Love Letters to the European Union: Looking For Freedom

On the 29th March 2019, the United Kingdom is (currently) scheduled to exit the European Union. To celebrate forty-six years of peacetime and prosperity in Europe, this season we’ll be profiling the footballing history of each remaining member of the EU, looking at some of their most iconic matches and the players that have left a lasting impression on the game. This time out we turn our attention to The Man Machine, the allmächtige Herrscher of European football, the most successful country on the continent. Britain has produced some of the most famous footballers in Europe, but this isn’t Britain: DAS IST DEUTSCHLAND!

The Player: Paul Breitner


The 1970s saw West Germany come to the fore in both international and club football. Finishing third at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, they would go on to win the 1972 European Championships in Belgium before upsetting the favourites the Netherlands to lift the 1974 World Cup in Berlin. Meanwhile, Bayern Munich were busy ending Ajax Amsterdam’s European dominance in club football, winning the European Cup three years in a row between ’74 and ’76. This was a golden age for fußball in Germany, with Die Mannschaft producing a raft of ruthless, technically accomplished players, all with nicknames that suggested a sense of humour that the stereotypes forget. There was ‘Der Kaiser’ Franz Beckenbauer, one of the greatest defenders to have ever played the game, and the archetypal sweeper. Up front for both West Germany and Bayern Munich was ‘Der Bomber’ Gerd Muller, perhaps the most natural goalscorer world football has ever seen; a striker with a phenomenal 68 goals in 62 games for the national team, along with a further 653 at club level. But for those who found professionalism, determination and certitude a little staid, there was ‘Der Afro’, Paul Breitner.

It was Breitner’s introduction into the Bayern Munich and West Germany teams that coincided with both side’s eras of success. By the time he arrived at the Grünwalder Stadion in 1970, The skinny teenager had already felt the wrath of the DFB following his debut for West Germany’s under-18 side thanks to his distinctive hairstyle when, after scoring the only goal in a 4-1 defeat to Yugoslavia, a representative from the football federation told the new boy in no uncertain terms to ‘get a haircut’. It wouldn’t be the last time Breitner and the national team administrators would cross swords. In his first year at Bayern he was called up for military service and, after a short period of avoiding the military police having ignored his summons, he spent a year working as a cleaner and posing for provocative photographs. An image of the young Breitner reading the Peking Review in front of posters of Che Guevara and Chairman Mao led to the New York Times declaring him “the newest hero of the German counter-culture movement”. Red Paul had arrived.

Because it wasn’t just football that made Breitner tick. As a teenager finding his way at amateur side ESV Freilassing, he’d become increasingly interested in politics, joining the 68ers student protest movement to rally against the increasingly popular National Democratic Party, as well as poor living conditions for students and the working classes. He cites the death of Che Guevara as an important stage in his development, and would soon take to carrying a copy of Mao Zedong’s ‘Little Red Book’ wherever he went, often to the chagrin of opposition supporters. His starring role in the Bayern Munich team that won only the second Bundesliga title in their history in 1972 seemed at odds with his personal philosophy. After all, Bayern were the richest club in the country, the perfect model of growing capitalism in Germany, which probably explains why their star defender described his employers as “nouveau rich money-based aristocracy”. Having made it to the big leagues, the life of a world class footballer was proved difficult for Breitner to swallow. Then, after scoring the equaliser in the World Cup final, everything changed.

Shortly after the World Cup, Breitner moved to Real Madrid – the club of General Franco, Spanish nationalism, and new money. The German very quickly shed his left-wing image, flaunting his wealth with big houses and fast cars, and shilling for anyone that waved the right fee under his nose. He shaved off his trademark beard for a cosmetics company, and appeared in an advert for McDonald’s. Red Paul had sold out. After three years in Madrid making money, Breitner returned to Germany, first for an ill-fated season with Eintracht Braunschweig, before completing his homecoming to Bayern. Now evolved into a box-to-box midfielder, Breitner struck up a fruitful partnership in midfield with a young Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and the pair inspired Bayern to back-to-back Bundesliga titles, earning the former the German Football of the Year award and the latter the Ballon D’or in 1981.

