Munich - Over the course of its 50-year existence to date, few players to have graced the Bundesliga have done so with quite as much natural talent as Günter Netzer.
Business and pleasure
The creative heart of the great Gladbach side of the 1970s, Netzer was a true original on and off the pitch. He was also arguably the first German footballer to cultivate his own media personality, a process accelerated by the opening of his nightclub Lovers’ Lane when he was at the height of his on-field powers. That and his penchant for fast cars earned Netzer something of a playboy reputation, although as he described it later, the nightclub enterprise was born of “financial necessity” rather than personal inclination.
Be that as it may, Lovers’ Lane instantly became one of the busiest night spots in the city, attracting revellers from all over the surrounding area. Even the stately Sepp Herberger, legendary coach of West Germany’s 1954 FIFA World Cup winning side, paid a visit. Gladbach’s coach at the time, Hennes Weisweiler, was one notable absentee however, saying of Netzer’s extra-curricular activities at the time: “He’s gone completely mad.”
While enjoying the trappings of stardom to the full, Netzer was simultaneously displaying the business acumen that would stand him in such good stead over the years. In addition to ‘Lovers Lane’ he also established the Gladbach stadium magazine and in the early stages personally oversaw its distribution on match days.
The gifted playmaker’s love of high-end cars contributed further to the celebrity image. He would routinely turn up for training with a flashy new set of wheels which, naturally enough, would get the assembled photographers’ flashlights popping. Ferraris were a particular favourite, as indeed they still are – a passion shared with his wife, although he joked: “Driving Ferraris with her is just too much for my nerves".
All of which was of course peripheral to Netzer’s phenomenal ability out on the pitch. He led Borussia Mönchengladbach to back-to-back Bundesliga titles before departing for Real Madrid CF in the summer of 1973, going on to win a further two league titles with the Spanish giants.
The moment that perhaps best defines Günter Netzer, however, came in his last game for Gladbach prior to making the switch to the Spanish capital - the 1973 DFB Cup final. Apparently short on fitness and form, he started the showpiece event against 1. FC Köln on the bench. In extra time, with the sides level at 1-1, he substituted himself into the game and minutes later duly hammered home the winner for the Foals. There could hardly have been a more fitting note on which to take his leave of a club he had joined a decade earlier and helped to the heights of the German game.
Debuting for the national team in 1965, Netzer vied for a place with another stand-out midfield talent, 1. FC Köln’s Wolfgang Overath, for much of his career. Netzer was the playmaker of choice in the team which flamboyantly triumphed at the 1972 UEFA EURO. Two years down the line, however, he watched most of the action from the dugout as hosts West Germany won their second World Cup.
Success with HSV
Hanging up his boots in 1977 after a season with Grasshoppers Zurich, Netzer was back in Germany soon afterwards, kicking off a hugely successful period as general manager of Hamburger SV. His recruitment of first Branco Zebec and then Ernst Happel as head coach inspired HSV’s most successful era to date, during which they won three Bundesliga titles and, in 1983, the European Cup.
Netzer’s next new direction was to set up an advertising agency in Zürich and work on TV rights. He is currently the executive director of Swiss marketing agency ‘Infront Sports & Media AG’. He was also a long-time football analyst for German national broadcaster ARD, striking up a congenial, prize-winning double act with presenter Gerhard Delling.
A true original
A man of many parts, Netzer’s abiding legacy is that of a football great. With his mane of blonde hair in full flow, he effortlessly determined the tempo of matches, landing inch-perfect passes at the feet of his team-mates and scoring all manner of spectacular goals.
One of the game’s true entertainers, Netzer lit up the first decade of the Bundesliga and while he may have been regarded by some as a renegade, he was a player who personified the term ‘beautiful game’. Fittingly, a reminder of his golden locks is still present at every Mönchengladbach home game - ‘Jünter’, the Foals’ cheerful mascot, is named after one of German football’s most gifted players and greatest idols.
Date of birth: 14.09.1944
Bundesliga Appearances: 230
Bundesliga Goals: 82
German Champion: 1970, 1971
DFB Cup Winner: 1973
Season, Club, Appearances/Goals:
1965/66 M'gladbach 31/13
1966/67 M'gladbach 31/11
1967/68 M'gladbach 34/13
1968/69 M'gladbach 27/10
1969/70 M'gladbach 29/6
1970/71 M'gladbach 32/9
1971/72 M'gladbach 28/17
1972/73 M'gladbach 18/3
Johannes Fischer and Bernie Reeves