The man who holds the record for the most Bundesliga appearances, Karl-Heinz 'Charly' Körbel played 602 times for just one club: Eintracht Frankfurt.
It was a career which spanned almost two decades, from the age of 17 to 36, and was spent entirely at the same club. That admirable allegiance has continued even since he nailed his boots to the wall.
'Faithful Charly' joined Frankfurt in 1972, and he remained there until making his final appearance for the club in 1991. He did almost break this bond in 1983, however, out of protest at what he deemed to be a broken promise. Körbel was able to prove, with some legal help, that the ambition he had signed up for was no longer matched by the club following a change of presidency. "But in the end, it just dawned on me that Eintracht were my second family," Körbel said.
Their differences were resolved in a familial manner and Körbel continued to add to his still unrivalled collection of appearances. He also steered in 45 goals. With such a record for Bundesliga appearances, it may come as a surprise to know that he only picked up six caps for Germany, making a further eight appearances for his country's 'B' team. That is not to say Körbel did not have a successful career, though. With the Eagles, he lifted the 1980 UEFA Cup in addition to four DFB Cups – in 1974, 1975, 1981 and 1988.
His final appearance was actually due to be his 603rd against VfB Stuttgart on the last day of the 1990/91 season, but he picked up his fourth yellow card of the campaign shortly before it. According to the rules at the time, that carried an automatic one-game ban. Körbel's 602nd and final Bundesliga appearance was therefore against St. Pauli as he sat out the last game of the season due to suspension. That in itself was a rarity, since Körbel did not see a single red card in any of his 713 career outings in all competitions.
While suspension rarely cost him more appearances, a broken shin did prevent Körbel from lining out in five other games late in the 1983/84 campaign. But the timing of the only major injury of his career meant he he had the whole summer to recover.
Five years later, he scored one of his most memorable goals – a header against Hannover which saved Frankfurt from automatic relegation on the final day of the season. That in itself earned him two additional games in the play-offs, and is the goal he insists was the most important of his career. That's despite the fact he also scored the winner in the 1-0 DFB Cup final victory over Duisburg in 1975.
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As if almost two decades playing for Frankfurt – and over 1,000 appearances when some 320 friendly matches are added in – were not enough, Körbel extended his allegiance with the Hessian club after hanging up his boots. First he served as assistant coach and then as the coordinator of their youth academy. He subsequently coached their U19s and twice took the first-team reins on a caretaker basis between 1994 and 1996. He briefly broke his one-club bond to coach at Lübeck and Zwickau, but once a Frankfurter, always a Frankfurter: Körbel returned to his roots again. He initially worked a scout before founding the Eintracht Frankfurt Fußballschule – a youth development school – in 2001.
He has been leading that academy now for longer than he was a Frankfurt player, though he concedes that such a level of loyalty is now becoming harder and harder to find. "Loyalty is one of the fundamental values that clubs can never put a price on," he said. "I'm proud to have resisted all offers and to be the Bundesliga's record appearance maker. This reputation and the respect that comes with it is priceless."
That pride is reciprocated by a club who have benefitted from Körbel's contribution on and off the field. "Our football academy has a huge influence on the success of the talented players coming through," Körbel once said in an interview with bundesliga.com. "When I see what we're doing in Frankfurt, and how the youngsters get the opportunity to train alongside the first team, then I think it acts like a role model to them, and I've got to say that it's exactly the right way to work with youth."
Ten years into the academy that Körbel founded, 55 players had gone on to play in the Bundesliga – 15 of them for Frankfurt, nine for Hoffenheim and eight for Mainz. "That shows how worthwhile it was to persist with this academy," said Körbel. He would arguably have nothing against seeing one of the players his academy produces one day go on to beat his long-standing Bundesliga record of 602 appearances.