He hated headers, his duel with Wolfsgang Overath for the playmaker role of the German national team is an epic tale, but most of all, I got toe hear about Günther Netzer from my father because his last goal in the jersey of Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Netzer started his football career at an early age. Already as a nine year old he played for Borussia Mönchengladbach’s youth division. 1963 Netzer joined Gladbach’s first team, and was promoted with the club to the Bundesliga in 1965.
The youngster became quickly one of the best playmakers in the league, occasionally outshone by Cologne’s Wolfgang Overath. Netzer’s precise long balls, and his menacing free kicks were back then something that hadn’t been seen before.
Additionally his long blonde hair, and his youthful outfits turned the Gladbach man into somewhat of a sex-symbol of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Giving football in Germany a youthful swagger, and James Dean-ish quality back then, Netzer fitted perfectly in to the young and hungry Borussia Mönchengladbach team.
Alongside players like Berti Vogts, Herbert Laumen, Jupp Heynckes and Wolfgang Kleff, Netzer starred in a team that would win almost everything in the 70’s. During Netzer’s time at the club won the German championship twice and the German cup once. Site note: even after Netzer left, the club continued its good run throughout the 70’s and won the Uefa-cup twice, and the German championship three more times.
Cool, calm and collected
Netzer was certainly the hot Gladbach player of the day in many respects back then. But, besides graciously sliding over the field, hitting unthinkable passes,and scoring outrageous goals, Netzer always knew how to shock the young German football nation that had emerged after WW2.
“There are 11 businessmen on the field, each looking after his own interest.”
Already back then Netzer knew how to look out for himself. As a 21 year old he became the publisher of “Fohlenecho”, a paper that was sold in the stadium on match days. Six years later he was the first German footballer to open his own night club, “Lovers Lane”.
These ventures gave Netzer a staggering amount of headlines in the German media. Also Gladbach coach Weisweiler paid attention to Netzer’s life style choices outside the pitch. Giving Netzer certain freedoms to a point, these two strong characters somehow managed to work together. Even back then most people knew that Weisweiler and Netzer had a somewhat ambivalent relationship. Sometimes the two of them couldn’t seem to do without each other, at other times the two of them hated each others guts.
The last straw for Netzer was when Weisweiler decided to use the playmaker, who according to himself “found other players that would do the running for him”, as a sweeper. Netzer was so insulted by the coach’s actions that he decided to leave the club for Real Madrid.
The last goal
Weisweiler was informed about Netzer’s decision to leave the club before the club’s cup-final against arch enemies Cologne in 1973. Coupled with the fact that Netzer’s mother just had died, Weisweiler did the unthinkable, and decided to leave Netzer out of the starting line-up.
After a brilliant first half that saw both team score once, the coach asked Netzer if he would like to play. “They are doing just fine without me”, was the answer Netzer provided. After 90’s minutes the score was still tied, and Netzer’s replacement, the young Christian Kulig had a cramp. Netzer asked the youngster if he could carry on. When Kulig said no, Netzer leisurely walked up to his coach, and cooly said:
“Now I am playing.”
Three minutes into extra time Netzer found himself with the ball inside the Cologne half. Trotting at pedestrian pace, Netzer played the ball out to Rainer Bonhof to his right.
And here is what made Netzer special as a player. Most midfielders would have just continued the game in the same pace. However, Netzer could have certain outburst of brilliance, turning on the magic at any give moment. So, instead of continuing to trot around, Netzer quickly turned to the left, which surprised five of the defenders. Bonhof found Netzer with a beautiful pass, and Netzer smashed the ball into the top of the net with his weaker left foot.This video starts right before the extra time starts. Enjoy Netzer’s goal.
Netzer would later on quib that the pass Bonhof made “was the first time Bonhof managed to play a proper one-two.” Joke aside, this goal has certainly found its place in German football history. Father’s tell their sons about it. Many German football lovers even claim that it is the goal of the century. The cup final of 1973 will forever be “the time when Netzer substituted himself onto the pitch and scored the winning goal”.
My thanks to Andrew Skorma who found some of the source material that I used for this post. He recommended me to take a look at Uli Hesse’s brilliant book about German football: Tor! Three of the quotes are taken from that book. You can follow Andrew on Twitter: @claudebernard
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