Kimmich, Goretzka and Gündoğan: The problem with Germany’s best footballer


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Kimmich, Goretzka and Gundogan
The problem with Germany’s best footballer

By Tobias Nordmann, Ruhr area

There is one more game to go and then the season will also end for the national team. It’s a frustrating one that leaves a team without hierarchy and stability. İlkay Gündoğan is now the great hope, but in what role?

How do you actually judge who is the best footballer in a country? At parades? sliding tackle? duels? pass rates? fools? Take place? Difficult thing. Normally. But not in Germany at the moment. There, nobody should be able to get past İlkay Gündoğan in the election. The 32-year-old is the captain of Manchester City and has just won the treble with the best club team in the world. As a scorer and playmaker. He is indispensable for coach Josep Guardiola. And that actually. With “Pep”, verbal heroization and actual practice do not always go together. The Brazilian Dante has become the incarnation of the best professional that the Catalan didn’t need. Things are not quite as bad for Gündoğan. But there is also a bit of Dante in his DFB history.

Because one of the really big questions for years has been: where to go with the man who was born in Gelsenkirchen and is now returning home after a long time, as he confessed. On Tuesday evening, when the national team head to Schalke for the end of their international hat-trick against Colombia (from 8.45 p.m. on RTL and in the live ticker), a national coach is once again looking for a good solution. They found neither Hansi Flick, the current incumbent, nor his predecessor Joachim Löw. But why is that? To Gundogan? Indeed. As well as he plays in the club, he has rarely impressed in the jersey of the national team. However, he also got fewer chances and if he did, then always under critical attention. More was expected of him than others. Average was not tolerated. Not with someone whose stories from England always sounded like miracles. But of course it can’t be explained by looking at the piece of tricot.

There was always someone standing in his way

The reasons lie elsewhere. In the way Gündoğan designs the game, how the coach sees the role of the 32-year-old and builds the team around him. That happened in Manchester. Gündoğan was Guardiola’s first major transfer. He always stood by him, even after the cruciate ligament rupture in the middle of their first season together. In the Skyblues he acts in eighth place alongside the outstanding Kevin de Bruyne. He has a lot of freedom, develops a goal threat and orchestrates the attacks. Its great strength lies in its simplicity. Often with the penultimate pass before graduation. In the national team he was rather denied this role. There was no place for the man from Manchester between Joshua Kimmich, the indispensable player who has recently been publicly criticized vehemently, Leon Goretzka and Thomas Müller. All men from FC Bayern with a large lobby (besides their undisputed qualities). Now Müller is gone for the time being (but already lying in wait again), but Jamal Musiala, Florian Wirtz and Kai Havertz are there.

Although the strategist is currently the only world-class player in the national team, the national coach does not want to guarantee him a regular place. Before the game against Poland last Friday (0-1), when asked about Gündoğan, he recalled that the stars “would like to be lifted up towards the sun” and then “liked to watch them burn”. In the team desperately looking for hierarchy and stability, it will be absolutely essential to prepare the right conditions for the playmaker’s outstanding qualities.

“Hansi knows that I can be used flexibly”

With the four-time world champion, title hamster Gündoğan is still without a trophy. He was a reserve player at the 2012 European Championships, missed the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championships injured, and only played against Sweden in the 2018 disaster. He was only a regular player at the 2021 European Championship, but because his head was buzzing before the round of 16 against England, he had to pass – and the national team failed. In Qatar, in the ultimately decisive defeat against Japan, the break in the German game came after he was substituted. That should change now.

And the 32-year-old, who is anything but a speaker and is still pleasantly excited at press conferences despite all the routine, advertises himself. Not of his own accord, but when explicitly asked. “I can bring in a lot of positive energy and a certain calm. Hansi knows that I can be used flexibly,” he said. That’s modest, but after the successes in the club it’s also determined and factually underpinned: “I can quickly adapt to the demands of the six, the eight, the ten.” In order to be able to show his urge to move forward, however, he would prefer “a safeguard with a clear six”. Such a type of player gives him “a certain security”.

“Can become moments for eternity”

He addresses a sore point in the national team. Because there is a vacuum in the power center. Kimmich is very busy and keeps trying to grab hold of the game. Goretzka’s qualities don’t come into their own in the defensive role either. He needs space in front of him to drive with his dynamic, to create depth, to create a goal threat. A six like the Spaniard Rodri at Manchester City does not exist in Germany in this form. Not at this level. Rani Khedira and Robert Andrich might come closest to him. But these comparisons seem like they are from another world.

Bitter for Gündoğan, who is better in this symbiosis than perhaps ever before in his career and is therefore very popular in the summer. He admitted that there was contact with BVB, but never the realistic option of a return. FC Barcelona with Coach Xavi is said to be very hot for the playmaker, he could become the boss of a new Tiki-Taka generation. But Guardiola doesn’t want to give him up either, so extending his expiring contract is just as realistic an option.

This chief role should also be in Germany. Many fans see him as a savior, which he doesn’t like at all. Especially since it wasn’t that long ago that many people in the country were strangers to the footballer when he appeared in a photo together with Mesut Özil and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before the 2018 World Cup. The (too) long silent Özil became a national issue in Germany (with a lot of dirt from all sides) and weeks later finally broke furiously with the DFB. Gündoğan explained himself after the initial excitement, after that it became quieter around him. Political, not athletic.

Now he is at his peak, indispensable. And after years of frustration with the DFB team, wants to be an important part of a new success story, preferably at the home European Championship next year: “I don’t see any nation that would be vastly superior to the others. We believe in our strengths that are dormant in us,” said Gündoğan. “These can be moments for eternity.” But he also knows that “we now have to start with a sense of achievement in order to create a spirit of optimism”.

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