Paul Breitner, born September 5th, 1951 in Kolbermoor, is a former German footballer and one of the most controversial players in German history. Nicknamed “Der Afro” he was well known for his partnership with Franz Beckenbauer and Berti Vogts in the defence of the German national team. Towards the end of his career he moved up to play a midfield role which brought him and his team tremendous results. He is one of only four players to have scored in two different World Cup final matches along with Pelé, Vavá and Zinédine Zidane.
Beginnings of ‘Der Afro’
Breitner started his career at the age of just 6 years old. During his school days he played for the youth team of SV-DJK Kolbenmoor. When he turned 10, he moved to ESV Freilassing where his father was a youth coach. His hard work and determination got him a call-up to the DFB youth team in 1968. During one of the learning courses he took while with the youth team, he met Uli Hoeneß with whom he developed a great friendship. On September 22nd 1968, he debuted for the youth squad in a 4-1 defeat to Yugoslavia.
His talents were noticed in 1970 after he graduated high school.
Along with his friends Uli Hoeneß and Rainer Zobel, he was called up by coach Udo Lattek to play for Bayern Munich. Soon after proving himself for coach Lattek he signed a professional deal. This meant he had to quit his college studies and focus on football. It turned out to be the right decision for Breitner as he made his first team debut on August 15th, 1970 in a 1-1 draw against VfB Stuttgart.
Bayern’s coach Udo Lattek thoughtvery highly of the talented Breitner and even used him on occasions as a striker despite him being a natural full-back. His energy and responsiveness combined with a powerful right foot shot made him a threat to opposing defenders. His frequent flank runs contributed heavily to his team’s offensive play.
At the end of the first season with Bayern, the club finished as runner-up in the Bundesliga but did win the German Cup 2-1 against 1. FC Köln.
The team consisting of players such as Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Gerd Müller, Uli Hoeneß and Breitner himself was only getting started.
On the road to victory
In the following years, Bayern Munich enjoyed their biggest success in the history of the club.The 1970’s were the most productive decade in the clubs history.
Every one of the next three years (1972, 1973 and 1974), they were the undisputed champions of Germany.
On the international level, Breitner enjoyed success with Germany as well. He was part of what many call “the best German selection of all time”, known for their famous 3-1 victory over England at Wembley. After 18 years of waiting, the Germans finally won a major title as they defeated the Soviet Union 3-0 in the final of EURO 1972.
In the summer of 1974, West Germany hosted the World Cup in Munich and much was expected from the Helmut Schön led West Germans. Breitner enjoyed a fine start to the tournament as his long range shot secured a opening 1-0 victory against Chile. But after opening the tournament with a victory, the team struggled and after the historic 1-0 defeat to East Germany the team qualified as second in the group behind their rivals.
Playing alongside Franz Beckenbauer helped Breitner become one of the dominant players in defense. West Germany quickly recovered after the group stage and defeated Yugoslavia 2-0 in the second round with Breitner scoring his second goal of the tournament. A 4-2 win over Sweden in the final match of the second round meant that West Germany qualified for the final in which they faced the Netherlands.
In the final, Breitner showed great responsibility and stepped forward to take a penalty awarded for the Germans in the 25th minute. He converted and the Germans scored another and went on to win their first World Cup in 20 years. Later on Breitner himself admitted that he wasn’t intended as a shooter but took the shot anyway. For his heroics, he was regarded as one of the best players in the world during that time. At the age of just 22, he won every title a player could ever dream of winning.
Life after Bayern
After the World Cup, he transferred to Spanish giants Real Madrid, where the new coach, Miljan Miljanić, noticed Breitner at the tournament in Munich. Breitner came under harsh criticism because of the move as Spanish dictator Franco openly supported the club.
Together with Günter Netzer as the best players of the team, he won two Spanish championships (1975 and 1976), as well as a Spanish Cup in 1975. During his time in Madrid, he even starred in a not so successful German movie called “Potato Fritz”.
