Ever since Helmut Schön, we have known what a soccer World Cup can do with a national coach. He became a World Cup hero, but paid so dearly for it with stomach cramps that his assistant Dettmar Cramer reported: “When I brought milk and diet food to his room, he was lying there like Lenin in the mausoleum at the Kremlin.”
How is Hansi Flick doing now? Good, says the manful. The approaching World Cup in Qatar doesn’t rob him of his night’s sleep one bit. The national coach recently told a major weekly newspaper in an interview that he wears a ring at night that measures his sleep parameters – “and it tells me that I’m sleeping well.”
Let’s not believe a word he says. Because on Thursday, Flick has to unveil his 26-strong World Cup squad, and there is every indication that he is rolling in bed, bathed in sweat, in trembling anticipation of the last two Bundesliga games before the tournament in Qatar.
They will take place this Tuesday and Wednesday and next weekend, and the shocking images from last Wednesday are still fresh: Timo Werner, his goalscorer, on the grass. WM-Aus. “A bitter loss,” the national coach suffered, “bitter news.”
Flick flinched again this Saturday, this time because of Niklas Füllkrug. The Bremen player is under discussion as Werner’s World Cup replacement, an athletic penalty area striker, the coach suspects, he could make the German attacking game more variable. But as soon as he scored his tenth goal of the season against Schalke, he grabbed his back, felt dizzy, felt his calf and Achilles tendon and went out to be on the safe side.
Such terrifying images drive into the national coach like a lumbago. Or the scene from Dortmund when BVB colleagues Mats Hummels and Nico Schlotterbeck came dangerously close to each other in the game against Bochum. It turned out well again. Otherwise, Flick would now need two new candidates for central defense for the World Cup, and one can guess why there are 55 names in the provisional squad. That means there are only 53 left, because after Werner, Hoffenheim’s Grischa Prömel is also gone. He was carried off the field on Saturday. ankle fracture.
Yes, there is also good news for Flick. After bruising his shoulder corner at the level of the penalty area, Manuel Neuer is juggling the ball again like the great Rastelli used to be in the circus, Jonas Hofmann and Marco Reus are back, and Youssoufa Moukoko is an irresistible substitute for Werner. Two goals against Bochum, a cracker with the left, a soulful lob with the right, and the 17-year-old teenager has already phoned the national coach: “He told me that I should just keep going like this.”
So the wonder boy is as good as there, just don’t let him break anything anymore. If nobody gets injured on the match days, Flick will finally be spoiled for choice on Thursday – and after the announcement of his World Cup squad he only has to deal with 50 million national coaches who are unable to play. Each of them knows everything better than he does. That can hurt.
Before the 2002 World Cup, it hit team boss Rudi Völler. At the time, the tabloids started a telephone campaign and got the fans mobile with the message: “Max to the World Cup!” The voice of the people called for striker Martin Max. Just in time before the World Cup registration deadline, however, he stopped scoring again and Völler was finally able to try Miroslav Klose undisturbed, which turned out not to be the worst idea.
Jürgen Klinsmann was under no less pressure in the run-up to the 2006 World Cup, especially when it came to the goalkeeping question: Kahn or Lehmann? In addition, the students Sebastian G. and Frank E. collected 175,000 signatures for a World Cup nomination for the aging Mehmet Scholl. And a few particularly ambitious backbenchers wanted to quote the national coach as a danger to the summer fairy tale before the sports committee of the Bundestag.
Before the 2010 World Cup, Jogi Löw was almost blown away by the headwind because he sorted out Torsten Frings (“I don’t just swing my balls across the field”), who was popular because of his willingness to run. And before the 2018 World Cup, many felt the national coach’s pulse when he removed Leroy Sané from the squad. On the occasion of the survey “Should the Wadden Sea become a World Heritage Site?”, around 75 percent voted yes, but Sané was more likely, he was the up-and-coming young star at Manchester City.
So now Hansi Flick. And it doesn’t matter which 26 players he takes to Qatar in the end: some will accuse him of patchwork and others of patchwork. But being spoiled for choice is part of the job, it was like that when the national coach was still called Reichstrainer.
Old, dusty writings show how Sepp Herberger suffered before the 1938 World Cup. He had a perfectly coordinated German team, which was considered one of the favorites for the World Cup and the fiercest rival of the “Vienna Miracle Team” at the time. But in March 1938 Hitler brought the Austrians “home to the Reich” – and on the orders of the Führer, Herberger had to put two world-class teams into one immediately before the World Cup in France. That was then eliminated immediately. The Greater German magic troupe, “Paris Soir” scoffed, was “badly soldered”.
What is Flick soldering together now? One hears from the betting shops: many who want to get rich quick put their money in the surprises category on two well-tried players, Mats Hummels and Mario Götze, because they can tell the younger ones in the team how to become world champions. In order for that to work, it is now particularly important that no one gets injured anymore – and (we almost forgot): no one gets sent off.
Because that also happens. Ask Erwin Kremers, the old left wing legend. In the last Bundesliga game before the 1974 World Cup, the curly head uttered the expletive “stupid pig”, stupidly in a conversation with the referee. Kremers: “He asked me if he had heard correctly. So I said: And now again for the stupid: stupid pig!” The DFB banned Kremers, and national coach Helmut Schön nominated Bernd Hölzenbein in his place. In the World Cup final, he elegantly stumbled over a Dutch leg, and Germany was world champion.
So many things can happen on the last Bundesliga matchdays before a World Cup that make the squad nomination hell for a national coach – in any case, Hansi Flick won’t sleep a wink until Thursday.