So there we have it. The final squad of twenty-three for the Euros has been named, with injury heartbreak for Karim Bellarabi and more pain for Marco Reus – a player who just cannot get a break when it comes to playing in the big events. Having missed out on the World Cup finals two years ago after sustaining an injury in one of the pre-tournament friendlies against Armenia, the Borussia Dortmund winger misses out again with a groin problem.
If just to make matters worse, the news would come on Reus’s twenty-seventh birthday.
Bellarabi also misses the cut after sustaining an injury in training before the last friendly against Slovakia, while Sebastian Rudy and Julian Brandt are the other two players to not make the final squad.
While Rudy was always one of the punters’ favourites to miss out, the decision is arguably a little unfair on Bayer 04 Leverkusen winger Brandt, who made more than a decent impression on his debut against the Slovaks. While the youngster will probably join the team to play at the Olympic Games in Rio later in the summer, questions do have to be raised as to how and why he was nudged down in the pecking order by the likes of Lukas Podolski and André Schürrle, both of whom have struggled for form and fitness all summer.
I suppose it has been one of my favourite topics for the last couple of tournaments – certainly since the last Euros in 2012 – but the continued inclusion of Podolski continues to be something of a mystery. The statistics are telling: since the start of 2012, “Poldi” has only completed the full ninety minutes on just five occasions (out of fifty-six matches), and has not made the starting eleven since the Euro qualifier against Gibraltar at the end of 2014.
Many of Podolski’s appearances have been very short and usually ineffective, and having maintained a record of a goal every other game for the early part of his international career he has only found the back of the net half a dozen times in the last six years.
I have often joked that Jogi Löw wants to help Podolski drag himself past Lothar Matthäus’ record of 150 international caps – either this or he is being taken to France to provide comic relief. For the record, I would have dropped Podolski and given Brandt a go.
Also in the squad is Bastian Schweinsteiger – another possible sympathy vote. Don’t get me wrong – Schweinsteiger has been one of the best German players of the last decade and was arguably the inspirational force that drove the Mannschaft to their triumph in Brazil in 2014, but this season has been little more than a disaster. His season has been plagued by injury, and when he has managed to get on the pitch for Manchester United his showings have been far from impressive.
Yes, he is the captain – but one really has to wonder how long Schweinsteiger will last in what will surely be a gruelling tournament. The role of the team captain is to run the show and play every single minute; nobody believes that Schweinsteiger will be able to manage that, even in their most optimistically wild dreams. With İlkay Gündoğan and Christoph Kramer both unavailable and Sami Khedira also a possible injury risk the defensive midfield position is one that continues to present serious issues. It could well be that the tournament provides a major break for a couple of the younger players such as Joshua Kimmich, Emre Can or Julian Weigl.
Another player carrying an injury is Mats Hummels, who is struggling to make the opening game against Ukraine and even the second fixture against Poland. Along with Jérôme Boateng, Hummels is a key player in a very thinly-resourced back line, and the risk here is acceptable. The fit-again Benedikt Höwedes is more than an adequate replacement, and both Skhodran Mustafi and Antonio Rüdiger have picked up valuable experience playing in Spain and Italy.
Elsewhere, everything appears to be in order. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer looks set to play every minute between the sticks in France, and the indestructible Thomas Müller always raises his game in major tournaments. Toni Kroos is fit and raring to go as a Champions League winner with Real Madrid, and the mercurial magician Mesut Özil is also in excellent form having recently been voted German footballer of the year for the fourth time.
Jonas Hector looks to have nailed down the potentially suspect left-back role, and the excellent Boateng is also fit after some earlier fitness worries. Julian Draxler has the opportunity to deliver on his promise and potential, and the dynamic winger Leroy Sané is another young player who could make a serious impact should things click into place.
The Podolski/Brandt issue and the not fully fit Schweinsteiger aside, this is probably the best squad the coach could muster given the catalogue of injury and fitness problems. There are some weak points and the overall constitution of the squad will no doubt be a factor with a possible six matches being crammed into less than a month, but there is plenty of class among these twenty-three names for the Mannschaft to win a fourth European crown.
Bernd Leno (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 1/0)
Manuel Neuer (FC Bayern München, 64/0)
Marc-André ter Stegen (FC Barcelona, 6/0)
Jérôme Boateng (FC Bayern München, 58/0)
Emre Can (Liverpool FC, 5/0)
Jonas Hector (1. FC Köln, 13/1)
Benedikt Höwedes (FC Schalke 04, 33/2)
Mats Hummels (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 46/4)
Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia CF, 10/0)
Antonio Rüdiger (AS Roma, 10/0)
Julian Draxler (VfL Wolfsburg, 18/1)
Sami Khedira (Juventus Torino, 59/5)
Joshua Kimmich (FC Bayern München, 1/0)
Toni Kroos (Real Madrid CF, 64/11)
Thomas Müller (FC Bayern München, 70/31)
Mesut Özil (Arsenal FC, 72/19)
Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray S.K., 127/48)
André Schürrle (VfL Wolfsburg, 51/20)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United FC, 114/23)
Julian Weigl (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 1/0)
Mario Gómez (Beşiktaş J.K, 63/27)
Mario Götze (FC Bayern München, 51/17)
Leroy Sané (FC Schalke 04, 2/0)