A tough-tackling, no-nonsense midfielder whose passing range few could match and whose finishing was just as often spectacular as it was subtle, Stefan Effenberg was a true original of the game.
A three-time Bundesliga winner with Bayern Munich, Effenberg was instantly recognisable the world over during the height of a playing career that saw the Hamburg native lift the UEFA Champions League with the Bavarian giants and line out for Germany at two major finals. Although his often combative style saw him top the charts as the Bundesliga’s most booked player – a record that stands to this day – Effenberg was a master footballing technician who was so often the driving force in the teams he represented.
Much of Effenberg’s youth development took place at local sides Victoria Hamburg and Bramfelder SV. He was later spotted by future Borussia Mönchengladbach coach Wolf Werner, who snapped the 18-year-old up and quickly got to work honing the teenager’s skills. A Bundesliga debut with the Foals arrived in a 1-0 win over Kaiserslautern in the 1987/88 campaign. It was the beginning of what would become two significant spells at Gladbach that would lead to Effenberg playing over 200 games in eight seasons for Die Fohlen.
The Tiger – as he became to be known – won DFB Cup honours in 1995 with Gladbach, but it was at Bayern where the silverware would really flow, at least in his second term at the club. Effenberg scored on his debut for the record champions following a move to the Olympiastadion in 1990.
Despite playing for a team coached by Jupp Heynckes and that contained the likes of Klaus Augenthaler, Jürgen Kohler, Stefan Reuter and Brian Laudrup, Effenberg and Co. couldn’t prevent Kaiserslautern from shocking the footballing world and taking the title. By Bayern’s standards, the following campaign was a disaster, and especially so for the outspoken Effenberg, who courted controversy at club and international level.
A subsequent move to the in vogue Serie A and Fiorentina wasn’t without its problems either. Effenberg played in a team of household names in Florence yet The Violets were relegated in the midfielder’s first season in Italy. To his credit, Effenberg stuck it out in Serie B and helped Fiorentina to quickly win promotion to the Italian top flight.
The Tiger returned to Gladbach as a force to be reckoned with. He scored in the DFB Cup showpiece in Berlin as Borussia stormed to victory against Wolfsburg and he was a mainstay for the side over the subsequent three seasons as their top-flight form fluctuated.
In 1998, the call came in from Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. Effenberg accepted and the journey to legendary status began. Successive Bundesliga titles in the next three seasons followed, as did DFB Cup glory in 2000. The heartbreak of a last-gasp Champions League final loss against Manchester United in 1999 was eased by the arrival of the club’s first European Cup in 25 years. In the 2001 final against Valencia, Effenberg scored from the penalty spot and lifted the trophy as captain.
His Bundesliga career would draw to a close as a Wolfsburg player in 2003.