The next addition to my all-time ‘cult’ world XI introduces a ‘defensive’ player to my shortlist and I use the term defender rather loosely. Not for his lack of defensive ability might I add but for his complete, all-round footballing attributes that elevate him towards the top of my ‘cult’ list. I appreciate that this selection may be lost on some football fans but after reflection I hope you will see my justifications for his selection. He is one of very few players to play for two differing nations, scoring goals for both along the way. A master of a position that nowadays is firmly placed in the football tactics history books and one that personally I wish to see returned maybe someday. A German legend and all round technically gifted footballer, may I present to you… Lothar Matthäus
I know what you are thinking, Lothar Matthäus was the player that defined and epitomised German football at that time; efficient, hardworking and industrious. However I believe Matthias was the better player both physically and technically so hopefully I can convince you into my way of thinking. How many times have Lothar and his international teammates made a fool of the England national team, sometimes in the most humorous of ways? I can count a few… dozen occurrences. However, the reason for his success was because Lothar had everything already in place to propel him to stardom, something that Matthias had to work doubly hard to achieve in his career. Why you may ask? It involves a generation of ideological rivalry between two countries, a differing emphasis on sporting governance and thousands of tons of re-enforced steel and concrete. You could say that Lothar was in the right country at the very right time.
Matthias was born in Dresden, in the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik or East Germany to most and went on to represent his hometown club; Dynamo Dresden. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Football behind the iron curtain was governed in ways that would be unfamiliar to say the least to most UK football fans and the former DDR Oberliga was no exception to this rule. Spotting Matthias’s talent at a very early age, he was signed to Dynamo Dresden, a club patronised by the secret police (STASI) and a club where his father Klaus both played for and managed in his long career. Matthias played 102 times for Dynamo, netting 39 times on the way to two East German league titles. Not bad for a ‘defender’?
Okay, there is a reason behind such a huge goal ratio and it has nothing to do with him being exceptionally gifted at heading in from free kicks and corners (sorry Stoke fans). It was actually his position as a ‘sweeper’ or ‘libero’ to our continental friends that enabled him to haul in such an impressive goal tally. Matthias’ most recognisable position was in midfield, however after he made the transition to sweeper, he brought his technical abilities to behind the back four. Imagine the feeling of panic when a defender moves the ball into midfield and passes it through your team before getting on the end of a cross, unmarked to head in to the net? This is the ability that Sammer bought to both club and country(s).
Matthias made his international debut for the DDR in 1986 and played 23 times before the country ceased to exist in 1990 and became the re-unified Germany we know today. Sammer has the honour as the last player to score for East Germany in a match against Belgium on September 12, 1990. Here are the famous last ever goals of a bygone footballing nation… (By the way, check out who is the number 11 for the DDR!)
After reunification, Matthias was one of the few East German footballers to make the difficult transition from the DDR Oberliga to the Bundesliga. Many former DDR players could not make the grade in a competition dominated by West German clubs. Sammer signed for VfB Stuttgart, scoring 20 times in 63 appearances before an unsuccessful spell in Italy for Internazionale. Matthias returned home to Borussia Dortmund where his influence elevated him to legend status with the fans of the ‘die Gelbe Mauer’. Scoring 21 times over 5 seasons with Dortmund, Sammer finally won his first European honour when he won the UEFA Champions League in 1997 beating Juventus. His heroics in that game will go down in folklore with all Borussia Dortmund fans.
Why, do you ask, have I selected Matthias Sammer, when Lothar Matthäus has won many more accolades, trophies and appeared in five world cups? The answer I believe is firmly down to opportunity and mirrors the difficult situation in Germany as its society tries to come to terms with re-unification even to this day. Lothar was born in Erlangen, a city twinned with Stoke-on-Trent might I add, and dominated the sweeper position during a time when Sammer was plying his trade in a country shrouded in secrecy at that time. After reunification, Lothar continued his monopoly on the libero position for Germany and was permanently in the spotlight due to his exploits with Bavarian giants Bayern München. Matthias on the other hand, did not have similar privileges or opportunities to achieve what Lothar had done. I firmly believe that given a level playing field, Matthias Sammer was a superior player to Lothar and here are a couple of examples why…
Matthias retired in 1998 due to a serious knee injury just two years after winning the Euro ’96 tournament in England with Germany, scoring 2 goals and achieving the player of the tournament moniker. After spells of managing his former clubs Stuttgart and Dortmund, Matthias now works for the DFB as a Technical Director, overseeing youth development and shadowing national coach Joachim Löw. It was the influences of Matthias which resulted in the ‘taking apart’ of England last year as his long term youth development projects start to bear the fruits of his labour. It is true testament to the progressive nature of German football and their emphasis on future development and sustainability, something that will never be replicated in England under our current governance model. With the decrepit state of the England national team and its Football Association at the moment, I’m not sure Matthias and any German football fans will lose much sleep over us. He was a classic ‘cult’ icon and worthy of his place in my XI. Welcome to the club Matthias!