Fifty seconds after the start of the match between Germany and France, the crowd at Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund applauded Florian Wirtz who recovered the ball in midfield. It set the tone for a surprisingly uplifting evening. It was clear that the 61,000 people in the stadium had come not as people curious to witness the next national catastrophe, but as fans determined to help a demoralized team get back on its feet.
From the start, enormous goodwill towards the players and especially interim coach Rudi Voller, 63, was palpable and it didn’t take long for the willingness to help to turn into something resembling pure joy when the team responded. “Rudi Voller, Rudi Voller,” they chanted vigorously after Thomas Muller (remember him?) struck with a half-volley to finish off a fine move on the French left in the fourth minute.
Voller brought in Muller as a center forward and Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen) and Benjamin Henrichs (RB Leipzig) as full-backs, but the entire eleven looked like a completely different team. It was the new manager’s famous rebound, boosted by Voller’s charisma and his national popularity. No more shyness and confusion. In their place came “the work ethic,” as Muller put it, organization, commitment and clarity. Germany played simple but effective blue-collar football that struck all the right notes with the crowd and was enough to defeat a half-deranged France team at best who couldn’t match the effort and motivation of the host country. Superstar Kylian Mbappe never entered the field.
“We wanted a simple structure today,” goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen said after the famous 2-1 victory, alluding to muddled thinking during Hansi Flick’s abortive reign. “Sometimes, perfection is in simplicity. It’s better than trying to do too many things.
Hansi Flick, basketball glory and the culture war surrounding German football
In less than 48 hours, Voller’s emergency assistants, Hannes Wolf (under-20 coach and head of youth development) and Sandro Wagner (under-20 assistant), found a winning formula and managed to explain it quite succinctly. The national team’s first victory since March (2-0 against Peru) was, in Müller’s words, “like an emotional act of liberation” for the players and for the country as a whole. This has revived hopes that next year’s Euros, hosted in Germany, will see a decent showing. Traditionalists and modernists were equally pleased, as the sharp improvement in form supported both camps’ main theories about what was missing under Flick: Voller’s men embodied “the old virtues” of German football, but they did in a well-planned system. and with skillful individualists allowed to show off their creative abilities in attack.
The love for the man affectionately nicknamed “Tante Kathe” because of his hairstyle was a repeat of scenes from 2000, when he first became goalkeeper and led Germany to second place of the rank. World Cup two years later. He had not coached a single match since resigning following Euro 2004’s group stage exit, instead focusing on his role as Bayer Leverkusen’s sporting director.
The German Football Association (DFB) had to convince him to come out of his semi-retirement when the departure of Oliver Bierhoff last December made it necessary to appoint a new sports director for the federation. Voller agreed, with the understanding that it was a temporary engagement. This week’s intermezzo as caretaker manager was also meant to be strictly one-off, but the longer the German FA takes to appoint a full-time successor, the greater the groundswell of opinion in his favor will become. “Nothing has changed for me,” he said after the match, adding that he found coaching very stressful.
Voller, the interim sporting director, will work hard to prevent Voller, the interim coach, from becoming the best candidate to take over Germany in the coming days. “We will definitely present a solution in the next three weeks,” he said.
But he’s not out of the woods yet. Tuesday’s happy evening in Dortmund will have encouraged president Bernd Neuendorf and vice-president Hans-Joachim Watzke to view him as a suitable replacement who may well be persuaded to step back into the breach if all else fails. After the unobtainable Jurgen Klopp, Voller would certainly be the most popular choice.
(Top photo: Stefan Matzke – sampics/Getty Images)