There is a difference between perception and reality. The perception is that former Germany coach Joachim Löw preferred to rely on tried-and-true veterans, while his successor, Hansi Flick is comfortable giving opportunities to young player.
This perception is not surprising given how Löw allowed Lukas Podolski to win the World Cup in 2014 more in the role of team mascot than as a player. At the time he named Manuel Neuer, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jerome Boateng to the squad ahead of that tournament, all three were carrying injuries. Then there was the Nibelung loyalty to Toni Kroos or the return of Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller to the national team months after Löw had dropped them in a youth movement.
Flick, on the other hand, was happy to throw 18-year-olds Jamal Musiala, and Florian Wirtz as well as 19-year-old Karim Adeyemi into the deep end against Armenia.
Florian Wirtz celebrates with Karim Adeyemi after the latter scored on his debut
All of this is true of course, but it is only part of the truth. Löw too gave his share of teenagers their first international caps. 2014 World Cup winners Julian Draxler and Mario Götze were also just 18 when they were given their first callups, as was Marko Marin. Leon Goretzka made his debut at 19. In fact, over his 15 years in charge, Löw gave a total of 18 players between the ages of 18 and 20 their Germany debuts. Jamal Musiala was also among this group, having played his first Germany match under Löw back in March.
So, what really makes Coach Flick different from Coach Löw? With Flick having just had two games in charge, it is impossible to give a definitive answer. But it is pretty obvious that Löw, who became increasingly eccentric during the unsuccessful latter years his tenure, was no longer able to connect with his players the way he did during his earlier, more successful years in charge.
On the other hand, Flick demonstrated during his time at Bayern Munich that he knows how to connect with any personality type using his friendly jovial manner – be the player young or old, from the bling-bling faction, a fashion diva, a skilled technician, or a journeyman battler. Whichever the personality, Flick found a way to get the best out of each individual – and rewarded himself with six titles in a single season.
Jamal Musiala made his national team debut under Löw – could he achieve long-term success under Flick?
There is no real reason to think things could not be the same with the national but caution is advised. Neither Flick’s mediocre 2-0 win over Liechtenstein in his debut, nor the 6-0 thrashing of Armenia are real yardsticks. And the convincing performances by Musiala, Wirtz and Adeyami may not have even happened if certain veterans had been available. Flick also rates Müller and Hummels highly, so expect them to return to the national team fold once their injuries have healed.
When he started out, Löw also managed to impress his preferred style – the possession game – on the national team – with the World Cup title in Brazil his crowning achievement. It was only later when success deserted him, that Löw grew increasingly cautious, inflexible, and some would say stubborn.
Quick transitional football is the current recipe for success in international football. How Flick will respond the first time he experiences a setback remains to be seen. And the main players surrounding Joshua Kimmich, Niklas Süle and Serge Gnabry are already in their mid-20s – not to mention goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, 35.
The fact is that both the 2006 version of Joachim Löw in 2006 and the 2021 version of Hansi Flick succeeded in creating a spirit of optimism surrounding the German national team. In 2006 as on Sunday evening, there was no shortage of euphoria among the fans in stands. Over the coming decade, they’ll be placing their hopes in youngsters like Kai Havertz, Musiala, Wirtz and Adeyemi.