by Niklas Wildhagen
Growing up in Germany I lived through an era of industrious, hard working, unspectacular ball players. Andi Brehme, Lotthar Matthaus, Klaus Augenthaler, all of them were decent and internationally respected footballers. But nobody seemed to love them, except Germans. Their way of playing football was team-oriented, and if you were looking for the spectacular you simply wouldn’t find it when those players were on the pitch. As Uli Hesse notes in his brilliant book Tor!, the 80s and 90s of German football were successful, but the vigor and the youthful swagger of the 70s when players like Gunter Netzer and Paul Breitner played had gone.
I never seemed to mind the rather industrious types back in those days: I loved Dieter Eilts and other robust footballers. My gym teacher actually told me that “football isn’t supposed to pretty. We Germans have understood that, and that is why we win so many tournaments.” This was long before I started thinking about football in terms of tactics and entertainment value, and long before I moved far, far away from Germany and settled in the cold Nordic country of Norway.
One player seemed to be bucking the trend of robust, team-oriented thinking that made German football a superpower on both a club level, at the end of the 90s, and national level in the beginning of the decade. That man was Mehmet Scholl, who fitted into the Bundesliga like a nude porn star into a mosque. He could decide the game with a moment of genius, with a pass, with a run, and his technical skill was far above the average level of the league. His first touch was at times divine, and his movement made ballet dancers look clumsy. But, worst of all he played for the team I hated the most: Bayern Munich.
Back in those days all Bayern Munich players were considered (by me) to be everything that is wrong about football. In it for the money, playing for a team that seemed at times to have more luck than lottery winners. Led by Uli Hoeness, whose only redeeming feature seemed to be that he actually spoke German without a heavy Bavarian accent. Hoeness had for many years been a ruthless business man, who had turned German football into a commercially driven machine. Along with the arrogant Bayern Munich fans, who seemingly thought that their team was the best in the world, this made for an appalling mix. (My views have changed somewhat since then).
In the case of Scholl it was particularly frustrating. Another talent that Bayern Munich had managed to lure away from his home town team, Karlsruher SC, was turning into a great footballer at the wrong club. And Scholl wasn’t like the other talents Bayern had snapped up (Oliver Kahn, Thorsten Fink, Mario Basler, etc.), he was cool, laid back and seemingly not fitting to the rest of the group of players at the Säbener Strasse.
The reason why I made people around me believe that I hated Scholl with a unbridled passion was simply that I actually wanted a player like him on my team. Werder Bremen were back in the day coached by Otto Rehhagel — yes, the guy who won the Euros with Greece. Defense and team unity were amongst the most important cornerstones in Rehhagel’s philosophy. Individual brilliance, finesse and elegance were never emphasised, nor was he looking for players that would have brought those elements to Werder.
Scholl displayed all those things in every match that he played. It has taken me more than 15 years to admit this, but I have always secretly enjoyed watching Mehmet Scholl play football. Since he retired, in 2007, there hasn’t been a footballer quite like him.
And in his prime, Scholl could place a free kick like few others …
Niklas writes for his own blog Norwegian Musings and is amongst the contributors to Bundesliga Fanatic. You can follow him on Twitter here: @normusings