Breitner was often labelled as a obstructionist amongst the media because of his revolutionary behavior. His falling out with West Germany’s coach Helmut Schön after the World Cup made him retire from international football at the age of just 22.
Since Breitner moved to Madrid, the DFB issued a strict rule in which they were against call-ups for German foreign professionals. However, because of pressure from the public, Breitner returned to play two more games for the team in October of 1975 against Bulgaria and Greece. After the two matches were over Breitner decided not to play anymore for the national team. It would take him another six years to decide for a comeback to the team.
During those six years he was a columnist for the newspaper Bild and used every opportunity to critique the team and the DFB.
Back to Germany
Three years after joining Real Madrid, Breitner’s wife wanted to move back to Germany. He had a hard time finding a new club in the Bundesliga as nobody wanted to pay the expensive transfer fee which was around 1.6 million DM. But then, out of nowhere, German business man Günter Mast, who was the main sponsor of Eintracht Braunschweig at the time, provided the club with the required money to sign Breitner. The total cost of the transfer was around 1.6 million DM plus 400.000 DM for Breitner’s annual salary.
Switching from a worldwide famous club such as Real Madrid to a team which wasn’t known very well outside of Germany wasn’t easy for him. The superstar Breitner was considered hard to work with as he often clashed with teammates and coaches. In his first and only season with the team they finished 13th in the Bundesliga and, despite scoring 10 goals, he was considered a average player because of his team’s disappointing finish to the season.
Breitner, who had by now switched to a midfield position, returned to Bayern Munich in the coming summer.
The team found a new sponsor to fund the 1.75 million DM transfer and Breitner re-joined his longtime friend Uli Hoeneß. Bayern wasn’t the dominant force anymore as the team’s main players Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller both left the club and Uli Hoeneß was now in a management role with the club. A very ambitious Breitner set a goal to get the club back on top of the Bundesliga as he wanted to demonstrate his maturity by becoming the leader of his new club.
And, they’re back…
In his first season with the Bavarians, the team finished fourth – another conflict with head coach Gyula Lóránt followed, which resulted in his departure from the club in early 1979. The next season started with Bayern appointing Pál Csernai as their new coach who immediately gave Breitner the captains armband. He soon became the key player for the team as his playmaking skills comibed with striker Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s speed formed a deadly duo.
Bayern went on to win three straight Bundesliga titles and a German Cup in 1982. European success was denied by English side Aston Villa who defeated Bayern in the European Champions’ Cup final of ’82.
Joined by his Bayern Munich teammate Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, he decided to come out of international retirement and re-join the German national team in 1981. He was selected to the 1982 World Cup squad shortly after returning. The Germans made it all the way to the final with Breitner as their leader.
The most notable victory was in the semi-finals against France which was decided on penalty kicks. After the tiring semi-final match against France, the Germans simply ran out of energy for the final match against Italy. Breitner scored the team’s only goal in a 3-1 defeat making him only one of four players ever to score in two World Cup final matches.
Retiring on Top
After a season marked with injuries, Paul Breitner finally decided to retire from football in the summer of 1983. His last match came against Schalke 04 on May 28th 1983 in a 1-0 home defeat. He played in 369 matches during his career and scored 103 goals. He also collected 48 caps for the German national team and scored 10 goals. During his career, he won a total of seven league championships in West German and Spain.
He was also named both German and European Player of the Year in 1981.
Breitner’s post-football career will be remembered by the “17 Hours Bundestrainer” incident which took place in 1998. DFB president Egidius Braun appointed him as the new coach for the national team but after getting criticised from other association officials he changed his mind just 17 hours later.
In March of 2007, he signed a contract with Bayern Munich and became a advisor for the club. As of today he works as a TV pundit and newspaper columnist. He still plays on special occasions for the Bayern Munich All-Star team.
Images from dailymail.co.uk, fcbayern.com