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Nagelsmann's Germany blossom as Euros approach

March 27, 2024

In the space of seven days, the conversation around Germany's team has changed completely. Excitement for the home Euros has arrived.

Maximilian Mittelstädt celebrates his first Germany goal
Germany have changed the conversation around the team in just one weekImage: Federico Gambarini/dpa/picture alliance

Two minutes after Maximilian Mittelstädt scored his first ever Germany goal, Robert Andrich had no problem getting in Memphis Depay's face. Later, it was Antonio Rüdiger challenging Wout Weghorst. Days before, it had been Toni Kroos crunching his Real Madrid team Aurelien Tchouameni and Andrich, again, riling up Kylian Mbappe.

"Something has definitely come into being that wasn't there before," said Kroos.

"You can see it in the small things, the tackles, the reaction between us," said Thomas Müller.

Both France and the Netherlands were beaten and over the course of seven days, the conversation around this team has changed. Germany's brilliance was unleashed, its bite rediscovered. This was a team taking its first steps away from a troubling few years.

A mentally free team

On the field, an ease has returned to Germany. This team feels in control of their game again, and much of that has to do with the majestic return of Kroos and the decisions of head coach Julian Nagelsmann.

As the return of another member of the golden generation, Kroos' comeback had the potential to slow Germany down. Instead, the 34-year-old has been majestic, setting the most creative players free and seemingly unlocking something in Nagelsmann too.

The former Bayern Munich coach hasn't always got it right since he took over last year, but his decision in 2024 to go with inform players regardless of age, experience or club is proving astute.

This group played like a team that was mentally free. With players from Leverkusen, Real Madrid and Arsenal, there are a handful challenging to be champions. In Stuttgart and Brighton, there are those who are riding the waves of overachievement. Other than Niclas Füllkrug, it is notable that there were no Borussia Dortmund players in this squad.

Nagelsmann's choices are positively impacting the dynamic of the group, with perhaps no better example being Leroy Sané joining up with squad for the Netherlands game despite being suspended so as to remain involved.

Having Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala in your team helps, though. Not only did Wirtz score the fastest ever goal in German football history against France (after just seven seconds), but every time he touched the ball he never looked troubled by those in opposing shirts. Sometimes it even looked like he enjoyed the challenge of having to solve the riddle of the players in front of him.

Capturing the spirit of the nation

"That feeling we've always had, is that we have the potential to be a great football nation and now we have boosted those hopes a bit," Müller said after the Netherlands win.

Winning always helps in sport, but it's combining those victories with the mood of the country that truly establishes a connection between the team and its fans.

Just days before the France friendly, Germany's new kit was released. The pink away kit caused a stir, but thanks to an advertising campaign that discussed the idea of what is typically German, a cultural connection with a fanbase and many wider parts of the population that has long been fading was reestablished. Pure marketing or not, this team was talking like one aware of the nuance in the country it was representing. And it seems people heard it too. Even before Germany beat France, the opening sales of the away kit were the best ever for a Germany away kit.

During the Netherlands game, the change in goal music to Tom Schilling's 1983 hit "Major Tom," is a popular move with fans. While the chorus includes the phrase "Völlig losgelöst" – German for completely detached – this was, in truth, another small step to bringing the team closer to the fans.

Afterwards, Füllkrug, talking on the team's Instagram channel, thanked the fans for their support but called on them to find someone to lead the cheers from the stands, someone with a megaphone. A Bundesliga crowd at a Germany game? Things really are changing.

Here to stay

One good week does not make this team complete or change years of turmoil. Wingbacks remain an issue and off the field and DFB reform is of more concern to many than Euro glory, as a survey by public broadcaster ZDF recently revealed. A DFB tax evasion investigation is ongoing and a newly launched anti-racism campaign is positive but is open to criticism. And that's before the seismic news about Nike's impending arrival dropped.

Nevertheless, it's undeniable how impactful this week has been.

"A few months ago we would have probably crumbled after going a goal down – but that didn't happen," Kroos said matter-of-factly after the Netherlands win.

Maximilian Mittelstädt went one further. "Something big is happening here."

Euro 2024 tournament director and former Germany captain Philipp Lahm said the potential of the competition this summer is the creation of "a group identity, that something is really happening in our society." The first hints of that emerged in March as spring sprung for Germany. Now, the hope is this team can ride this momentum all the way through the summer.