Saturday, March 9, 2013

Ever changing football – people stepping down, new blood stepping in. 1977 had plenty of retirements, legendary players too. The biggest retirement was that of the King, of course. But so much is written about Pele – better mention somebody else. Wolfgang Overath. Born in 1943, he was one of the brightest stars of the arguably best ever German generation. But there was something more – Overath was Mr. Bundesliga: perhaps the only one of the great generation, who played from the very birth of the German fully professional football. And what a start – Overath was the first Bundesliga champion with 1. FC Koln in 1964.

Early days and early fame – Overath became an instant star and remain one of the top midfielders in the world to the end of his career. Unfortunately, he was not all that successful on club level – Koln stayed generally among the top German clubs in the 1960s and 1970s, but not a serious contender. Overath never got another title. And Koln never won anything internationally. Nevertheless, Overath stayed with the club, a loyal one-club man, who became a legend long before retirement. And a big German star in time full of stars – after all, Overath had nobody else but Netzer for a rival. On such high level it is laughable to compare players – how is it to measure giants? Perhaps Overath lacked the finesse of Beckenbauer and the astonishing precision of Netzer, but the differences are tiny – he had great technique and vision, he tireless and inspiring player, his organizational skills were great, his passes sharp and penetrating. He scored a lot as well. He was very dependable and disciplined, practically never out of form – an advantage, when compared to moody Netzer, who often clashed with coaches, especially Helmut Schon. Unlike many a supestar, Overath did not shy away from mundane gritty work on the pitch and appeared modest in contrast to the often criticized playboy Netzer, or too commercial Beckenbauer and even Muller. No scandals surrounded Overath – he was primeraly associated with performance, although never considered the greatest hero – unfortunately, there was so much talent around. The greatness of Overath can be seen only when his whole career is considered – the top man at any given moment was somebody else, but Overath was right next behind.
Mr. Bundesliga captured in what he did best – giving a refined pass. Concentrated precision. He ended with 409 Bundesliga matches in which he scored 84 goals. For Koln he played astonishing 765 games, scoring 287 goals. Starting before the Bundesliga was formed, in 1962, making his mark right away in the new league, developing and growing with it, and retiring at the peak of the league, when it was already considered the best league in the world. No doubt, his contribution was enormous, but his real success came playing for the national team. He was the preferred playmaker of Helmut Schon, at the expense of Gunter Netzer.
Great stars and arch-rivals – Overath and Netzer: a problem for any coach, for playing the same position, it was impossible to field them both at the same time. Schon went for reliable, disciplined, and not arguing Overath. Netzer recognized the special qualities of his rival – he said Overath 'was born to play for Germany.' And what a career with the national team! Overath is almost unique in the world: he played at three World Cups, getting a medal every time – silver in 1966, bronze in 1970, and in 1974 – gold.
World champion in 1974, the crowning moment of his career. In total, Overath played 81 games for West Germany, scoring 17 goals. Perhaps his greatest moment was in 1970, when he scored the winning goal, winning the bronze medals for West Germany. Foreign journalists considered him the best German player then, which is always debatable – Beckenbauer, Muller, and Libuda had impressive championship as well, for many they were the top Germans. But Overath was influential key member of the formidable West German national team during his increasingly stronger years. He missed perhaps the finest moment of the team – the 1972 European Championship victory. It was not his fault – he was injured. All things considered, excellent career. If he stayed in the game just one more year, he would have ended with another German title... but there was no way of knowing in advance, that Koln will the Bundesliga. It is a bit ironic, though – Overath retired just before Koln won. Yet, he retired as a beloved legend – naturally, in Koln he was never forgotten and in 2004 he was elected President of 1.FC Koln. Herr Bundesliga, but also eternal Herr Koln.
A whole life with one club – President Overath in 2010.