How Günter Netzer made German football sexy (well, almost)
In the 1970s Günter Netzer was one of the key players in the great West German football teams of the time. A wonderful player and passer of the ball, he was twice voted German Footballer of the Year in ’72 and ’73. In an era when the national team lifted the world cup on home soil in 1974, he was part of a side which included Beckenbauer, Müller, Breitner and Vogts.
Born in Monchengladbach in 1944, he was part of the Borussia Monchengladbach side which enjoyed its most competitive rivalry with Bayern Munich during the early 70s when he scored eighty two goals in two hundred and thirty games, helping them to win back to back Bundesliga titles in ’70 and ’71. But it was in his final game for the club in which his legend was cemented. It is the German league cup final, Monchengladbach face FC Köln and Netzer views this as his perfect farewell but the coach, Hennes Weisweiler, has other ideas. Three hours before the game, Weisweiler tells him that his fitness levels aren’t good enough and he was to be dropped to the substitutes bench. Netzer gets his bag and makes to leave but protestations by fellow team mates convince him to stay for the match. At half time Weisweiler decides to bring him on as a substitute but Netzer refuses. By extra time with the game at 1-1, Netzer decides to bring himself on as substitute and walks onto the pitch. Five minutes and a quick ‘one-two’ later and he’s buried the ball in the top corner of Köln’s net and wins the cup. Imagine, for a moment, that happening today.
By 1973 he had joined Real Madrid alongside Paul Breitner where they would compete against the Dutch legend and Barcelona striker Johan Cruyff, their most feared opponent in the 1974 world cup final. Netzer, like his legendary strike partner, Gerd Müller defied the German tradition of consummate professionalism. He was a maverick in the most clinical footballing nation in the world. He philosophised in that most glorious tradition of 1970s European stars, he wore his hair long ‘to mask his ugliness’, a man nicknamed after the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and a footballer whose stuttering brilliance frustrated national team coaches to awarding him no more than thirty caps despite scoring a vital penalty at Wembley to beat England in the European Championships. He was George Best without the drink, nightclubs were for owning, not partying in, but even then his ownership and style of club attracted controversial publicity.
Netzer should be remembered as much for what he and his like brought to the game as much as his skill. His own man, someone who believed in his ability to see him through, he was part of what made football in the 1970s so brilliant. It was the likes of Netzer who made this particular boy pick up a football every afternoon and forty years later with no more than a passing interest in today’s game look back at his era with a broad grin.
Categories: Retro Heaven