, and partly also the English, show what has to happen at the front: a brutally fast game of change. Just like Nagelsmann does with his teams, just like Hansi Flick has recently played with Bayern again and again. We don’t do that in the national team. On the one hand, because Löw did not want it tactically. On the other hand, because the team was set up in such a way that they couldn’t.
The question that arises: How do we want to play with the national team in the future? Who do we want to be? Chelsea FC, coached by Thomas Tuchel, recently won the Champions League final with a clever tactical set-up against the best possession team ever, Manchester City. Everyone knew exactly what to do against these ball possession players who only play bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. This is just one example of what is possible.
I know Hansi Flick very well, we are in regular contact, and I know that he used this tournament as an opportunity to dissect and analyze everything in his head, but above all to get a picture of the future national team under him as national coach close. It’s not all bad either. Musiala, whom he knows from Bayern, can become a great one.
Gnabry and Sané have at least the potential for the world class, Havertz played a great European Championship. Germany has just become U-21 European champions again, we have really good guys in every position. You just have to have the courage and dare to make a change. How? Hansi has to decide that. He can choose the radical variant and make a cut or do it step by step. There is no doubt that he has to do it.
Even the English know that. And for them – I know from Question Time the morning after the game – this round of 16 had the therapeutic effect of a final victory.
Lutz Pfannenstiel has played on all continents in his professional career: 25 clubs in 13 countries, read in “Unsustainable – My adventures as a world goalkeeper”. He is currently preparing St. Louis City SC as sports director for the start of the MLS from the 2023 season. Before that, he was responsible for scouting at TSG Hoffenheim and was the sports director at Fortuna Düsseldorf. Pfannenstiel, 48, also works as a TV expert for ZDF, BBC and DAZN. He was an international expert at the DFB and a trainer instructor at FIFA. Pfannenstiel accompanies the European Football Championship (June 11 to July 11) as an expert for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.