In our third (and final) “Einzelkritik” (“individual player review”) pieces, Bulinews’ Peter Vice supplies translations on player critiques appearing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Tobias Rabl), the Süddeutsche Zeitung (IChristof Kneer/Philipp Selldorf), and Der Spiegel (Jan Göbel).
Having made the sacred schlep to the newsstands himself, there’s some thoughts on the common threads among both punditry and public with respect to the future state of the team. Words such as “disaster” and “debacle” appear more in print than on the street.
There is nevertheless agreement that some things must be changed.
The state of German football has, in a biting and painful sense, come full circle. On June 9th, 2006, Jürgen Klinsmann’s DFB-XI defeated Costa Rica 4-2 in the opening match of the German-hosted World Championship. The result kicked off what is known among Germans as the redemptive “Sommermärchen”; an uplifting national event that it’s no exaggeration to say significantly altered the manner in the citizens of the Bundesrepublik viewed themselves and their country.
The German national team did not capture the World Championship that year, but were able punch through to at least the semi-finals in five consecutive major international tournaments thereafter The 2008 Euros (Final), 2010 World Cup (Semis), 2012 Euros (Semis), 2014 World Cup (Champions), and 2016 Euros (Semis) all conformed to the basic expectations Germans have of their beloved Nationalmannschaft. Now, after back-to-back World Cup group stage eliminations and a round-of-16 exit in the most recent Euros, expectations must be reformed.
On December 1st, 2022, the German national team also beat Costa Rica by a 4-2 scoreline. Unfortunately, it was not enough to overcome an embarrassing meltdown against Japan in the opening group stage fixture of the current tournament and a 1-1 draw against Spain that saw the DFB-XI knick just a point of the toughest opponents in the group. In what shall be the final detailed set of national team “Einzelkritik” reviews at a major international for another 17 months, Germany’s major papers-of-record disagreed in their assessments of many players.
The performances of Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka, Ilkay Gündogan, David Raum, and Lukas Klostermann sometimes varied greatly among the evaluating journalists This isn’t necessarily surprising as the wider German public holds mixed feelings about what just transpired with the team. The squad didn’t play all that badly, after all. Although the many bright spots from the Japan fixture and the brief euphoria generated after the Spain match left few feeling as if advancement was deserved, the general mood about the team isn’t dour either.
Bundestrainer Hansi Flick continues to catch flak for his tactical and personnel selections, yet there remains no widespread calls for his resignation yet. The talk at the German newsstands this morning instead centered around the need to get some lagging veteran actors out of the way. The XI Flick fielded in last night’s fixture was the oldest average squad deployed at this World Cup thus far. Therein lies the problem. Thirty-six-year-old Manuel Neuer and 33-year-old Thomas Müller at the very least need to be jettisoned following disappointing tournaments.
To expect that the German public can actually reform their expectations of the national team counts as something of a stretch. The mere act itself seems impossible, especially considering that Germany will host the 2024 European Championships. When the next major tournament squad, presumably still coached by Flick, kicks off at the Allianz Arena on June 14th, 2024, there also seems to be a general consensus that most of the players should play for the same club team.
That’s often been the case in the German view. In their Christof Kneer, and Philipp Selldorf take care to repeatedly mention which players earn their paychecks from record champions FC Bayern München and which do not. While the two Süddeutsche journalists have their own locality biases, the German footballing public remains obsessed with this subject as well. When discussing their national team, virtually all German footballing lovers speak of “connecting club players on axes and planes.”
Manuel Neuer–(GK, 90 minutes)
“Conceded two goals in the first game, one in the second, two in the third. Warmed up with colleagues who played the ball back – or squandered possession. After some time, he made a strong save when he blocked a volley with his fingertips.”
“But then he was caught out twice. Before the 1-1 he couldn’t hold on to the ball, and when it came to the 1-2 he was unfortunate enough to deflect it onto the goal-scorer’s foot.
“With his 19th appearance at a World Cup, Neuer is now the sole record holder among goalkeepers. The keeper first justified this record in the 42nd minute. With a strong reflex against a shot by [Keysher] Fuller from an acute angle in the penalty area, Neuer deflected the ball over the crossbar.”
“On 1-1 in the 58th minute, Neuer fended off [Kendall] Watson’s header from close range, but then had no chance against the rebound. At 1-2, Neuer looked much more unfortunate. Neuer’s 20th World Cup game will not come at this set of Finals. It will perhaps never come as he is 36-years-of-age.”
“As captain, he’s a [national team] selection of FC Bayern & Friends. Since the 3-0 win over Slovakia at the 2016 Euro [round-of-16], he has been waiting for the chance to depart a tournament pitch donning in the proper attire: the [German classification] “white vest” of a keeper who keeps a clean sheet.”
