Jurgen Klinsmann has mostly happy memories from his time playing for the German national team against England
Credit: MICHEL LIPCHITZ
When it comes to Germany against England, Jurgen Klinsmann knows what he is talking about. He has done his time on the front line of the footballing rivalry, invariably coming out on top. Though even the victor is not always satisfied. You might think his memories of the World Cup semi final in 1990, for instance, would be awash with triumph and delight. But his are tinged with self-reproach.
“I should have finished that game off in extra time. I had two chances,” he recalls of that night in Turin. “So when it came to the shootout I never took a penalty. I wasn’t in the right mental state. I was so angry at me. Beckenbauer [the German coach] came to me and I said: ‘no Franz I can’t take one, I’m so disappointed with myself, I should have finished this game already’.”
And in 1996, at Wembley, after being on the right side of another penalty shootout victory, he recalls his first instinct was to head for the man who had missed the last English spot kick, a certain Gareth Southgate.
“You just want to tell him, we have all done it,” he says. “Obviously, if it happens in a Euros semi-final, it is a big deal, because the whole nation suffered. You are devastated in that moment because you feel like you have let people down, which he never did. He had an outstanding playing career and he has grown into his management role to the top of the game. I have a lot of admiration for Gareth.”
And when it comes to English football, It is not just the manager of the national team he admires. As he proved in his hugely successful spell at Tottenham, Klinsmann has long been an Anglophile.
Klinsmann was a fan favourite during his time playing for Tottenham
Credit: Darren Walsh
“Growing up in the 1970s and 80s in Germany, we watched constantly English football, especially the great Liverpool team. I was a crazy Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan fan. I screamed those names when we kicked a ball around in the streets, so English football has always been big for us in Germany.”
Indeed he is not of the opinion, much voiced elsewhere this past week, that the rivalry has more meaning over here than it does in his homeland.
“No, no, no, it is big for us too. I wouldn’t downplay it one little bit," he says. "Maybe we have two or three other countries that we almost put on the same level, especially Holland because of the history of the 88 Euros when we lost against them with [Marco] Van Basten being so incredible. But I think on the same level is England Germany. For us it’s big. It’s huge.”
And on Tuesday, when Southgate has the opportunity for redemption and when all of England will hope normal service in this fixture will be interrupted, Klinsmann will be at Wembley again, this time part of the BBC team. Characteristically, when he speaks to The Telegraph via Zoom, he is full of diplomacy about the relative chances of the two sides. Anyone hoping he might say something indiscreet is inevitably disappointed.
“I would say it is 50-50,” he says when asked which country he thought most likely to progress. “Both teams have strengths and weaknesses, there’s no doubt about it. Defensively, both countries have the same discussion – is it better with a back three or a back four? How high do we bring up the full-backs? And what is the right balance in midfield? Are [Declan] Rice and [Kalvin] Phillips the best match right now? The same goes for Germany. We have, in the middle of the park, [Toni] Kroos and [Ilkay] Gundogan. Every time they both go on the field, it’s not working out perfectly.”
Klinsmann believes Thomas Muller could be the difference as he is able to dictate the pace of the game, the sort of player England do not have in their ranks
Credit: Andre Weening
Though he does believe Germany have one significant advantage over their hosts.
“I think Thomas Mueller really is a difference maker. That doesn’t mean he needs to score the goals. He just needs to connect the pieces and get the right energy going in his team. And give them the belief. He’s the connector of this tournament team right now. And I don’t see England has a player like that. Yes, [Jack] Grealish is exciting, he’s fun to watch, and Phil Foden, Mason Mount, they all have their brilliant moments. But throughout the 90 minutes, you cannot name one English player who you think: OK, he really runs the show, he dictates the tempo, he calms things down or maybe goes to the face of the referee and makes a complaint. It doesn’t necessarily mean he has to be brilliant with everything he does individually. But he runs the show in a certain way. And that’s what Thomas is doing. For me that is the difference.”
If he is right, then on Tuesday once again he will be on the right side of history. Though, sharing a studio with his erstwhile antagonists Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer, he is not one to gloat.
“We always joke around and it will be exciting on Tuesday night to work with them. It was really a blast to watch England against Scotland with them. It was hilarious because I never really knew of their personal tension with the Scots. I saw it in that game. It was cool. I enjoy them very much.”
Never mind the Scots, however, now it is the big one: Germany. And you suspect Jurgen Klinsmann is more than ready.
Jurgen Klinsmann is part of the BBC Football team. Follow Euro 2020 on the BBC across TV, radio and online.