Borussia Mönchengladbach legend Günter Netzer was the first German player whose celebrity lifestyle off the field matched his ability on it. - © IMAGO / Sven Simon
Borussia Mönchengladbach legend Günter Netzer was the first German player whose celebrity lifestyle off the field matched his ability on it. - © IMAGO / Sven Simon
60 years of Bundesliga

Günter Netzer: the original Bundesliga superstar


Playmaker and playboy, rebel and realist, multi-faceted businessman and prize-winning television pundit: Günter Netzer was the first true Bundesliga superstar.

Spearhead of a golden Foals generation

Two Bundesliga titles with Borussia Mönchengladbach at the start of the 1970s, two La Liga ones with Real Madrid midway through the same decade, and a UEFA European Championship winner's medal as West Germany's creative linchpin in 1972 provide the bare statistical bones of a playing career that still resonates down through the decades. Netzer was, and remains, one of a kind.

As a youngster playing for hometown club 1. FC Mönchengladbach, Günter's precocious talent for combining football and finance came back to haunt his father, with whom he had agreed a five Deutschemark bonus for every goal he scored. After one particularly productive outing, Netzer later recalled that his dad had insisted on renegotiating terms. "I could certainly see where he was coming from. Five marks multiplied by 28 goals was a fairly gigantic sum back then."

Watch: The 10 top goals scored between Gladbach and Bayern

At 19, Netzer penned his first professional contract at Gladbach and by the time the club made the leap from the Regionalliga to the Bundesliga two years later, in 1965, Netzer was already running the show in midfield. Alongside the likes of Berti Vogts, Herbert Laumen and Jupp Heynckes, the loping general with the trademark blonde mane and unmatched skillset was a key player in the original Foals side which rapidly rose to challenge Bayern Munich as the dominant domestic force for most of the 1970s. "For me, it was heaven," Netzer recalled. "To have the opportunity to help build up something like that in my own back yard." 

'A genius'

Help he certainly did. "Günter was a footballing genius," fellow Mönchengladbach native and Borussia's all-time top scorer Heynckes later recalled. "A great midfield strategist who made the telling pass and delivered fantastic free-kicks and corners." As Netzer's on-field fame grew, so his off-field interests expanded. As well as opening a night club in the city and developing a penchant for Ferraris, Netzer enjoyed mixing with Germany's artistic community, noting with fascination "the crazy way they go about their business, and how they compare with footballers."

Netzer subbed himself on in the 1973 DFB Cup final... and duly won it. - IMAGO/Horstmüller

Anything but your average footballer himself, the playmaker general bowed out at Gladbach in unforgettable fashion in the 1973 DFB Cup final. Having been controversially left out of the starting XI by head coach Hennes Weisweiler, he took the liberty of subbing himself on in extra time, before promptly drilling home a spectacular winner against regional rivals Cologne. With that, he was off to Real Madrid and further title success.

Highs and lows

Netzer's finest hour with the national team came in 1972, meanwhile, when his inspirational midfield displays helped a West Germany team widely considered the most exciting of the pre-reunification era to European Championship success. A first-ever victory over England at Wembley in the quarter-finals helped pave the way for a one-sided demolition of the USSR in the final.

Wolfgang Overath (l.) had pulled ahead of Netzer (r.) by the time the 1974 FIFA World Cup rolled around. - IMAGO / Frinke

By the time the 1974 FIFA World Cup swung around however, new national team coach Helmut Schön had swung towards Cologne's Wolfgang Overath as his creative playmaker of choice, and Netzer barely featured as the hosts marched through to their second world title. He duly picked up his winner's medal but, true to character, admitted that he "never really felt like a world champion."

Bundesliga hitting the 'absolute summit'

His fame nonetheless continues to precede him like few other members of that triumphant class of '74, and that is doubtless down to subsequent high-profile ventures into management and above all television punditry. In that capacity, Netzer was an unsurprisingly trenchant critic of substandard football, although without ever being inclined to wallow in any perceived golden age from his own playing days. Reflecting on the Bundesliga's 50th anniversary 10 years ago, on the back of the first all-German UEFA Champions League final between Bayern and Borussia Dortmund in 2013, he noted, "We're at the absolute summit, with records falling left, right and centre. On a sporting level, it can hardly get any better."

Netzer's footprints are part of the DFB Walk of Fame in Berlin. - Bongarts/Getty Images

For the national team, itself very much a child of the Bundesliga, it did indeed get better and Germany's spectacular fourth World Cup triumph in Brazil in 2014 will live long in the memory. Together with long-standing co-analyst Gerhard Delling, Netzer was also awarded a national media prize for language in 2008. First and foremost, though, he is remembered to this day for his eloquence out on the pitch, and as the exceptional footballing talent who broke the Bundesliga mould.

Career statistics:

Date of birth: 14 September 1944
Bundesliga appearances: 230
Bundesliga goals: 82
Bundesliga champion: 1970, 1971
DFB Cup winner: 1973

Season, club, appearances/goals:

1965/66, Gladbach, 31/13
1966/67, Gladbach, 31/11
1967/68, Gladbach, 34/13
1968/69, Gladbach, 27/10
1969/70, Gladbach, 29/6
1970/71, Gladbach, 32/9
1971/72, Gladbach, 28/17
1972/73, Gladbach, 18/3

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