“But he himself was responsible for the fact that this time he even left the pitch with a pair of stains [on his “white vest]. During the 1-1, he spilled the rebound. At 1-2, he flailed about disastrously.”
“A complete failure, which no one could have seen in the lead up to the tournament.”
Joshua Kimmich–(RB/CM, 90 minutes)
“The Bundestrainer moved the team’s talisman from his midfield position to right back. Kimmich did not experience much joy there. He did better defensively than his counterpart Raum. He committed a bad error. Allowed to move back to the center for the second half, but found no joy there either.”
The Bundestrainer moved the Bayern München man from the center of midfield back to the right-back position. The last time Kimmich had to help out as a right-back in a back-four for the DFB squad came in June 2018 – when Germany’s World Cup debacle was finalized by South Korea.”
“A bad omen? Kimmich exuded more confidence than his predecessors, Thilo Kehrer and Niklas Süle, at this position. The Bayern star returned to midfield for the second 45. The DFB XI then proceeded to come under massive pressure, which was also due to Kimmich.”
“During the 1-1 he was not close enough to his mark. He still collects plus points with the penultimate pass on the 2-2. The generation around Kimmich still hasn’t proven its quality at a major tournament. Debates around him and other leading players shall now commence.”
“Kimmich’s days as a right-back should be behind him. In principle, he and Hansi Flick agreed upon that. But as they say on ‘Radio Yerevan’ [a long-running series of anti-Soviet jokes that remained popular in East Germany long after the fall of the Wall] ‘In principle, yes, but…'”
The relationship between the two [Flick and Kimmich] will not suffer as a result of the transfer from the center over to the touchline. After all, Kimmich isn’t dogmatic about his position. Moreover, his position didn’t really have much to do with right-hand-side defensive duties.”
“On the right he was often moving up the pitch and hardly had to defend. Moved to the old position after Goretzka remained in the dressing room for the start of the second half. Committed. Left no stone unturned, but also spread useless hustle and bustle.
“At least he furniushined some thoughtful passes ahead of the equalizer and the 4-2.”
Niklas Süle–(CB, 90 minutes)
“The experiment of placing him at right-back fortunately remained over. Against Costa Rica, he again played inside alongside Rüdiger. Showed small insecurities. He misjudged a defensive hit [near the end of the first-half] and gave the opponent a pocket of space. This fortunately didn’t lead to consequences.”
“Against Japan and Spain, the Dortmund professional was directly responsible for goals conceded, in the process wiping off otherwise fine performances. Against Costa Rica, he seemed to be the most reliable member of the back-four for a long time. Alas, during 1-,1 he was not close enough to the opponents either. Immediately before the 1-2, he lost an aerial duel.
“It wasn’t Süle’s day again.”
“The former Bayern player was back in his natural position. But first attracted negative attention when he allowed Costa Rica’s only attacker, Johan Venegan of LD Alajuelense, to pass by him. Lapses in concentration popped up.”
“Along with defensive partner Antonio Rüdiger, he fell prone to ‘goalkeeper psychology’; having nothing to do for a long time before being forced to snap into action. He wasn’t always available.
“He was also unable to maintain order when the opponent began to wake up.”
Antonio Rüdiger–(CB, 90 minutes)
“Scored against Spain from an offside position. Also got caught offside against Costa Rica. Created Costa Rica’s biggest chance before the break with a half-hearted move and was nowhere to found at the back in the 1-1. Hit the post on his offensive effort on target.”
“For a long time, Costa Rica posed no threat at all for the defensive captain. Perhaps that was the reason why Rüdiger was caught completely off guard during Costa Rica’s first real advance shortly before the break.”
“He was very lucky that Neuer prevented the 1-1. For the equalizer, he could have put more pressure on Fuller before he crossed into the penalty area.”
“One of four German starters who don’t play FC Bayern, along with Süle, Raum, Gündogan. Bayern had nevertheless been interested in him before. Excluded from the action for a long time in the role of defender, which led to a minor concentration lapse towards the end of the first-half.”
“If one were still allowed to make such jokes, one could say that he was like a government bureaucrat who experiences panic when he suddenly gets a phone call (the SZ distances itself from such jokes, of course). When Fuller suddenly popped up in the penalty area, he caught Rüdiger and Raum on their lunch break.”
“Fortunately, Neuer was on hand. He didn’t initially get enough duels to get into the game. When Costa Rica regularly pressed forward in the second half, however, Rüdiger didn’t cut a good figure either.”
David Raum–(LB, 66 minutes)
“Was once again fit to face Costa Rica after suffering a bruised rib against Spain Was very attack-minded as an outside defender. It paid off. Raum sent in a dream cross to Serge Gnabry’s head early on for the 1-1, but blew the coverage on the equalizer.”
