Julian Nagelsmann banking on blend of old and new for Germany

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Toni Kroos;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Toni Kroos</a>, Manuel Neuer and Jamal Musiala offer a valuable combination of experience and youth for Germany.</span><span>Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images</span>

Sometimes, in an effort to mix things up towards the end of Germany’s training sessions, Julian Nagelsmann cooks up a clash of generations. The more youthful half of his unit contest a match against their seniors and it is, in the manager’s words, “always a hard fight”. Neither team consistently holds sway over the other and any battle lines are purely cosmetic. “To have a good mix is really positive,” he said. “The mood in our camp is excellent and the connection between the younger and older players is really good.”

Germany’s blend clicked to delightful effect against Scotland. Their youngest players, the 21-year-olds Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz, scored fine goals and were given their platform by an experienced base like no other. Given their speed and verve it is a surprise to note that Germany have the highest average age at Euro 2024; it is even more of an eye-opener that, should they lift the trophy in Berlin next month, they will be the oldest European champions in the tournament’s history.

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“We have to find some solutions for the future,” Nagelsmann said, clearly aware that the present finely balanced setup will probably not even survive into the next World Cup. “But for the tournament we’re in now, it’s the perfect mix and we can be very successful.”

A win against Hungary in Stuttgart, guaranteeing a place in the last 16 with a game to spare, would heighten that impression. Nagelsmann will name the same side that thrashed Scotland: why tinker when, bar a freakish own goal from Antonio Rüdiger, their performance had been virtually perfect? The spine will comprise four thirtysomethings: Rüdiger, Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gündogan have 378 caps between them and a depth of understanding honed over more than a decade.

“I can vouch for our players who already have a three in front [of their age],” Neuer joked on Monday. He is 38 and, like Kroos, is back on the scene after an extended absence. Germany’s veterans are not unscarred by recent failures but most of them know how it feels to have the world at their feet.

“They have all experienced solutions for different situations, especially when you talk about pressure and expectations, on and off the pitch,” Nagelsmann said.

Watching Kroos run the show against Scotland it was hard not to feel helpless that such an extraordinary talent will retire this summer while seemingly at the top of his game. Perhaps Kroos, whose gifts can fly beneath the radar amid Real Madrid’s razzmatazz, will receive the tributes he deserves when this competition has finished. “He’s still one of the top three players in the world at finding teammates between the lines, creating chances and setting up goals,” Nagelsmann said. “And I think he’ll do that tomorrow as well.”

If Hungary begin as they did in an underwhelming defeat by Switzerland, when they were alarmingly open in the first half, Kroos and Gündogan may pick them apart. Nagelsmann was keen to stress that Marco Rossi’s team had improved significantly after the interval, talking up their threat from crosses and set pieces. He will also be aware that Hungary have established some kind of hold over the host nation of late. They won a Nations League match in Leipzig before Qatar 2022 and forced a 2-2 draw in a gloriously chaotic group‑stage match at Euro 2020.


But Germany exude certainty now. The captain Gündogan, who is serious about his role as on‑pitch mentor to Wirtz and Musiala, was illuminating in spelling out the difference Nagelsmann has made. “It helped us a lot that the coach defined a clear role,” he said. “That helped us a lot, especially after the negative experiences of the last tournaments. There is clarity among the team, also because the coach exudes security.”

Discipline away from the pitch will also be in focus before a match that has been deemed a high security risk. Up to 20,000 Hungary fans are expected to attend and the police presence will extend to more than 2,500 officers. A range of measures will be implemented to keep large groups of opposing supporters separate.

Hungary hope a continuation of their form against the Germans will be the headline. A defeat would leave them on the brink of elimination and Rossi struck a pragmatic note. “In my opinion Germany are the toughest team to play against right now,” he said “We will do our very best. We know the German team is better than us. We can say this and nobody needs to take offence – it can motivate us. We can give it our best shot. Hopefully we can grasp a point and that will give us a chance to qualify.”

Nagelsmann, who allowed his players free time with their families after the Scotland game, hopes to keep the good feeling going. “I hope I prepared them well,” he said.

The benefits of those age-based practice games are there to be reaped once more.