22.06.2024 03:50 h

Mittelstaedt's 'surreal' rise symbolic of Nagelsmann's new Germany

Maximilian Mittelstaedt's stunning rise from relegated bench player to Germany starting XI is symbolic of how the Euro 2024 hosts have been reborn under coach Julian Nagelsmann.

One year ago, Mittelstaedt was relegated with Hertha Berlin.

He often watched from the bench as his boyhood side, the biggest club in the German capital, slipped into the second division.

After moving to Stuttgart for 500,000 euros ($534,000), a paltry sum even for a club which had come close to relegation themselves, little was expected of the 27-year-old defender.

However, Mittelstaedt went on to play a key role as Stuttgart finished second in the Bundesliga, 40 points more than their previous campaign and ahead of perennial champions Bayern Munich.

His reward was a call up to the Germany squad for the first time.

On Wednesday, playing in Stuttgart this time in Germany colours, Mittelstaedt created the hosts' second goal, sealing a 2-0 win over Hungary which put his country into the last 16.

The assist was the latest in a series of highlights for a player who has quickly become a key component in Germany's return to contender status as they chase a fourth Euros title.

Mittelstaedt was one of 11 changes Nagelsmann made in March as he rebuilt a struggling Germany side just three months out from the Euros opener.

Gone were big names like Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry and Mats Hummels, with Nagelsmann instead picking heavily from in-form Stuttgart and champions Bayer Leverkusen.

Mittelstaedt came in alongside three other Stuttgart players, winger Chris Fuehrich, forward Deniz Undav and defender Waldemar Anton.

While the other three were also chosen as part of the Euro 2024 squad, Mittelstaedt is the only one locked into the starting XI.

Speaking before Wednesday's clash with Hungary, Mittlestaedt described his rise to become a Germany regular as "totally surreal."

"If someone had told me this last year, I'd have said they were crazy."

But if the rapid ascent startled the defender, he is confident he belongs at the highest level.

"It's funny how quickly everything can develop," the defender said.

"But I worked hard for it, even in the years when things weren't going so well. I never doubted that I had the quality. I always believed in myself."

Clearly impressed, Nagelsmann named Mittelstaedt as one of the best four left backs in the world before the tournament.

His style clearly suits Nagelsmann's Germany, who seek to hold the ball and attack like Stuttgart under coach Sebastian Hoeness.

Mittelstaedt highlighted the similarities between the young, offensive-minded coaches, saying "both want to play football, both want to have possession and both want to attack."

He said he would have been unlikely to get a call up as someone who "just stands there and kicks the ball away."

After the win over Hungary and a dominant 5-1 thumping of Scotland in the tournament opener, Germany need at least a draw in Sunday's match against Switzerland to guarantee top spot in their group.

After the win over Hungary on Sunday, Mittelstaedt described his story as "a very, very nice fairytale."

While the road is long for a team which has underperformed at major tournaments for almost a decade, playing the July 14 final in Mittelstaedt's hometown of Berlin would surely be a fairytale ending.