uAmong the pale ones, Joshua Kimmich was the palest, it was almost spooky. Like facing your wax figure at Madame Tussauds and not the real Kimmich late Thursday night at al-Khor’s al-Bayt Stadium. But what he said was at the same time more emotional than anything else that could be heard in this witching hour of German football.
“For me,” Kimmich began, drawing out the “chhhh” for a long time until he found the right words to continue, “for me today is really the most difficult day of my career. If you look back: you blew the World Cup in 2018, you messed up the Euros last year – I’ve been here since 2016, before that Germany was always in the semi-finals, then you come along and are eliminated twice in the preliminary round. It’s not easy for me to take because you’re just personally associated with the failure, it’s not something you want to stand for.”
Then Kimmich spoke about how disappointed he was that he himself couldn’t help the team, with all his ambition and in the role he played in this form for the first time – without effect, but with tormenting consequences: “We drive back home and I’m a little scared of falling down a hole.”
Flick and Bierhoff in focus
The whole of German football fell into a hole on Thursday evening, not just Kimmich and not just the national team. This preliminary round calls into question pretty much everything that has happened in the country of the four-time world and three-time European champions. Starting with the national coach, who did not cut a good figure at his tournament premiere as boss, to the leadership of the German Football Association, especially in the person of Oliver Bierhoff, whose responsibility not only includes the national team’s sporting series of failures, to the footballing quality as such.
In a year and a half, Germany invites you to the European Championship. It’s an opportunity that a country only gets every few decades. But with the way German (men’s) football is currently set up, it’s hard to imagine how it should turn into a festival. What felt like a new start in the first few months under Hansi Flick after the crippling years under Joachim Löw dissipated in a disillusioning way at the latest in Qatar.
After Kazan, al-Khor with its Bedouin tent stadium set in the wasteland is the new place of horror in the history of German football. Thomas Müller, who has been through all the ups and downs since 2010, claimed that the team could go home “with their heads held high” because, unlike in the last game in Russia, they had at least done their homework with the – albeit extremely shaky achieved – 4-2 win against Costa Rica.
But if you look at the big picture, that’s a superficial consolation at best. The disgrace of 2018 may have been a little more surprising, the fall felt deeper in view of the triumph four years earlier. In the longer term, however, this is more painful because it does not mark a possibly one-off crash with which the hope of an imminent upswing can be linked, but rather reveals other, deeper problems. Of which it is not foreseeable how they should be solved quickly.