Robert Lewandowski is looking to make it a hat-trick of Player of the Year awards. - © /
Robert Lewandowski is looking to make it a hat-trick of Player of the Year awards. - © /
bundesliga

Germany's Player of the Year: a who's who of the game's greatest talents

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From Robert Lewandowski to Franz Beckenbauer, Marco Reus to Lothar Matthäus and Gerd Müller: the collection of legends that fill the list of the Germany's Player of the Year award is lined with many of the biggest talents ever to have graced the game.

As all Bundesliga fans will know, Cologne were the inaugural champions back in the 1963/64 season, but it was Hamburg's Uwe Seeler who was named Germany's Player of the Year at the end of a campaign in which he racked up an outstanding 30 goals for the Red Shorts. The sharp-shooting Seeler - 72 times a West Germany international - spent an astonishing 18 seasons with Die Rothosen, where he collected almost 500 career goals and sealed his place as an undisputed Bundesliga legend who would set a high standard for those who followed.

As the years progressed, two names now synonymous with formidable commitment and unending success - and known the world over as symbols of all that is great about our beloved game - would interchange the Player of the Year baton: Beckenbauer and Müller. No other player can boast as many German Player of the Year trophies as Beckenbauer, who won the prestigious title four times in a 10-year span between 1966 and 1976. During that period, Der Kaiser won four Bundesliga championships and four DFB Cups with Bayern Munich, and he was also captain of the formidable Bayern side that won three European Cups in successive years.

Player of the Year legends: Gerd Müller (l.), Sepp Maier (c.) and Franz Beckenbauer - imago/WEREK

On a list of previous Player of the Year winners, the years between 1966 and 1969 reads: Beckenbauer, Müller, Beckenbauer, Müller. The latter is still the Bundesliga's all-time leading scorer with 365 goals in 427 games and during 15 senior seasons at Bayern, the former World Cup winner with Germany was named Player of the Year in 1967 and '69, years when Der Bomber was also the Bundesliga's joint or outright top scorer with 28 and 30 goals respectively.

With the dawn of the 1970s, the mighty Borussia Mönchengladbach dominated the list of those who took top player gongs. German champions five times between 1969 and '77, The Foals boasted the division's best individual in three consecutive seasons at the beginning of the decade. Berti Vogts - a one-club man, sublime full-back and twice a Player of the Year - started the ball rolling for Die Borussen, while Günter Netzer followed that up with consecutive wins in the subsequent two years. Like Vogts, playmaker Netzer was one of the many star attractions as Gladbach and Bayern began a blistering rivalry that produced some of the most intense matches the division has ever known.

Günter Netzer - twice a Germany Player of the Year - nets for Borussia Mönchengladbach. - imago/Pressefoto Baumann

Netzer became a back-to-back Bundesliga champion with Die Fohlen, scoring 82 times in 230 games for the club he first joined at eight-years-old. A World and European champion with West Germany, Netzer would later win league titles in Spain at Real Madrid before returning to Germany with Hamburg, where he played a key role in the club's domestic and European successes in the late 1970s and early '80s.

Before there was Oliver Kahn (Player of the Year 2000 and 2001) or Manuel Neuer (winner in 2011), Sepp Maier was the main man who led from the back for that immense trophy-winning Bayern side that scooped up all before them in the '60s and '70s. The goalkeeping great - regarded by many as one of the best of all time in his position - was three times a Player of the Year in Germany and the Bavarian ended his career at Bayern just one game shy of 600 appearances in a glittering career.

Watch: Manuel Neuer - cool, calm and collected 

There were as many as seven clubs represented among the Player of the Year winners in the 1980s as household names such as Rudi Völler - then of Werder Bremen - Stuttgart's Jürgen Klinsmann and Thomas Häßler of Cologne received the highest acknowledgement for their season's work. Matthäus, meanwhile, picked up the first of his two victories after West Germany's 1990 World Cup winning run; the midfielder memorably captaining his country to victory in Italy, where he had been playing for Inter Milan. Matthäus was at Bayern when he was honoured for a second time nine years later, while Klinsmann was at Monaco when the striker added his name to the list of award winners for a second time in the same decade.

The '90s was also when Borussia Dortmund enjoyed immense success, Die Schwarzgelben winning the Bundesliga twice, a well as the European Cup. The hugely influential Matthias Sammer was twice a Player of the Year during that time, while defender Jürgen Kohler also triumphed in what was an individual three-in-a-row for BVB.

Borussia Dortmund's defensive colossus, Matthias Sammer (l.) - imago/Team 2

At the turn of the century, midfielder Michael Ballack was making mesmerising moves for Bayer Leverkusen, who finished as Bundesliga runners up as well as reaching the UEFA Champions League final. Ballack won an incredible three Player of the Year titles in four seasons with Leverkusen and then Bayern Munich, with striker Ailton - the division's top scorer in Bremen's 2003/04 championship-winning side - taking the honours in the midst of Ballack's incredible feats. The Brazilian was the first non-German to win the award.

Legendary strikers Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez - winning for Werder and Stuttgart respectively - preceded Franck Ribery's 2008 title, while Grafite and Wolfsburg would be celebrating a year later. Over the ensuing years the list of Player of the Year winners reads like a who's who of Bundesliga mega stars: Arjen Robben, Reus and Bastian Schweinsteiger spark the imagination with wonderful memories, as do Kevin De Bruyne and Philipp Lahm.

Watch: Take a trip down memory lane with Robben & Ribery 

Dortmund's Reus would win once more prior to Lewandowski's back-to-back triumphs in 2020 and 2021. Among the prolific Polish striker's many records, becoming the first player in Bundesliga history to win three Player of the Year awards in-a-row would count among his finest achievements.

What is certain is that, as Lewy goes in search of this particular hat-trick, the Bayern superstar has plenty of competition from the division's leading lights who have all played their part in yet another memorable Bundesliga campaign.

Watch: All of Lewandowski's 41 goals in 2021/22