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Müller, Völler help Germany rediscover fun factor

Jonathan Harding Reporting from Dortmund
September 12, 2023

Rudi Völler's Germany beat France, with a performance national team fans have longed to see. Now the question is: who will be the coach to take Germany forward?

Thomas Muller celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the international friendly soccer match between Germany and France
Germany showed that the can still compete at the highest level of world football in DortmundImage: Martin Meissner/AP Photo/picture alliance

The sight of Rudi Völler on the touchline felt like a throwback to the early 2000s when German football was stumbling its way forward and World Cup glory was something Germany's women knew much more about.

Two decades on, Völler's hair is a little whiter, and the squad's average age is a little young. Still, the former Germany striker once again finds himself at the center of a defining moment in German football history.

For a side facing a fourth straight defeat — something Germany have never experienced since that first World Cup win in 1954 — the 2-1 win against France was very welcomed, but it was the manner of the performance that mattered more. 

Perhaps inevitably, Rudi Völler made sure his Germany side delivered the kind of committed performance that has been absent in recent months. To the delight of the home crowd, every tackle won, corner prevented and shot blocked was celebrated by Germany's players with high fives and chest bumps. Most fittingly, Thomas Müller scored on his 122 appearance, his 45th for Germany.

It would be sensationalist to say that after one night in Dortmund under Völler, Hannes Wolf and Sandro Wagner, Germany had finally turned the corner. But a day after Germany captain Ilkay Gündogan said he and other teammates felt they had "let Hansi [Flick] down" because they could not translate his drive into good performances, Germany did look like they were having fun playing football again.

"The fans were with us in Wolfsburg too, and they'd have reveled in a result and game like tonight, but here in Dortmund, it's another level, and this is how it should be," said Thomas Müller as he soaked in the post-match atmosphere while talking to ARD.

"We executed things well on the pitch. We were fluid and rewarded ourselves at the right time. When you do that and win, it's a lot of fun." 

The last time that looked the case was Italy last summer. In the 12 games since, they have steadily declined, weighed down by pressure to perform and represent. By the end, Germany under Hansi Flick began to feel like Germany under Joachim Löw as the familiar sight of a coach lost in his steadfast belief he could still save the team returned. It's why Flick was dismissed and why now the rebuilding must begin.

Rudi Völler
Rudi Völler was quick to distance himself from the permanent head coach role despite the win over FranceImage: Federico Gambarini/dpa/picture alliance

What now?

From a psychological perspective, one might argue that the first step was taken in Dortmund. The joy of play frees the side up to play as they can and have on occasion.

With Völler returning to his sporting director role, having fulfilled his duty and added to his legacy, the stage is set for a new coach to take the side forward. The job is to be filled by the time Germany head to the US in mid-October, which is just a month away, and the task is to build a sense of euphoria around this team ahead of a home European Championships next summer by delivering more of what was on show in Dortmund.

"We beat a world-class team tonight even if it was a friendly, it does us a world of good," explained Völler. "In Wolfsburg, we felt that the supporters want it to come together for us at the EUROs. Here [in Dortmund], we knew we'd have great support from these incredible fans."

"But tonight, it wasn't all about the result. It was about the way we played, the passion we displayed and the way we were set up — I liked what I saw."   

Germany have never appointed a foreign coach, but perhaps now is the time. Louis van Gaal offers international experience and knows Germany well. The Dutchman is a favorite among former Bayern Munich stars Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm. Julian Nagelsmann is without a job but still under contract at Bayern — although Uli Hoeness recently suggested the Bundesliga champions wouldn't stand in the way of the young head coach if he wanted it. Whoever is chosen, their primary task will be to create a team out of this talented group of individuals.

"The best teams are those that trust each other fully," Gündogan said before the France game. "We always have a positive atmosphere, but I think we can be better and more unified ... There is some timidness. Not everyone can be the way they are in their private life or at their club. That is noticeable, particularly with younger players who don't have the courage to open up on and off the pitch fully."

If players don't feel comfortable, then the natural question is, why? Perhaps it's because they don't feel understood — motivational videos of grey geese would support that theory. In Dortmund, Germany looked untroubled by the issue of comfort, perhaps because they had just been asked to play. 

Tonight might have provided a much-needed spark in the form of a positive result. The real quest will be to find someone who can keep the flame burning. The next four weeks will provide the answer, and whoever the new coach is will have nine months to hold on and ensure the European Championships at home is a tournament Germany can look back on proudly.

Edited by: James Thorogood