The writing has been on the wall for Germany head coach Joachim Löw for a while. Die Mannschaft’s 2018 World Cup campaign was a debacle without precedent – the group stage exit was their worst performance in the history of the competition and represented a huge fall from grace after winning the 2014 edition in Brazil.
A poor maiden UEFA Nations League showing did little to boost spirits, but that paled into insignificance when Spain tore the Germans apart last November. The 6-0 scoreline only told part of the story – it was a display that will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons.
Perhaps in order to write his own history rather than have it forced upon him, Löw has confirmed he will step down after this summer’s European Championships. That will bring an end to a 15-year reign that has changed German football. Despite an important international tournament being just a few months away, the process of replacing the second-longest serving manager in the country’s history will have already begun.
As is always the case when such a change is on the horizon, several names have been mentioned, all of whom would bring their own qualities to the position. Here, we take a look at the frontrunners.
The Favourite – Stefan Kuntz
Kuntz will be a familiar face, and an even more familiar name, to England fans after his goal in the 1996 European Championship semi-finals broke the hearts of Three Lions supporters. Since then, he has been forging a reputation as a manager and is the bookies’ favourite to take over from Löw thanks to the job he has done with the German U21s.
In 2017, he led them to only their second European Championships triumph at that level, while they finished runners-up two years later.
As Gareth Southgate has shown after moving up from the England U21s to take control of the senior side, there are plenty of advantages to promoting from within. Germany clearly have plenty of quality waiting to be tapped into and Kuntz, more than anyone, will be aware of exactly what is on offer.
A lack of managerial top-level experience is unlikely to count against him. After all, other than two years as VfB Stuttgart boss between 1996 and 1998, Löw was relatively unproven before entering his current role. That also came after a spell as Jürgen Klinsmann’s assistant, so clearly giving the job to someone already in the system is a tried and tested approach.
Quite frankly, this seems the most logical choice. Whether the DFB agree, though, is a different matter.
The Dream – Jürgen Klopp
Regardless of Liverpool’s struggles this season, Klopp is still one of the best managers in the world. The Reds have picked up 197 points across the last two full campaigns – it is only down to a marvellous Manchester City team during the 2018/19 campaign that they do not have two Premier League titles under the 53-year-old rather than one. Still, their 2019 Champions League success is a more-than-acceptable consolation prize.
The former Mainz 05 manager has now coached at the highest level both in his homeland and arguably the best league in the world – is the Germany role his next challenge? The speculation had been building steadily over the past few months before hitting a crescendo in the wake of Löw’s announcement. However, he has already moved to distance himself from the role, citing the three years remaining on his contract at Anfield as the reason for his unavailability.
Klopp seems destined to lead his country at some point during his career. Now, though, the timing is just not quite right.
The Bayern connection – Hansi Flick
It is astonishing that a manager with an 84% win rate and six trophies in less than 18 months in charge of Bayern does not have full job security at the Allianz Arena. Flick’s relationship with Hasan Salihamidžić is somewhat fraught, which is particularly precarious given the power sporting directors wield at German clubs.
Reports of a communication breakdown have led to speculation that Flick could decide to take the Germany job before he is pushed out in Munich. The 56-year-old is another with previous links to the national side – he spent eight years as Löw’s assistant and was in that role during the 2014 World Cup triumph.
Flick’s spell as Bayern manager would be a huge bonus for the DFB as the Bavarian giants provide the nucleus for most Germany sides. In 2014, Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Phillip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger were all vital, while Löw has Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry to rely on this summer. Keeping Bayern on side is a must, and Flick’s appointment as national team manager could strengthen the relationship regardless of the Salihamidžić situation.
The Outsider – Ralf Rangnick
At the start of the century, German football was revolutionised as the DFB overhauled the country’s youth system and explored different avenues in an attempt to put themselves back on top of the world. Rangnick was one of several figures whose ideas were implemented in some form, and he has continued to shape the sport’s landscape in Germany ever since.
Regardless of how RB Leipzig are perceived, there is no doubting the impressive job Rangnick did as the club’s sporting director between 2012 and 2018, and he even took Die Roten Bullen to the Bundesliga as manager during the 2015/16 campaign.
He also enjoyed a relatively successful stint as Schalke boss between September 2004 and December 2005, while he was responsible for taking Hoffenheim to the top flight in 2009. His resume is strong, and it is clear he wants the job. After initially ruling himself out, he quickly changed his tune and revealed he would be interested if the DFB were to call.
Rangnick, though, has been heavily linked with the Sporting Director position at Schalke and, given the number of talented young coaches Germany possess, he may well be overlooked. Still, a man backed by Klopp can’t be a bad choice.
The New Kid on the Block – Julian Nagelsmann
Although now in his fifth season of management, Nagelsmann is still very much the new kid on the block. At 33, he is now even older than every member of the Leipzig squad he currently coaches. His reputation continues to soar despite his youthfulness – he reached the Champions League semi-finals last term, the best performance in Leipzig’s albeit short history, while they are giving Bayern a run for their money this campaign in the Bundesliga.
His high-pressing philosophy should resonate well with the large majority of German players, but even though he is one of the most promising coaches in Europe, this would still feel like a left-field appointment from the DFB. Compared to all the other options, he has the least experience, and would likely be better off continuing to develop at club level for the time being.
Much like Klopp, though, Nagelsmann is surely guaranteed to manage Die Mannschaft in the future.
While there are some other alternatives – Germany legend Lothar Matthäus has thrown his hat into the ring – the DFB are likely to choose from one of the aforementioned five. Whoever takes the helm, though, must be prepared for the job ahead of them. Given the performances of recent years, there is clearly plenty of work to be done.