Stefan Kuntz is going to the U21 European Championship this summer. Like in 1996 and 2017, the former international and now U21 coach wants to win a European Championship for Germany. Will the competition in Italy and San Marino be straight forward? No - and Kuntz knows better than to think otherwise. He is aware that success is often decided by small factors and a strong team spirit. Kuntz spoke about the upcoming competition in an interview with DFB.de associate, Maximilian Schwartz.
DFB.de: Mr Kuntz, the final stages of preparation for the U21 European Championship have begun. What do you make of the development of your team from the qualifiers up until to now?
Stefan Kuntz: In comparison to September 2017, when we started working for European qualification, they’ve improved greatly in all areas. They’ve strengthened the dynamic of the team as well as improving their individual qualities. Now that we’ve turn our attention towards the European Championship in Italy and San Marino, the really exciting bit of preparations will come in June during the training camp. Most of the boys get lots of playing time at their clubs and the U21 profits from that a lot. The conversations and agreements with the club officials in the last few weeks have gone really well. We need this to be a successful summer at the European Championship.
DFB.de: You’ve had two U21 players, namely Maximilian Eggestein and Lukas Klostermann, that have been called up early into the senior team. How big of a challenge is it to replace those players?
Kuntz: Firstly I’d like to say that if any of the U21 players are called up to the senior team, then we’re doing our job right. We want to develop the players so that they’re able to help Jogi Löw’s team at a top level. With Eggestein and Klostermann there are now eight players in the national team that would be able to play in the U21 European Championship. Those boys would obviously be key players for us and we will speak with Jogi Löw and his coaching staff about which players it would makes sense for us to have at the U21 tournament in the summer and which ones would benefit from the experience. Lastly, the senior team is a flagship for the DFB and we develop players for it, however we obviously want the opportunity to send a strong team to the Euros. That’ll happen with good communication between the teams.
DFB.de: In what way must the other players grow into the role of leaders if you always have players moving into the senior team?
Kuntz: That comes from the players themselves because in these situations you have the necessary space from other players that makes you take on leadership roles yourself. The opportunities for the development of the players are here right from the off in the U21 team. They should take it in their stride and should show what they have in them. An important aspect is that they feel comfortable within the team. That’s why we want to make the players feel comfortable enough to make mistakes.
DFB.de: In what way?
Kuntz: It’s just that way we can try new things, such as tactical changes, and here there is a special atmosphere where everyone can grow into their role. The staff and coaching team give the players space so that they can fine-tune themselves. They have to clarify amongst themselves who to, how and when the ball is played. We want to orchestrate communication between them so they can develop well.
DFB.de: After the excellent qualification campaign, your team played friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy in November and then France in March. You certainly didn’t choose easy opponents for the games.
Kuntz: That’s how it should be. We deliberately chose to play against some of the biggest footballing nations. In my opinion, you don’t gain anything by playing against supposedly weaker teams. We want to test ourselves out against the best opposition before the European Championship. Nevertheless, we still tried a few things out and aimed to excite the crowds that came to watch us. We tried out several different tactics and gave a number of players the chance to play. As a result, we have a good idea of which players we would like to take the tournament. We’ve picked some positive results recently and will go into the tournament full of confidence.
DFB.de: You played in the 1996 Euros in England and then coached the U21s in 2017. Both teams you have won the tournament. What’s the secret to your success?
Kuntz: I don’t have any secret or formula for my success. There are a number of factors that can affect how you do in a tournament. Most of them you can influence, by working hard together as a group. There are also a few that you cannot control though.
DFB.de: What are those factors?
Kuntz: I would say that the favourites for the title will probably be for France, Spain and England. They perhaps more individual talent in their teams than we do. That means that we then have to be a closer unit than them and have to play with more spirit than they do. We are working hard to do that as well. The team spirit and unity has always been a big factor in successful Germany teams. The atmosphere in the squad was a big reason we won the tournament in 2017. We have to believe in ourselves and go into the games with a clear plan.
DFB.de: What things can’t you influence?
Kuntz: There’s always a key moment in a tournament, which builds up momentum. There can be a game which can go one way or the other. These kind of games can be decisive for your run. You invariably need a little bit of luck in these situations – that’s the only factor for success that you cannot work on yourself. Our bit of luck in 2017 came in the semi-final when we beat England on penalties.
DFB.de: Just like when you beat England as a player in 1996.
Kuntz: Exactly. The mental strength and togetherness can be decisive in these games – and also a little bit of luck.