10 years on… What’s the status of Nagelsmann’s German National Team?

Jasmine Hahn
8 min readMar 27, 2024


Disclaimer: I lack tact, if I criticise something, it is definitely not personal despite sounding very critical.

The 2014 German national team was the result of several, very well-placed coincidences and efforts, which led to a pinnacle viewing of what German football had to offer. However, a decade since the famous World Cup win, specifically in the last seven, German football has showed a shadow of its former self; lacklustre, confused and unassertive.

To get to a point of why 2014 was such a high point that couldn’t be sustained, it’s vital to look at Bundesliga and the landscape of national team football coming into that tournament.

How team blocks and leauge tactics changed the game (2008–2014)

Now the foundations of these had started when ex-head coach Jogi Löw was named as successor to Jürgen Klinsmann in 2006. While Löw stated he wanted to carry on his predecessor’s philosophy, based on a 4–4–2 style that was offensive and focused on outrunning their opponents, he wasn’t rigid to it, as evolution of tactics is a key to a successful National Team career.

In the build up to the 2014 World Cup, the Bundesliga was developing into the counter-pressing and highly intensive league influenced by Jurgen Klopp’s and, to an extent, Ralf Ragnick. This was additionally nailed down in one of Löw’s criticisms of his team when he took over; he was concerned with amount of time his players held onto the ball before progressing it and looked to reduce this time, which was in line with what Klopp and other coaches were doing.

In 2008 Euros, we could see the first examples of this, leading to Löw’s first final appearance with Germany but was more vital at the 2010 World Cup, as this style of football was more established in the league especially with Schalke, Bremen and Dortmund’s development.

The main groups of players in the German squad at 2010 were from both Bayern Munich and Bremen; which takes to one of Jogi Low’s philosophies of “block-building” where he took a bigger group of players from the more dominant teams in the league in order to create a mix of philosophies. Despite Bayern not following the pattern of style that we mentioned, they still had the highest quality and took elements of Bayern’s game including in possession and combined that with players who fitted into his vision of directness and speed.

Löw transformed the team to one that was more based on counter-attacks, but also moved away from the 4–4–2 to a 4–2–3–1; as again, the popularity of this in the league made him adapt to it. During this time Germany came second (losing 1–0 to Spain) in 2008 Euros, and in 2010 World Cup but another a semi-final loss in 2012, changed the perception of Jogi Löw, and that this football or the players within the team meant improvements had to come.

This is where the Bundesliga (okay, Bayern) gave Löw and the DFB the biggest hand yet; the introduction of Pep Guardiola as head coach of Bayern Munich. Löw updated and utilised what he had from the league and block-building from a refreshed and dominant Bayern along with Klopp’s intensive Dortmund but with a greater possession-based approach, one that Spain had used several times against him. Remember, both of these teams had made the Champions League final in 2013 against each other, it was truly a high time for coaching, tactics and player development in the nation.

Post 2016 depression, complacency and no box presence

The perfect conditions that were created for the 2014 World Cup win to exist were almost scrubbed out of memory or focused one small part and not the bigger picture. As explained, the best players, coaches and tactics were in the Bundesliga, but after 2015 this changed pretty quickly.

Jürgen Klopp left Dortmund and later joined Liverpool, followed by Pep Guardiola leaving Bayern for Manchester City a year later and while this was enough to push Germany in the 2016 Euros to a semi-final, the magic fell off a cliff in the World Cup following that. Dortmund under Thomas Tuchel had become more ball dependent, Bayern were already possession focused and thus Jogi Löw had lost his tactical flexibility with his player blocks.

His opposition had figured out they could sit deeper against them, and were harder to break down without this off-the-ball, intensive edge, they once had. The football had become static and deep lying defences could not be broken.

This was also not helped by only one top-performing team in the league either. Bayern’s dominance had been a cause for a concern but the lack of other consistent, high-perfoming talents especially within the league, meant that the DFB felt like they could only rely on players from a team that didn’t have much pressure when winning things. Most talents stayed within the country too, with a handful starting to leave Germany, who started to get looked over when being picked.

But there was also a longer-term development taking place from youth level; down to developments of Guardiola’s use of strikers in both Germany and Spain, the profile of a striker was completely changed and a lot of Bundesliga teams adapted to that profile of more of a midfielder turned striker-or technically-gifted play making striker without a big presence in the box, both on the ground and aerially. Other clubs not only followed this idea in the senior levels but also in youth development, to the point even years later, there was a lack of a box-present striker. Unfortunately, this latter point was only 10% of a problem that too many commentators spent 90% of their time on.

