Following in successful footsteps
A look at the current German U21 squad will reveal that these players aren't greenhorns anymore; in fact, they're fully-fledged professionals who regularly play in the Bundesliga, if not even on the international stage. So while this team's stated objective of becoming European champions may sound a bit ambitious to some ears, it is by no means exaggerated. It has been six years now since Germany last won the U21 European championship, beating England 4-0 in a thrilling final at the 2009 edition of the tournament hosted by Sweden. The coach, then as now, was Horst Hrubesch. The year before he had already demonstrated his champion-making skills by leading the Germany U19 to European glory. Many of his U21 charges went on to enjoy impressive careers inboth the national team and international club football.
Germany's 4-0 win in the final at Malmö featured one outstanding player: Mesut Özil. Not only did he provide two assists setting up goals by Gonzalo Castro and Sandro Wagner, he also scored himself, converting a beautiful free-kick from 35 meters. Özil had a successful season with Werder Bremen before joining Real Madrid in 2010. He was joined in the Spanish capital by Germany U21 team-mate (and captain) Sami Khedira, who helped the galácticos win one Spanish championship, one Spanish Cup, and the UEFA Champions League. The year 2010 was to prove decisive for two other U21 champions: Jérôme Boateng was signed by Manchester City, and Manuel Neuer played an excellent World Cup tournament, only to raise his game again at the 2014 World Cup where he received FIFA's Golden Glove award. Mats Hummels and Benedikt Höwedes went from relative anonymity to Bundesliga stardom. Hummels won two German championships and one DFB German Cup with Borussia Dortmund, while Höwedes played a key role in FC Schalke 04's DFB German Cup final triumph in 2011 and is now his club's team captain. At Brazil 2014, all of the above were regular first-team starters in the national team that won Germany's fourth star, after a 24-year wait.
So, it's safe to say that the U21 class of 2015 are following in successful footsteps – an awareness that on the one hand brings further pressure, but on the other might well crank up motivation levels. Because all of the 23 players of the 2009 European championship squad have since enjoyed a career in professional football. And while not everybody has found a croc (or cup, rather) of gold, there'll always be those memories of lifting UEFA's silver trophy in 2009.