Reinhard Häfner, who has passed away Sunday 24. October 2016 was one of the finest players in East German football. He was a key player at the Montreal Olympics and led Dresden to their last title in 1990.
The Olympic Stadium in Montreal was not yet finished when the Olympic Games started in the summer of 1976. In fact, even parts of the Olympic village were not ready when the 9000 or so athletes arrived. However, the visitors from East Germany were nonetheless taken aback by the city and being in Canada. There was not much time to indulge in the offers capitalism was showing to the football players from GDR. They came to Montreal to improve on their Olympic record. Twice they have won the bronze medal: 1964 in Tokyo and 1972 in Munich.
This time, 2 years after the first World Cup participation in West Germany 1974, the expectations were higher. Admittedly, the players at the hand of coach Georg Buschner were technically superior of their predecessors from 1974. Back then the core of the team consisted of players from FC Magdeburg whose playing style relied on athleticism. For the Montreal Games the coach relied mostly on players from Dynamo Dresden who were equipped with a fine technique, first and foremost Hans-Joachim ‘Dixie’ Dörner, the sweeper and captain in Montreal.
If Dörner was the key man during the tournament, it was his Dynamo club mate Reinhard Häfner who deserved the honours of man of the match. He was outstanding in midfield throughout the contest and involved in two goals. It was his move through midfield that made the first goal possible: taking the ball off an opponent, he dribbled through midfield before initiating a sequence of short passes with his team mates. Once the ball came back to him, the Polish defense were carved open. Häfner though laid the ball off to Hoffmann to his left who curled the ball onto the inside of the far post. The Polish keeper Tomaszewski did not move. It was his third goal that finished off the game and sealed the gold medal for East Germany, their only major success at any tournament in the 40 year history of the country. Once more he dribbled through midfield as if the opposite players were cones on a training ground. Not the strongest of finishers, he left the replacement keeper Piotr Mowlik (Tomaszewksi – yes, THE Tomaszewski who was labelled a clown by Brian Clough and later made sure that England would not qualify for the 1974 World Cup – was replaced after 20 minutes) no chance.
Häfner played more than 300 games for Dynamo, only Dörner has played more games for Dresden. After his playing days finished in 1988 he was also their coach, winning the double in 1989/90 when the GDR was still a sovereign country. He took over from former team mate Eduard Geyer only in April and weeks later he led them to the league title. This marked the highlight of his coaching career just as winning the gold medal in Montreal was the pinnacle as a player.
The following season Dynamo finished second despite the talent of Sammer and Kirsten in the squad. Dynamo were beaten to the double by Hansa Rostock. Shortly after the end of the season Häfner was sacked. While this looks cynical on the surface it must be seen as a blessing in disguise as afterwards key players left the club for the rich pastures of the Bundesliga and Dresden struggled to get a team together that could be described as competitive. It marked the cruel end to a fantastic career on and off the pitch. Häfner stated that this really depressed him for a long time, though lately he appeared to have overcome this grievance and that he was ok with it. It was the last statement of him as he was passed last Sunday after battling cancer.
He will be remembered as one of the finest players in East German footballing history and a successful coach. Moreover, he was a humble person.
Reinhard Häfner: 1952 – 2016