After winning UEFA EURO 1996, Germany had to wait another 18 years for their next piece of silverware, a trophy-drought they ended by lifting the 2014 FIFA World Cup™. Indeed, that triumph came 24 years after their previous coronation as world champions at Italy 1990, with Lothar Matthaus the last German to lift the Trophy aloft before Philipp Lahm did so over the summer. In light of that historical precedent, does that mean Germany must now endure another barren spell?
It does not appear likely given the current state of the game in the country: the Germany squad is overflowing with talented youngsters such as Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller, who are held in the highest regard across the globe and still have many years left to play. Furthermore, the next generation of gifted players coming through the ranks also give cause for optimism. A few days after the Final in Rio de Janeiro, Germany won the UEFA U-19 European Championship in Hungary, rubberstamping their place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 in the process.
That time it was Niklas Stark who received the trophy as captain of Marcus Sorg’s side. The talented Nuremberg centre-back, a pillar of the triumphant team, fondly recalled his time at the tournament, especially the moment the final whistle blew. “Pascal Itter came running towards me,” the 19-year-old told FIFA.com. “It was something very special. We won the title and experiencing that together was just a fantastic feeling.”
Itter, who played with Stark in the Nuremberg youth teams, was a substitute in the final, yet Stark believes the sense of unity within the squad was crucial to the success: “Our strikers did defensive work and our centre-backs got involved going forward. We were a team and we went on the attack together and defended together. We played well as a unit and that meant nobody was able to beat us.”
Upward trajectoryDespite his youth, Stark was a fixture in the Nuremberg side that was relegated from the Bundesliga last season. While that was undoubtedly a difficult period for the player, especially having risen through the ranks at the club, meeting up with the national team offered him a welcome distraction. The defender insists the setback at club level did not affect his preparations for the continental showdown. Instead, he joined up with the Germany camp full of confidence, certain that “if we could play our game we’d be European champions”.* *And so it transpired, with victory marking the next major tournament on Germany’s calendar: the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. However, it is unclear whether Stark will travel to the other side of the world as his good performances recently led to a call-up for the U-21s, who have qualified for the European Championship next year. “Of course it would be great to play at a World Cup, especially now that we’re European champions,” Stark said. Yet he diplomatically states he would happily participate at either tournament and will wait for whatever decision is made by the coaches.
Regardless of where Stark ends up playing in 2015, he is already part of a crop of players who represent the hopes of Germany’s footballing future, with the nation eager for more titles in the coming months. And the towering defender, who has featured in every age category for Germany since the U-17s, is confident more achievements are on the way, citing the successful work being done at youth level around the country. Stark believes that the German Football Association (DFB) works “perfectly” alongside clubs and has “really good coaches”, naming both factors as integral to Germany’s triumphs.
The youngster is visibly enthusiastic about the upcoming challenges, both for club and country. And at next year’s World Cup he and his team-mates could show the rest of the footballing community just how bright Germany’s future can be.