Germany’s U21s will start their European title defence campaign with a training camp on 2nd June in South Tyrol ahead of the U21 Euros in Italy and San Marino. That same day, Die Mannschaft will meet in Venlo where they will prepare for their Euro qualification matches against Belarus and Estonia. DFB.de spoke to both Joachim Löw and Stefan Kuntz.
DFB.de: Mr. Löw, Mr. Kuntz, what will the next few weeks mean to the both of you as coaches?
Joachim Löw: We want to continue where we left off against the Netherlands in March. We’ve opened a new chapter and our team is in the midst of an exciting period. It’s our job to show them the way and to guide each player the best we can. There’s not much to say: taking anything less than six points from our two matches would be a disappointment. As a result, we are taking our preparations very seriously, even if the players will likely be mentally and physically tired after a long season.
Stefan Kuntz: If you look at everything that’s happened since our first international match with this age group in September 2017, then we’re in the home stretch now. The European Championship represents the pinnacle of what we’ve been working towards.
DFB.de: You’re both choosing from the same pool of players, to some extent. In the current men’s squad there are seven players who are also eligible to play for the U21’s. You’ve decided that Jonathan Tah and Lukas Klostermann will first join the senior team and then go to the U21’s. What brought you to that decision?
Löw: Jonathan Tah knows this situation well. He’s a key player for the U21’s, and is their captain. At the same time, we want to bring him up to the top level. We put the same level of trust in Lukas Klostermann, based on his potential. He’s a leader within his age group and has been incredibly consistent this past season with Leipzig. We want to keep improving our defensive capabilities and try out different things—in that regard, both of them can play a role. Players that have been called up to the national team also gain self-confidence. That can only serve to benefit the U21’s during a tournament.
Kuntz: We’re happy that we can call on both Jona and Lukas for the Euros. They’re both our captains and absolute leaders, both on and off the pitch. They won’t have any difficulties joining us a bit later. In the grand scheme of their careers, they will also be able to pick up some valuable tournament experience.
DFB.de: How much communication is there between the senior team and the youth academy, where the U21’s play a special role?
Löw: It’s natural that we would coordinate between both teams. The best example of that was in 2017 when we won the Confederations Cup and the U21 Euros, both with young teams. That doesn’t only matter when there are tournaments to play. Marcus Sorg plays an important role as the connection between the national team and the youth academy. One thing is clear for all of us: the national team has an extremely high public profile. For DFB coaches, one of the most important tasks we have is to bring those top talents to the senior squad.
Kuntz: Jogi and I are in constant communication, especially prior to the international matches. We don’t just talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the players, but also about their individual development and what would be best in order to help the players take their careers to the next level.
DFB.de: Mr. Kuntz, how much does it hurt to have to give up the best players to the first team?
Kuntz: As the coach of the U21’s, my main task is to bring players up to the senior squad. Getting to play for them is the ultimate achievement for every player in Germany, based on my own personal experience. Our success at the DFB isn’t measured solely based on titles, but also by how the players develop and how many lads from the youth academy make it to the senior squad. That’s evident.
DFB.de: Looking forwards to the upcoming competition: what are your aims for the tournament, Mr. Kuntz?
Kuntz: I find it very difficult to talk about defending a title, when we will go to the tournament with a completely different squad compared to two years ago. Nevertheless, we are of course ambitious and want to go as far as possible. In any case, we want to get to the semi-finals so we can qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Our last games before the Euros were a 2-2 draw with France and a 2-1 victory over England and those results gave us a boost.
DFB.de: After the strong performance in Amsterdam and the victory against the Netherlands, people will expect nothing less than six points against Belarus and Estonia. The team will go into these games as favourites. Is there a risk that the team could underestimate these games?
Löw: We already know that Germany will always be among the favourites and we also have the highest expectations of ourselves. It won’t put any pressure on us. The fact is, we are building a new team and mistakes can happen of course. We invest a lot of trust in our players and they can make mistakes, but they should enjoy their time on the pitch as well. I am fully convinced that we can win both the upcoming games, even though it’s been a long season. We will examine our opponents and we will be highly motivated for both games.
DFB.de: Mr. Kuntz, on the 17th June the Euros will start and you will face Denmark. What decisions will you have to make before then and how will you prepare?
Kuntz: We will hold a training camp from the 2nd June to the 11th June in South Tirol, where we will get the players ready for hopefully five games in thirteen days in the Euros. Here, the players will train daily to try and get in the final squad. Arne Maier and Nadiem Amiri are still both trying to return from injuries so we will have to keep a close eye on them. We will prepare with some intensive training sessions and play some friendlies.
DFB.de: In comparison to the Germany squad in March, you will be without Toni Kroos and Marc-André ter Stegen, whilst Julian Draxler and Jonas Hector have returned after some time out. What are your reasons for this, Mr. Löw?
Löw: Toni had reoccuring muscle issues in Madrid the last few weeks. He has to cure them completely because it’s important for me that he be fully fit for the start of the European Championship season. That’s why Julian Draxler is back, after having to miss out in March due to being a bit battered. He’s one of our regulars. Jonas Hector didn’t have an easy go of it in Köln, but showed his character and mental strength and was a constant presence for Köln as they were promoted this season. We never lost sight of him, and he has earned the right to be called up once again. Marc will have to miss out because he hasn’t been able to train in Barcelona the last few days due to knee problems. We will wait and see what happens with Manu, based on the progress he makes in his healing during the next few days.