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Euro 2024: End of era as German trio set to depart

July 10, 2024

With Germany’s Euro 2024 over, Thomas Müller appears set to retire from the national team. With Manuel Neuer and captain Ilkay Gündogan expected to follow, their departures and that of Toni Kroos, mark the end of an era.

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Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller und Ilkay Gündogan applaud fans after defeat to Spain
Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller und Ilkay Gündogan may have played their last game for GermanyImage: Buzzi/IMAGO

Much of Germany's Euro 2024 was about generating the same thrill and excitement around the country as the 2006 World Cup did, or about giving the most decorated German footballer ever, Toni Kroos, a fitting farewell.

But beyond collective unity the end of this tournament not only marks the end of Kroos's career but the end of an era that peaked a decade ago.

After many years of coming close to moving on from the golden generation of 2014, the likely international departures of Thomas Müller (34), Ilkay Gündogan (33), and Manuel Neuer (38) mean Germany will likely enter their 2026 World Cup preparation with no remaining players from an era that changed German football forever.

The story that began in 2006 under Jürgen Klinsmann in a home World Cup that changed the country forever ends now.

Golden generation passes into history

In the years that followed Germany's 2014 World Cup triumph in Brazil, the key members of that squad slowly but surely started to fall out of contention or depart on their own terms.

Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose all retired straight after the triumph in South America. Bastian Schweinsteiger was next to call it quits, before Mesut Özil's messy departure and Sami Khedira's quiet farewell.

Jerome Boateng was retired in 2019 by Joachim Löw, and hero of the World Cup-winning team Mario Götze disappeared for a while before making a surprise return in 2022 that ended, like Germany's tournament hopes, with a bit of a whimper.

Toni Kroos' glittering career ends without the one trophy he was missing, but with an overwhelming sense that his decision to return to the national side helped stabilize Germany and make Euro 2024 a tournament to remember for the hosts.

Farewell to the 'Raumdeuter'

Like Kroos, Thomas Müller's departure (if confirmed) will go down as proof that the best players never lose their sense of timing (the pair ironically also made their debut in the same game).

Bayern Munich's all-time leading appearance maker burst onto the scene in 2010, finishing joint golden boot winner in South Africa. His ability to be in the right place at the right time gave Germany a new dimension, labelling himself a Raumdeuter (space interpreter).

Müller's struggle for form began in 2016, and ended unceremoniously in 2019 when he was retired by then head coach Joachim Löw. He was recalled for the Euros in 2021, but famously missed a glorious chance against England in the round of 16 as Germany's tournament terror continued.

Remarkably, despite having scored 10 World Cup goals for Germany, Müller never scored for Germany at a European Championship despite having played in four.

Famous for his jokes and sense of humor, his departure means the team is short of a jovial character who acted as a bridge between young and veteran players. 

For Ilkay Gündogan, a player who looked destined to retire from international football after the disaster in Qatar but was persuaded to stay on by former head coach Hansi Flick, a strange international career now appears set to come to an end.

The man with Turkish parents who became captain of Germany hasn't always had it easy. Injuries slowed him down and stopped him being a part of the 2014 World Cup team, the Erdogan controversy complicated things and he never quite seemed to hit the same form for Germany as he did for his club teams.

His displays at Euro 2024, ending in substitution against Spain, left a sense of what might have been for a player who seemed to come to life too late, but there's no denying how solid a captain he was during a tough time for the team.

The best ever goalkeeper?

At 38 and after another serious injury, few would have even thought it possible for Neuer to be the starting goalkeeper at this year's Euros – and yet here he was.

Neuer has been a remarkable constant over the years. Fate gave him a chance in 2010 and two years later at the 2012 Euros he made the spot his own. Without him in goal, Germany would not have won the World Cup in Brazil. His display against Algeria will go down as one of the all-time great goalkeeping performances.

In 2016, he set a record for minutes without conceding in a major tournament and in 2018, he overcame a foot fracture to hold off Marc-Andre ter Stegen, retain the No. 1 spot and be Germany captain. He will likely depart as the first German goalkeeper to reach 100 caps and the keeper with the most World Cup appearances (19).

Having revolutionised the position Neuer leaves an irreplaceable hole in the team, even if the performances at Euro 2024 suggested it was time to leave the stage.

A truly new era

More changes lie ahead, as is the nature of international football. At 31, Antonio Rüdiger might only have one tournament left, and the same might be true for Marc-Andre ter Stegen (32). The Niclas Füllkrug (31) story looks likely to be a short but a very memorable one.

But the departure of Kroos – likely to be joined by Müller, Gündogan and Neuer, will mark a significant moment in the evolution of this Germany team. Coaches come and go, but players mark eras and now a new one begins.

Germany will no longer have the past to lean on or be haunted by. It's time for new heroes, and Germany will hope Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz can be the faces of the next golden generation.

Edited by: Kalika Mehta