Jürgen Klinsmann is arranging a 25th-anniversary celebration for Germany’s victorious Euro 96 squad this September. Despite everything – the humiliating exit from the last World Cup, la 6-0 drubbing by Spain, the home defeat by North Macedonia y el end of an era for Joachim Löw – he believes Manuel Neuer can host one of his own in 2046. Germany’s fortunes may fluctuate but Klinsmann knows better than most that the expectations never do. He fulfilled and fuelled them, después de todo.
Klinsmann was the last Germany captain to raise the campeonato Europeo trophy and the last man to do so at Wembley. Tales of Euro 96 spark his distinctive giggle regularly as he recalls “freaking out” about Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland, being escorted into Frankfurt airport by fighter jets and singing “football’s coming home” to bemused Germany supporters from a town hall balcony. Regarding the prospect of Neuer repeating his experience as Germany captain on 11 mes de julio, sin emabargo, the laughter stops.
“Because of the culture that we have in Alemania, the expectations are always the same,” the 56-year-old says. “They come from the history of the German team, winning four World Cups and three Euros. The expectations are very simply defined: winning a tournament. I think the expectations are maybe even higher now because of the disaster and disappointment from Russia, and I say rightfully so. It hurt a lot of people. It hurt a lot of people the way they performed there – or didn’t perform. You carry that on your shoulders. It’s a generation of players that have to prove a point and correct something.”
A World Cup-winning manager too, quizás. Es 15 years since Löw succeeded Klinsmann as Germany manager after the latter had led an unheralded team to third place at the 2006 Copa Mundial on home soil. Euro 2020 will be Löw’s farewell, con Hansi Flick taking over, although Löw’s critics argue Germany should have parted company with him after finishing bottom of their group at the 2018 Copa Mundial. Klinsmann rejects the idea his former assistant’s longevity is responsible for the downturn.
“It’s normal that over a long period of time there will be ups and downs," él dice. “And ups and downs throughout the entire structure of a national team programme or inside a club. My role model has always been Sir Alex Ferguson. How can you maintain throughout a long period of time, like he did, the same positive spirit, the leadership and the willingness to get every player to perform to their best capabilities?
“What Joachim did over the 15 years is outstanding. Obviously there was a big, big disappointment in Russia but ultimately, no matter who the manager is, it is about the drive and the spirit of the players. The players have so much power because they make the decisions on the pitch. If they really are hungry to the extreme to go for a championship or go until the very end of a tournament then they can do that.
“There has been a lot of criticism of him because of Russia but, en general, the people really like him. He’s a good person and people will always respect him for what he achieved in winning the World Cup in 2014. They will wish him well for his last tournament and will always have a lot of admiration for Joachim Löw; but on the other side, the Germany football fan will want to forget Russia and move on with a good performance. The minimum for Germany is the semi-final. That’s the absolute minimum. And the optimum is winning the final. That expectation has never changed from when I was a player.”
Klinsmann has a photograph at home of him receiving the European Championship trophy from the Queen after Germany’s 2-1 defeat of the Czech Republic. The triumph, courtesy of Oliver Bierhoff’s extra-time golden goal, was their first since reunification and evokes an array of memories for their then captain.
“We were based near Manchester at the beginning of the tournament,"Recuerda. “Our families were close by in a different hotel and our wives and girlfriends would go into Manchester during the day. Then there was the bomb attack in Manchester city centre [Germany’s group game against Russia went ahead the next day at Old Trafford. Klinsmann scored twice in a 3-0 win.] It shook everybody. We all feared something else would happen but thank God there were no more attacks. But we loved it in Manchester. The entire atmosphere throughout the tournament was fantastic. Everyone was living it.
“I pulled my calf muscle in the quarter-final against Croatia. It forced me to watch the semi-final [against England] from the stands and that is why I can talk about the atmosphere – the whole stadium erupted and were singing Football’s Coming Home. It gave you chills; it didn’t matter whether you were English or German. That was unforgettable. We loved that song and we sang it throughout the tournament. We sang it on the balcony in Frankfurt after the final and the crowd didn’t really get it, but it became very popular in Germany after that.
“When we won the World Cup [en 1990] I was one of the younger players and it was difficult to comprehend what had just happened. You just join the group and party and think: ‘This is just the coolest thing in life.’ At Euro 96 I was at the senior stage of my career, almost the ending, and you comprehend it much better: the volume of what is happening to you and your role in that. I had the honour to be captain and you think more of other people. You just hope that everyone is OK and enjoys the moment. You have a different picture on things.”