Thomas Müller and Niclas Füllkrug in front of Costa Rica
EA press conference with Thomas Müller and Niclas Füllkrug is a great success when it comes to storytelling. So it comes on Tuesday after just a few minutes, the question to both of them: “Füllkrug or Müller – who should be number 9 against Costa Rica?” Füllkrug: Rolls his eyes. Müller: “Are you doing it, plentifulness?” Can we continue?” It went on for quite a while after that, in such a way that at the end of the 40-minute appearance on the press podium of the German Football Association in al-Ruwais, one could have the impression that something completely different was being scripted here should be: The story of two people who may not have searched for each other, but have definitely found each other in Qatar. It’s not often that football is talked about in this format in such a good mood, humorous and yet very serious. In the end, they left the podium arm in arm.
But the media game is one thing, the truth on the pitch is probably another. In fact, there are many indications in the German camp that on Thursday, when it is all or nothing at this World Cup in al-Khor (20.00 CET, im FAZ live ticker for the World Cup , on ARD and on MagentaTV) will remain in their previous roles: Müller in the starting XI, filling jug on the bench. That’s what it sounded like the day before with Danny Röhl and Marcus Sorg, Hansi Flick’s assistant.
At Müller, the answer to the question of whether the solution wasn’t also filling jug came up and Müller could mean, clearly evading: “If we didn’t have so many good offensive players, it would certainly be a simple conclusion: gap in, I’m behind it.” It would work, Müller had no doubts about it, but the general assumption seems to be that Füllkrug could be even more valuable as a special agent and others are responsible for the “box occupation” (Müller), i.e. the presence in the penalty area, especially when the opponents are deeper.
Nevertheless: Füllkrug, 29 years old, has only made three international matches, but since Sunday and his goal to make it 1-1 against Spain an almost salvific role is ascribed to him. Nobody else embodies the hope of a successful World Cup tournament like the attacker from Werder Bremen and obviously nobody else has such connectivity for a public with a skeptical attitude at home: Germany in jug fever.
You can therefore see something else on the podium in al-Ruwais: the old identification figure of the golden German football years, next to the current one – and in between also what has gone wrong in the past few years since 2014. Füllkrug reports that he felt this distance between the football nation and the national team in Qatar for the first time. After the Japan game, he had the feeling “whether one or the other online isn’t more happy that we failed,” he says. “Now there are many around the corner who feel a bit of a World Cup mood.” Just like himself. Even as a child he “totally loved” World Cup tournaments because of this atmosphere, which from 2002 also focused on Miroslav Klose, to which he looked up. And that’s why he’s happy when there’s a “spirit of optimism” again and football takes center stage.
But he doesn’t seem comfortable with so much projection into his role: “It’s difficult to see myself as a World Cup hopeful,” says Füllkrug. As a striker, he is in a position where something like this is quickly and easily attributed, while other contributions, saving defensive tackles or goalkeeper saves, are given less attention.
When Füllkrug talks about the national team, he sounds like he’s been there a lot longer. His “we” also refers to the time before that, for example when he says about the resilience in the Spain game: “We have accepted things that we are otherwise not so well known for.” And then there is something else that stands out, especially in contrast to his neighbor. He speaks of “humility”, but he is also freshly aroused by the sparks from the Spain game, the regained feeling of “being able to hold his own against any opponent at the highest level” and the hope of staying in the tournament for a long time to come.
Füllkrug, on the other hand, keeps the ball flat. “We have to assess the situation realistically,” he says, a 1-1 is still a 1-1 and “no reason for any leaps of joy”. As if he were four years older, 117 international matches and 42 more goals, and not his colleague Müller, the old hand who has already experienced one or the other. Müller’s half-serious theory was that you might be “a bit more relaxed and businesslike” if you come from Hanover. But maybe it was completely different: that there was someone who (almost) only knows how to win – and someone else who knows that the next defeat is always lurking.