This also meant the next person to inherit all this after Löw had their work cut out.

A New Era, oder?

I’ll be honest, I’ll gloss over Hansi Flick’s time as head coach, because a) he was set up by all of these failures and b) he didn’t affect these 10 years very much.

Flick didn’t work for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned; the landscape of the Bundesliga hadn’t changed from 2017 and on top of that, he was dealt the cards of his reputation succeeding himself. Winning everything with Bayern during the COVID-era and keeping dominance of the league, because Dortmund didn’t hire a well-suited headcoach while having Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham in their team, papered over obvious tactical cracks.

One of these flaws, he brought with from Bayern, which was an inability to set up a strong counter-press with both of his chosen pivot players (mainly Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka) very, very high up. Still dealing with getting stuck in possession, they became weaker at counter-pressing, meaning they got sucker punched by a lot of smaller nation teams. Another flaw was an inability to settle on a starting XI, which was not helped by the lack of strength across the Bundesliga mind. Flick did find a solution in finding a box-present striker however with Niclas Füllkrug, but then hardly started him at times during the 2022 World Cup.

Why do we think Nagelsmann is different?

Right off the bat, Nagelsmann might not be different as the DFB have given him an insane task to try and complete with less time. Coming in at the end of September 2023, to build something for a Euros competition in your own country for the next summer, is not something I’d be jealous of. In addition to these time constraints, he’s also been forced into a situation that Germany hasn’t had for over a decade; a complete non-dominance of Bayern Munich. We don’t know for certain if this will be an advantage or not (recent friendlies against France and Netherlands in March 2024 is showing the former) but being forced to pick top-performing players from a spectrum of teams among not only Germany, but the rest of Europe has given a new feel to the national team. We’re now relying on Bayer Leverkusen, Stuttgart and Real Madrid, rather than Bayern Munich and an almost-always-the-bridesmaid, Dortmund.

In the aforementioned friendlies, there were only two Bayern Munich players in the starting XI; Kimmich and Jamal Musiala. We had the same amount from Barcelona and Real Madrid, THREE players from Leverkusen, one from Stuttgart and one from Arsenal. During the last World Cup, up to seven of the starting line up were from Bayern Munich. While main player blocks might not exist in the same way anymore, the most talented and tested players are, bringing a variety of tactical nous and flexibility.

This also goes for the types of players that can end up in the team, we have both strikers who are box present and experienced (Füllkrug), with younger offensive players (Kai Havertz, Florian Wirtz) who can collect the ball from the space behind, or between the lines (Musiala) or with pace (Beier) or a mix of both (Undav).

Have we seen this team before?

Most importantly, what is evident from the most recent international games is that Nagelsmann may be producing tactics from his most dominant time from when he was Bayern Munich’s head coach.

At Bayern, he utilised a 4–2–3–1 in an asymmetric shape, pushing the left-back higher up the pitch, allowing the winger to come inside the half space and central areas. The right-back, however, stayed back to help with their build-up, forming a 3+2 build up with both pivot players. Occasionally, the RB could push up higher, with one pivot player staying central in a 2+1 or 2+3 build-up structure.

While Nagelsmann didn’t line up with the exact same set-up against France or Netherlands (namely, didn’t use classic wingers), many aspects are similar due to the player types within each position. With Maximilian Mittelstädt, he found the most in-form full-back, being capable of pushing higher up the pitch, allowing Wirtz and or Musiala to stay in more central areas.

Kimmich, is also used similarly. While, not as deep as Nagelsmann used his RB at Bayern, he is staying back to create the aforementioned asymmetrical shape especially with his controlled build-up play and flexibility, compared to the left side. Additionally, Nagelsmann has had luck with a deep-lying playmaker in Toni Kroos, who is able to stay close and well connected to both centre-backs or even dropping in between them to form mix between building up in a 2+2 or 3+1 with Andrich in the pivotarea. This has, so far, helped the team stay flexible in their ball circulation while simultaneously maintaining enough players to circulate and progress the ball into higher areas, which was also similar to his tactics in his first half of his first season at Bayern.

With this mix of player development, a wider variety of players from different player types and Nagelsmann’s coaching experience of being a problem-solver, this is the first time that there is a real feeling that the German National Team finally has a new side to them, or a development of one at least.



Jasmine Hahn

Recruitment Analyst at a Football Player Agency. Cypriot-Tanzanian. AuDHD.