“The Leipzig professional was partially culpable on Costa Rica’s big chance in the 42nd minute. On a long pass from [Oscar] Duarte, Raum didn’t push for the ball and thus initiated the chain of errors.
“A misplaced pass by Raum in the buildup also set up the 1-1 in the 58th minute. It was a terrible evening for Raum, even his assist on the 1-0 in the 10th can’t compensate for the mistakes.”
“Insofar as we know, the only German player Bayern haven’t courted at some point. But that could still happen if he continues to hit quality crosses. He already seems to have an understanding with Bayern’s Serge Gnabry, as evidenced on the 1-0.”
” Costa Rica initially supplied little evidence In support of the theory that he suffers defensively from a lack of attentiveness. After a while, though, let himself be overrun by the opponent again and again. Costa Rica scored the equalizer thanks to his errant pass.
“This triggered the turbulence that caused panic and embarrassing moments.”
Ilkay Gündogan–(CM, 55 minutes)
“Played back, forward, and then back again. In the final match, he moved back into the more rearward central midfield position slightly behind Goretzka. Gündogan made way for playmaker [Goretzka], then made way for Niclas Füllkrug.”
“In the very offensive alignment of the DFB selection, the Manchester City professional was the last safeguard in front of the defense and also in demand as a build-up player on attacks.”
“Gündogan had to run a lot and orient himself well so that there were no large gaps presented on the counterattack He managed that well. He came off the field when the DFB team needed a second goal to advance after Japan scored an equalizer against Spain.
“However, his substitution also meant that order in the formation was lost.”
“Naturally, also a topic of interest for Bayern at one time. Pep Guardiola wanted him in during his days in charge of the FCB. This time he explicitly took over the defensive part in midfield. Applied for a starring role in the not-yet-planned ZDF youth series ‘Illy, der Libero’ [a little joke about his strong performance as a Latin American style sweeper].”
“Occasionally dropping back between the center backs Süle and Rüdiger, he was supposed to organize the approach-play on the stage in front of him as a kind of appointed emissary. Whenever a state of emergency suddenly broke out, he had to clear the field for his forward-leaning teammates.”
Leon Goretzka–(CM, 45 minutes)
“Had to do without buddy Kimmich in the engine room of the German attack this time. Was allowed to run forward again and again against deep-standing Costa Ricans, but lacked the precision to create anything worthwhile. Had to come off at the break.”
“Goretzka’s header from close range in the 14th minute could have given Germany a comfortable 2-0 lead. In comparison to Gündogan, the FCB man was otherwise much more offensively minded, but he was not really influential. At halftime, it was over for him.”
“Was given license to make long runs forward, which meant that he popped up in the penalty area often. A solid chance off a header in the 14th minute was not well executed. Found little space on his space-seeking runs and was taken out once. Remained in the locker room at the break due to muscular problems, where he had more space.”
Lukas Klostermann–(RB, 45 minutes)
“Came on for Goretzka after halftime and took over Kimmich’s part-time position at right back. Played a largely unremarkable game, also not helping much to put out fires at the back.”
“The Leipzig professional was involved from the second half onwards and thus inevitably became a player involved in what was initially a completely messed-up German second half that saw two goals conceded. Showed plenty of insecurities himself and lost several running duels.”
“Replaced non-right-back Kimmich at the half and was called upon to defend against a suddenly attack-minded opponent. He did that at least decently thanks to his speed.”
Jamal Musiala–(AM, 90 minutes)
“At the age of 19, he fulfilled the World Cup expectations placed upon him. The footballing world is now familiar his virtuoso talents on the ball. Dribbled through the penalty area like Lionel Messi, but failed to get the ball into the back of the net. He also failed twice at the post. At least a ray of hope for the future.”
“He fired the first German shot after two minutes, shortly after dancing through the entire danger area and demonstrating his outstanding touch. Germany’s top talent was also involved in the 1-0 when he sped up play in midfield and moved the ball to the left with the penultimate pass.”
“After the equalizer, he hit the post twice and again missed his first World Cup goal. Not to blame at all for the fact that Germany is no longer alive at this World Cup.”
“Finally had the chance to work alongside Leroy Sané. Opened the game with a sharp shot from distance after less than two minutes. [Costa Rican keeper] Keylor Navas had to throw himself at the ball. Once again dazzled spectators with almost unnatural body turns, like a camel going through the eye of a needle.
“He got bogged down more often than in the first two games, but didn’t let that discourage him and led one attack after another. Sometimes he overdid it with his solos, but he was a constant source of stress for Costa Rica’s defense. Hit the post twice.”
“Certainly the least responsible player for Germany’s early trip home.”
