Paul Breitner has divided opinions in Germany like no other. A genius of a player, he once flirted with Marxism and sported an Afro. Leslie Crang, an Arsenal supporter from London looks back at the career of one of his sporting heroes.
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
For most fans of 1970’s football it might the elegance of Franz Beckenbauer, breaking up the midfield, his timed challenges:-
Or may be Sepp Maier, with his shovel hands and his own gloves that all kids in goal had to have (if, like me, you were stuck in goal)
Or perchance, Gerd Muller, ‘Der Bomber’, a man who seemed to do nothing but tap the ball in:
Or England’s most frightening adversary, Günter Netzer in 1972:
But, for me, it has to be Paul Breitner. He is just unique in football.
I’m a huge fan of Fitzgerald and perchance this quote sums up a player I most admire in Germany. A man of contradiction. One of only 3 to score in two World Cup Finals. An alleged revolutionary that carried Mao Tse-tung ‘Little Red Book’ and then joined Franco Real Madrid side.
But, as a 14 year old with punk leanings, who had only seen England play in one major tournament in which in the first game against Belgium had finished with tear gas ending with the players, literally, in tears. In 1980 we had ended up ending third behind Belgium and Italy. Who won the European championship in 1980. Please remind me again?
But in the 1980 team, there was no Paul Breitner. He had ‘retired’ from international football after the 1974 World Cup because of manager Helmut Schön at 22 after the 1974, playing a mere two game in 1975 because of his critical attitude especially in his Bild articles.
It was not unusual for German players though to retire young from the German team. I mean, in 1980, the best player was Bernd Schuster, who retired a year later at 21 from international football.
In England this would never happen. In English football it was seen as ‘bad form’. In Rob Steen’s excellent The Mavericks: English Football When Flair Wore Flares, a book on England’s players from the 1970’s who should have taken over the world, gives a number of players whom he considered fit for purpose: Alan Hudson, Stan Bowles, Peter Osgood, Tony Currie, Charlie George and Rodney Marsh. Deference to manager and the FA was all important. For example, when Charlie George, a striker, made his debut and only game for England as a winger, on being substituted and asked by England manager, Don Revie, how he found it, he told the manager to ‘fuck off’. He never played again.
In Germany, as a youngster, it seemed criticism was part of being a player. Let’s not forget Breitner was a World Cup Winner (and scorer), European Championship Winner, European Cup Winner and Bundesliga winner, but was still critical of the Bundesliga.
It is easy to forget in a digital world, back then, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, having a knowledge of European football was hard to follow in the press, but ‘Shoot’, an English youth football magazine had spoken of ‘Der Afro’ as Breitner was nicknamed in 1981, had come out of retirement. This would never happen in England. Deference is king. In Germany, it seemed you could speak your mind and still be a player. A very good player too.
I had looked forward to the 1982 World Cup. England had a good team. But England had 3 problems. We played Germany in the 3 team group stage to get to the Semi-final. Karl Heinz Rummenigge, who in 1982 had defeated us at Wembley, leaving Shoot to say ‘Heinz means goals’ in their magazine the following week (a joke on an advert for baked beans…and English delicacy). Then, it was Breitner, a man lacking some pace, but a man always breaking up the midfield. The mouth could play.
Obviously, Germany would play the final, defeating France in the Semi-final and played Italy in the final. Germany were below par, but I remember the Breitner goal:
I just love the look of disdain at scoring a World Cup goal. Paul Breitner. A player with a magic touch, a great afro and a man with revolutionary ideas, like not being deferential to his FA. Something that would never happen with England. Paul Breitner. My sporting hero.
Leslie Crang is a teaching assistant at University of London. Although an Arsenal supporter by nature he has recently discovered Clapton FC, an amateur team from South London. In June Leslie has organized a World Cup Symposium on the 50th anniversary of the victory of England at the 1966 World Cup. You can follow Leslie on twitter: @morethanagame66