Hans Schäfer (c.) inspired Cologne to the German championship title in 1962 and the first Bundesliga crown in 1964.
Hans Schäfer (c.) inspired Cologne to the German championship title in 1962 and the first Bundesliga crown in 1964.

Bundesliga mourns Hans Schäfer

Bundesliga legend Hans Schäfer, who three weeks ago celebrated his 90th birthday, has died. The former Cologne star captained the Billy Goats to the first ever Bundesliga title in 1963/64, and was the oldest living winner of the FIFA World Cup.

Born in the Zollstock area of Cologne, Schäfer originally followed in the footsteps of his father Hugo, training as a barber. He was also encouraged to play football, though, and his natural talent shone through even at an early age. Having survived two years as an anti-aircraft soldier during the war, he joined the newly-founded Cologne in the summer of 1948. The rest is history.

A pacey left winger with outstanding technical ability and a formidable long-range shot, Schäfer made his first international appearance in November 1952. Two years later, he became one of the nation's heroes as Germany beat overwhelming favourites Hungary 3-2 to lift the FIFA World Cup for the very first time. After his starring role in the "Miracle of Bern", many observers described Schäfer as the best left winger in the world.

He went on to captain Germany 16 times as they finished fourth at the 1958 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals in 1962, hanging up his international boots after a 1-0 defeat to Yugoslavia at the tournament in Chile. He and 85-year-old Horst Eckel are the only remaining survivors of the 1954 final, and at 90 years of age Schäfer is the oldest living player to have won the World Cup.

The end of Schäfer's national career coincided with his most successful period at club level. After winning the German championship in 1962, he was voted German Footballer of the Year in 1963, before captaining Cologne to the first ever Bundesliga title the following spring. Even at the age of 36, the veteran winger chipped in with 12 goals in 22 league games as the Billy Goats carved themselves out a piece of German footballing history.

Injury kept Schäfer out of action between November 1964 and March 1965, meaning that he missed Cologne's infamous European Cup quarter-final against Liverpool, which was decided by a coin toss. After retiring in May 1965, he worked as an assistant coach at Cologne between 1966 and 1969, before moving away from the world of football.

An inspirational leader and one of the finest players of his generation, Schäfer was described as the "most determined" of all Germany's left wingers by Sepp Herberger, the coach who oversaw the 1954 World Cup victory. Over 60 years on, he remains one of the country's iconic footballing figures.