Serge Gnabry–(LW, 90 minutes)
“Flick stuck with the Bayern München player despite previous unconvincing performances. That paid off after ten minutes when he headed a Raum cross into the far corner for the lead. Ended his World Cup with a bang after a sluggish start.”
“His headed goal in the 10th minute quickly gave the German team confidence. One might have actually expected that this goal could also inspire Gnabry, who had not yet really caught fire yet in this tournament.”
“Gnabry nevertheless showed more carelessness after that and only stood out again when he set up Havertz’s 3-2.”
“Two World Cup starts didn’t exactly leave him a solid recommendation for the third, but Hansi Flick knew why he valued Gnabry so greatly. He was on hand for the 1:0 and was also the most agile of Bayern’s triplicate Sané/Musiala/Gnabry axis.”
“In the second half, he disappeared a bit, but reappeared at the right time to set up the 3-2″
Leroy Sané–(RW, 90 minutes)
“The knee problems at the start of the World Cup were overcome. You could already see that in his brief appearance against Spain. He gave the German game momentum with his dynamism, footwork and strong running. However, he was unfortunate with his shots on goal, which he always skied over the bar.”
“The FCB substitute was one of best players in the 1-1 draw against Spain. This time, the attacker didn’t show quite as many brilliant moments. Nothing that will be remembered. He was still involved in a strong German opening phase with many strong forward passes.
“He was lively and kept Costa Rica off kilter with constant positional rotations. In the second half, he should have kept that momentum up.”
“Finally working alongside Musiala. Repeatedly brought the moments for which he earns constant praise, but there were far more moments that showed why he earns constant criticism. Worked well with his colleague Musiala. Assisted Musiala’s shot against the post in the 60th.
“He still shot too often when a pass would have been better, and passed on good shooting opportunities. Stood at the halfway line for 30 seconds after Costa Rica’s equalizer as petrified as a Constantin Brancusi sculpture.”
“Thawed out of his frozen state late on and remained a factor in the late attacking flurry. Assisted Füllkrug’s 89th minute goal.”
Thomas Müller–(LS, 66 minutes)
“After a poor game against Spain, during which the FCB director managed hardly anything up front while those who replaced him did, the Bundestrainer gave him a second chance at the position.
“Again Müller ran and ran and ran – and again the game passed him by. He put a free header wide of the goal early. He was rightly subbed off.”
“Costa Rica, which had conceded seven goals against Spain after all, would have constituted a perfect opponent for Müller to score against once again at a World Cup.” The last goal he scored so far was in the legendary 7-1 against Brazil, in 2014.”
“A different time. In the 9th minute, Müller was served the ball perfectly by Kimmich, but the München attacker’s header missed the target by a wide margin. After that, Müller was hardly noticeable, and it was possibly his last World Cup game.”
“A respected and popular player in Germany and the rest of the world, but on this evening many of his countrymen would have preferred to see him somewhere other than in the attacking center of the starting XI – and quite a few of them might have preferred the substitutes’ bench.”
“Müller could have shown these people right away how wrong they were – instead, he put a free header next to the goal (9th). ‘Heaven have mercy!’, thought Müller. ‘Niclas Füllkrug!’, thought the fans at home.
“Füllkrug then also came on shortly after the break, but Müller remained on the field until the highly deserved substitution befell him. Totally miscast from Flick.”
Niclas Füllkrug–(LS, 35 minutes)
“The substitution of Füllkrug should have resulted in a quick 2-0, but then Costa Rica suddenly found themselves 2-1 up. That was nevertheless hardly the fault of the Bremen player.
“In the end, Füllkrug notched an assist on the 2-2 and then shot home the 4-2.”
“Came on and was right in the thick of it again, even if not as immediately spectacular as against Spain. Very present and very dangerous, altering the German attack in the most positive sense. He stood where a center forward belongs on the 4-2; In the center of the action.”
Kai Havertz–(LS, 24 minutes)
“He entered the match to rescue Germany’s hopes of advancing. But first, the Chelsea FC man had to watch as everything got much worse in the 70th minute with the 1-2. Havertz lost the initial aerial duel in front of goal.”
“After that, Havertz turned the game around with his goals to make it 2-2 and 3-2. He can’t be blamed for the DFB selection’s elimination from this World Cup.”
“Would also have been a nice alternative to Müller. Came in and scored the two goals we had to wait far too long for. Leaves this World Cup with a consolation trophy: He was named man-of-the-match.
Mario Götze–(LS, 24 minutes)
Spiegel and Süddeutsche:
“The 2014 World Cup goal scorer has returned. Not influential in two relief stints against Japan and Costa. It remains a sad comeback. No ‘Götze Moment’. He simply came along for the failed ride.”