Avoid complacency and Germany should be kings of the world again

Avoid complacency and Germany should be kings of the world again


I’m often asked who my Germany heroes were growing up. I could pick anyone – if not all – of the side that won the World Cup in 1990. That is the first tournament I remember and, for obvious reasons, it is a great memory. Lothar Matthäus’s goal against Yugoslavia in the opening game set the tone for a great run of results by a truly great team.

Going into this World Cup Germany are champions again and I expect them to defend their title in Russia. They have a really strong squad and, having won the Confederations Cup last year, without some of their best players, they are not short on confidence.

Saying that, I’ve watched Germany’s last two games – against Austria and Saudi Arabia – and they were poor on both occasions. If they are to be successful once again at a major tournament they will need to switch on more than they have been doing. If not, complacency could be Germany’s undoing.

It says a lot about how strong Joachim Löw’s squad is that he felt able to leave out Leroy Sané. I know that decision raised eyebrows in England given how important Sané was to Manchester City winning the Premier League title, and it raised one or two eyebrows in Germany too.

More than anything it seems a debatable decision given Löw has stressed the need for Germany to have wingers who can beat a defender in one-on-one-situations; Sané is the best example of that type of player Germany have at their disposal. However, he has not played as well for Germany as he has for City, specifically with his decision-making in key areas. But he is young – only 22 – and there is no doubt he will improve as a player if he stays focused.

From the players Löw has selected, Toni Kroos is the one that stands out most. He is hugely experienced and, as he has showed throughout his time at Real Madrid with three Champions League titles in a row, he is a calm strategist and an excellent passer, well respected by everyone in the team. If he plays well in Russia, Germany should play well.

Kroos

From those players making their first appearance at a World Cup for Germany, Timo Werner is one to keep an eye on. We know him well at Stuttgart, where I am head of the academy, because he started playing for the club at under-nine level and went all the way into the first team and has gone onto develop tremendously in recent years at RB Leipzig. Julian Brandt, who has essentially taken Sané’s place in the squad, is also one to watch – he’s a real talent.

England do not get mentioned often in Germany when it comes to other teams who could win the World Cup (and we often joke about England still celebrating the 1966 World Cup), which says a lot about how they are viewed in terms of strength and quality. This is why I rank them as a potential surprise pick for the tournament – there is less expectations nowadays but I think they could do well, perhaps reaching the semi-finals.

Timo Werner could be one of the stars of this World Cup having impressed on a consistent basis for RB Leipzig



Timo Werner could be one of the stars of this World Cup having impressed on a consistent basis for RB Leipzig. Photograph: Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters

I know Gareth Southgate from my time at Aston Villa and it hasn’t surprised me that he has done well in management. In the dressing room he was always a guy you looked up to – he spoke well and confidently, a guy who made it clear what he expected from you and, on the pitch, led by example. I want him to do well in his job.

In regards to Russia hosting the World Cup – I understand the criticism that decision has received ever since it was made and, as a gay man, I should be among those voicing my concerns and objections to the tournament taking place in a country that has a poor record when it comes to the treatment of minorities. But I’m willing to give Russia a chance to show it can be a great host.

I’ve visited Russia three times in the past 12 months – to Moscow and Volgograd as part of a delegation with the German Football Association, and once to St Petersburg with ARD, the German broadcaster I will be working with during the World Cup.

What struck me during those visits is how determined many Russians are to show that there is more to their country than all the bad headlines we read in the press. There are ordinary people in Russia who want to make friends with people from other nations and the World Cup offers them that chance. For that reason, this could be a more welcoming and friendly tournament than it is expected to be.

I hope it is and I also hope, as was the case in 1990, Germany end it as kings of the world.



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