Breitner would return to the West Germany squad for the first time in six years ahead of the 1982 World Cup, eventually scoring in the final as his team were beaten by Italy, becoming only the third player to have scored in two separate finals. A year later he retired from football following a disagreement with Bayern general manager Uli Hoeneß at half-time during a friendly. Fifteen years later, his tempestous relationship with the DFB would come back to haunt him as, having been chosen to replace Berti Vogts as manager of the national team, president Egidius Braun rescinded the offer seventeen hours later following protests from officials. Breitner has since worked as a pundit on German television, providing the perspective of the ultimate devil’s advocate.

The Game: Germany 4-0 Switzerland, 1990


The name David Hasselhoff is synonymous with three things: driving around a snarky Pontiac Trans Am, pulling focus from Pamela Anderson’s cleavage, and inspiring the reunification of Germany.  The erstwhile Knight Rider star found fame in die mutterland during the summer of 1989, as his synth-gospel ditty ‘Looking for Freedom’ about, er, looking for freedom spent eight weeks at the top of the charts, just months before the Berlin Wall was finally torn down. Earlier that year, the removal of the border between Hungary and Austria had led to thousands of East Germans fleeing through Hungary and into West Germany, causing the government to falter and setting the wheels for reunification in motion. The country had been divided since the Potsdam Agreement in the aftermath of the second world war, but on 3rd October 1990, Germany was officially unified once again.

Not only had the reunification of Germany as a nation arrived in the same year as West Germany’s World Cup win in Italy, it was confirmed on the eve of qualification for the 1992 European Championships, a campaign that had, by chance, paired East and West Germany in the same group. With the announcement of reunification arriving just weeks before the qualifiers were due to kick off, and the German Football Association of the GDR agreeing to join the DFB, East Germany’s scheduled fixture with Belgium went ahead, reclassified as a friendly. GDR’s final game as a nation was won 2-0, while their neighbours competed under the banner of West Germany for the final time in their opening qualifier, a 3-2 victory in Luxembourg.

On 19th December 1990, 20,000 spectators filed into VfB Stuttgart’s Neckarstadion to watch a unified Germany team for the first time since 1942. Not only a great moment of national pride and unity, but an opportunity to survey the newest recruits to Die Mannschaft, as Mattias Sammer, Andreas Thom, Perry Bräutigam and Thomas Doll made their first appearences in the matchday squad, having all been capped by East Germany previously. Switzerland, fittingly managed by former West Germany interational Uli Stielike, provided the opposition for this momentous occasion, and while they’d established themselves as a tough side to beat, they had failed to qualify for a major tournament for twenty-four years. Germany’s new manager Berti Vogts, who’d played alongside Stielike and replaced Franz Beckenbauer after the 1990 World Cup, named a strong starting line-up for the friendly, hoping to seize the positive feeling washing across the country at the time.

The game itself was so typically German. Rudi Voller opened the scoring in the first minute, latching on to Jurgen Klinsmann’s through-ball before poking it under Martin Brunner in the Switzerland goal. Sub ‘keeper Philip Walker saved a Klinsmann penalty ten minutes into the second half, but when Karl-Heinz Riedle nodded Lothar Matthuas’ centre in on 66 minutes, it was party time in Stuttgart. Thom came on with a quarter of an hour left, replacing fellow East German Sammer to make his debut, and the Bayer Leverkusen striker took a matter of second to control the ball on the edge of the box, before firing into the bottom corner. The scoring was rounded off in the 85th minute with a Matthaus volley, as the new era of German football began with a resounding win. Wales would become the first team to beat the unified Germany, winning a European Championship qualifier 1-0 in Cardiff, but Vogts would end up taking his team to the final of the competiton, losing out to shock winners Denmark.

Germany would have better luck at Euro 96, as Mattias Sammer cemented his reputation as one of the best in the world, with a string of commanding performances in the sweeper role as his side lifted the Henri Delauney trophy at Wembley. The Dresden-born midfielder would go on to win the Ballon D’or later that year, before captaining Borussia Dortmund to Champions League glory.

Half of the Germany squad that travelled to Russia for the 2018 World Cup weren’t even alive to witness the reunification of their nation, but Germany’s meeting with Switzerland in 1990 will go down in history as a momentous occasion.

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