Cologne scaled the heights of the Bundesliga in the 1970s, winning a domestic double to crown the most successful era in the club's history in 1978 – a time in which they spawned not only some of Germany's, but also some of the world's greatest footballers.
Recent years may have seen the Billy Goats yo-yo between the top two tiers, but many great names have nevertheless worn their colours.
bundesliga.com has perused the generations to present an all-time best Cologne XI…
Harald 'Toni' Schumacher
Cologne's current vice-president Harald Schumacher, better known as Toni, was regarded as one of the world's best goalkeepers in the 1980s, when he won the European Championship with West Germany and was runner-up for his country in successive FIFA World Cups in 1982 and 1986. He had an injury to the Billy Goats' regular number one Gerhard Welz to thank for his debut at the age of 19, though, and he did not look back. Between 1977 and 1983, Schumacher spent a remarkable uninterrupted six years between the Cologne posts – a total of 213 consecutive Bundesliga matches – winning a Bundesliga and DFB Cup double in the Billy Goats' most successful season to date. The 1984 and 1986 German Footballer of the Year earned legendary status not just among Cologne fans, but also among a wider footballing audience as one of the best goalkeepers of all time.
One person may disagree, though. French defender Patrick Battiston felt the full force of Schumacher in the 1982 World Cup semi-final, when he ended up in hospital with a broken neck, a few teeth missing and more than just a few bruises. "I had constant headaches and neck pain after that – I had to take a total break two months later," said the Frenchman to Die Welt in 2016.
Another member of that famous double-winning side, Harald Konopka can still remember the day when he, aged 17, convinced Cologne he was good enough for them – in just five minutes. "Get dressed, let's have a chat," said the club's chief scout at the time, Jupp Röhrig, after Konopka showed his agility, passing and dribbling skills in just a handful of minutes during a trial. A full-back with such composure on the ball was a rare commodity in the 1970s and Konopka convinced also in terms of his ambitious character, dedication and overall coolness. He went on to spend 14 years at the club, playing 335 games and letting very few wingers pass.
Hear the one about the defender who broke his leg but still helped his side recover to draw with Liverpool only to be beaten by the toss of a coin? That's Wolfgang Weber. In the quarter-final of the 1964/65 European Cup, a replay was needed to determine the winner between Cologne and Liverpool after two draws, and Weber was lying on the physio's table with his side 2-0 down after half an hour. The doctors were not sure how his leg was and told him to jump off the table to see, at which point he broke the already fractured bone. He nevertheless emerged to play the second half "so we at least had ten and a quarter men," and Cologne levelled the match, meaning a toss of the coin was necessary to determine who would reach the semi-final. Even that proved too close to call, though, as the coin stuck in a divot – on its edge. Weber could only watch on in agony as the adrenaline disappeared and he started to feel his broken limb. The second toss of the coin landed in Liverpool's favour to end Cologne's European Cup campaign, and start Weber's agony.
Further controversy followed a year later when Weber scored the equalising goal in the 1966 World Cup final, only for Geoff Hurst's disputed effort to seal victory for England. With 356 games for Cologne and 53 for his country, it is fair to say Weber has been there, done that and got the marks to prove it.
It is no coincidence that the words 'humble' and 'Hector' start with the same letter: they are two of a kind. Hector has been an almost ever-present for Germany since 2014, earning his place with his reliable consistency for Cologne. "Jonas has got a lot of depth, he really understands the game," Germany coach Joachim Löw said in March 2018. "He defends, attacks and passes well. He also knows when to sit back and get stuck in, and when to go forward. Above all, he's reliable and has a cool head."
That coolness and humility can be seen in his path to stardom, which passed through fifth-division Auersmacher as a 20-year-old and saw him turn down the offer to join Saarbrücken's youth academy because he preferred to "continue playing with my friends." Once at Cologne, he patiently played two seasons in their reserves before breaking into the first team in 2012 and receiving the captain's armband in February 2016. He helped the Billy Goats qualify for the UEFA Europa League and despite their subsequent Bundesliga struggles, he remained a firm first choice for club and country. He has even re-affirmed his commitment to the club by signing a new deal until 2023 despite their relegation.
Pierre Littbarski was studying to become a finance clerk when he earned his big break from Cologne and decided to ditch his studies. The Billy Goats could probably have done with the expertise he had acquired in the lecture hall, though, considering they spent just 13,000 Deutschmark to sign him compared to a league record one million for Roger van Gool, with Littbarski certainly proving to be the wisest buy.
He struck 89 goals in 234 games, playing in an attacking midfield role, while Belgian van Gool found the back of the net just 28 times in 96 outings – as a striker. One of the most important goals of his Cologne career proved to be the decisive one in the 1-0 victory over city rivals Fortuna Köln in the 1983 DFB Cup final – his only trophy at club level, prior to winning the World Cup with Germany in 1990.
