Fun and games for Germans: Hummels wins admirers as face of Low's side
23:07 GMT, 21 June 2012
Polite, self-deprecating and generous, young Mats Hummels sat beside the tactics board at the Germany team hotel and eased old stereotypes to its edge.
Hummels had just lost at table tennis — ‘I have no idea how,’ he laughed — he has been mountain biking around Gdansk, and is about to start Steve Jobs’s autobiography.
As he said: ‘We have other options than just sitting in your room thinking about football. If you do that, you get weird about it.’
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As Hummels spoke to foreign reporters in near-perfect English, another option was on view in the Germany media centre, where Thomas Muller was cooking risotto.
At 23, Hummels, of Borussia Dortmund, is nine months older than Muller. Since Germany embraced the planet at their World Cup in 2006 and Jurgen Klinsmann introduced a more expansive style, German perceptions have altered.
Culturally there is change, as seen in names such as Mesut (Ozil), Mario (Gomez) and Jerome (Boateng); and when Hummels mentioned ‘machines’ and ‘efficiency’, it was in reference to first England and then Greece.
It is such that Hummels was asked about Germany being ‘fun’, a question Lothar Matthaus may never have encountered.
‘It is different to before, because we do not have very many “senior” players,’ Hummels replied. ‘Only Miro Klose is over 30. The rest are younger — even our captain, Philipp Lahm, is 28.
Making the grade: Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller were promoted from Germany's Under 21 set-up
‘They are still young. They do not feel like they are something special. Of course, they are the best players in Germany, but as people we are all at the same level.’
So far, manager Joachim Low’s meritocracy is working: Germany won all 10 qualifiers and are the only team to reach the last eight with three group victories. Hummels has played in all three, confirming his growing reputation as an elegant centre half. The term libero is back in employment.
Hummels began his career at Bayern Munich, where his father Hermann was a youth coach, but made only one senior appearance before moving to Dortmund. There he has won the Bundesliga for the past two seasons, but sees the Germany team dominated by Bayern. He stressed domestic rivalry ‘doesn’t come into play with the national side’.
Still, politics exist. It had been thought a German quarter-final would be of historic interest because Russia or Poland were deemed likely opponents. As it is, it is Greece, it is Euro-debt, it is Angela Merkel. But is it Greek revenge
Turning defence into attack: Hummels darts away from Denmark's Niki Zimling
‘I don’t think so,’ Hummels said, before adding: ‘It could be.’ And then: ‘But it’s just sport. I think it will be like the Champions League final, Bayern v Chelsea. It will be very defensive.
‘It’s important we are not as slow as we were in the second half against Denmark. They are not spectacular, but they can defend and they don’t need so many chances to score. They are effective.’
German confidence is understandable and
yet there has been criticism at home. At first Hummels countered the
idea of Germany’s defence being its weakest link — ‘I can assure you, it
isn’t; right now I am ready to become part of a German wall.’ But
rather than dismissing the overall appraisal, he understood it.
‘That’s not so wrong,’ he said. ‘We needed some luck against Portugal and again against Denmark. We also had a serious situation against the Netherlands. If Robin van Persie scores after seven minutes we have a problem. That’s why I talk about the details.’
The issue of detail was first raised when England, who could meet Germany in the semi-final, came up.
Hummels immediately referred to the last World Cup and Germany’s 4-1 destruction of England in Bloemfontein, but not in a triumphant way.
‘It’s detail — you can’t say Germany’s better than England, because if the goal from Frank Lampard had counted maybe England would have made it. For the five or 10 minutes after England scored it was very tight. England could have won that game.’
If only: Lampard's 'goal' might have
changed the result in 2010, says Hummels
He was courteous again when taken back one year earlier when Hummels was part of the German Under 21 team that beat England 4-0 in the European Championship final.
Five of that side — Manuel Neuer, Hummels, Boateng, Sami Khedira and Ozil — are regulars in Low’s starting XI while others are in the squad. For England there is James Milner and Theo Walcott. ‘Joe Hart would have played if he had not been booked,’ added Hummels.
A final question of the Dortmund man will boost Manchester United. How good is Shinji Kagawa
‘We’re very sad he left. He’s fast and it makes no difference if he uses his left or right foot. I’ve not seen such a good player often.’
It is a compliment others are paying Hummels. When Zinedine Zidane was asked to nominate one player who has impressed him so far, he said: ‘Mats Hummels.’