Thomas 'Icke' Häßler was another of Germany's 1990 World Cup winners, although he could hardly have a more contrasting style to Littbarski's. Born, like Littbarski, in the fertile Berlin suburb of Wedding, which has also reared the likes of Niko Kovac, Antonio Rüdiger, John Brooks and Christian Ziege, Häßler honed his technique playing on the concrete yards of the underprivileged neighbourhood.
His pint-sized stature set him apart, with a low centre of gravity lending him the technique and skills to dribble his way around defenders and make spaces for his teammates. He scored 17 goals in 149 games for Cologne before spending four seasons in Italy's Serie A with Juventus and Roma, where he played with the likes of Roberto Baggio and Francesco Totti. "I remember at the end of training one day, I was practising free-kicks and a lad came up to me and asked if he could practise with me," Häßler recalls. That boy was Totti.
A 1974 World Cup winner, Heinz Flohe was one of the innovators of German and world football, performing tricks which few imagined even possible with a football, and improvising his way out of sticky situations. He may not have been such a prolific midfielder – although 77 goals in 329 games is hardly an embarrassing return – Flohe's strength was in his creativity, with his Cologne teammates benefiting from his talents in what was undoubtedly the most successful era in the club's history.
Indeed, the fleet-footed Flohe was part of the side which won a Bundesliga and DFB Cup double in 1978, while he got his hands on the DFB Cup a further two times, finishing runner-up on three occasions. The creative midfielder made even the most difficult things look simple – and that includes taking a penalty under pressure: he did not miss one in his 14-year career, scoring also in the 1979 European Championship final.
The German with a Brazilian spirit, Wolfgang Overath had the technical ability previously only seen in Samba stars, with the ability to thread a needle from 40 yards with his precise left peg. He finished first, second and third in three World Cup appearances, but perhaps did not earn the acclaim he deserved due to his insistence on spending an entire career of 542 games – a club record – with 83 goals, at Cologne.
What he may have lacked in terms of pace, he more than made up for it in his agility and perpetual movement, making him an unpredictable and hard-to-handle prospect for any defender, while his eye for goal did not diminish once pulled back from his original position as a striker to perform in an attacking midfield role. With arguably one of the best left legs in the history of the game, Overath was equally a threat from dead ball situations, while his quick-thinking and technique often saw him steal a march on opponents and create chances.
A pacey left winger with outstanding technical ability and a formidable long-range shot, Schäfer will go down not only as one of the greatest Cologne players of all time, but one of the finest German players in history. He made his first international appearance in November 1952 and two years later, he became one of the nation's heroes as Germany beat overwhelming favourites Hungary 3-2 to lift the World Cup for the very first time. After his starring role in the 'Miracle of Bern', many observers described Schäfer as the best left winger in the world.
After winning the German Championship in 1962, he was voted German Footballer of the Year in 1963, before captaining Cologne to the first ever Bundesliga title the following spring. Even at the age of 36, the veteran winger chipped in with 12 goals in 22 league games as the Billy Goats carved themselves out a piece of German footballing history, and his 304 goals in 507 games will take some beating.
With a name like Müller, you know you are getting one thing. No, not rice pudding: goals. Like his namesakes Gerd and Thomas, who own places in Bayern Munich's history books, Dieter has a worthy place in Cologne's annals thanks to his 205 goals in 304 games, including 34 alone in the 1976/77 season – enough for the Torjägerkanone. Six of those came in one game – between the 12th and the 85th minutes of Cologne's 7-2 win over Werder Bremen - making him the only player in Bundesliga history to plunder half a dozen goals in a single match. Meanwhile, his 24 in the subsequent season was matched only by Gerd as the Müllers shared the top-scorer's prize.
He had his stepfather to thank for such a goal-rich name, however. Born Dieter Kaster as the son of the former St Pauli and Kickers Offenbach defender, he changed his surname to that of his stepfather shortly after joining the Billy Goats in 1973, perhaps aware of the history he was about to write.
One of his nine goals in 12 appearances for West Germany came in the final of UEFA Euro 1976, while he also appeared in the World Cup two years later.
Prinz Poldi, as the German forward became affectionately known, was hailed as "one of the best players Germany has produced" by national team coach Löw, who had the honour of giving Podolski most of his 130 Germany appearances, which accrued 49 goals. While arguably he enjoyed a much better career at international level then he did for his club, Podolski nevertheless played himself into the hearts of his home town club's fans with two stints at the club, sandwiching several seasons at Bayern in between.
His 21 goals in Bundesliga 2 saw a new star being born in the 2004/05 season, while he added 12 in his first season in Germany's top flight, earning that move to Munich. He came home three years later, though, and despite a disappointing return of just two goals in the 2009/10 campaign, he went into double figure again in 2010/11 and 2011/12, when he scored 18 in 29 to become one of the hottest commodities on the transfer market, eventually signing for Arsenal in the English Premier League. Despite moving to Japan in 2017, Podolski never misses an opportunity to return to his roots, where he even opened a kebab shop last year.
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