The constellation of German football history features a dazzling galaxy of stellar names, but long after his death Helmut Schön's star burns bright. The towering man from Dresden, who defied his art salesman father merely by playing football in the city's narrow lanes (he was, he always said, a "cobble and asphalt player"), became the finest inside-left of his generation. Yet it is as a coach that he lives on in the hearts and minds of so many.
After an eight-year apprenticeship as assistant to Sepp Herberger he took the West Germany reins in 1964 and enjoyed immediate if ultimately unrewarded success as he guided the side to the 1966 FIFA World Cup final where they lost to England. His was a side steeped with emerging talent, the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Günther Netzer and Gerd Müller – the real challenge was managing the egos that came with it. By the start of the next decade, Schön had perfected the art.
Third at the 1970 World Cup, after more fine-tuning and the addition of the likes of Uli Hoeness and Paul Breitner, West Germany were unstoppable two years later at the UEFA European Championship. "We had an incredible squad with big personalities but created a really good camaraderie in qualifying," recalled Hoeness. "That squad was Germany's finest and I believe that was all down to Schön, a great character. He managed to bring all these people together; so many strong personalities."
None stronger than Müller, the star striker with a reputation for not always being the easiest player to get along with. It is telling that he counts Schön as his greatest coach, praising a man perpetually in high spirits, a man whose air of togetherness was infectious, a man who, at 56, was still insatiable during training. "Coaches like him are not really possible anymore," added Beckenbauer. "Helmut Schön was an incredible human being and like a father to us all.
"Everybody liked him and he was there for all the players, taking part in everything. Nowadays a coach simply does not have the time to worry about his players like that. Everybody wanted to play in the national team because they knew Helmut Schön would take care of them. Back then we had so many games, so many competitions, so many friendlies, and at times you felt some were superfluous. But Helmut Schön always made it an exciting experience. We loved joining up for internationals."
That passion showed, running through the 3-0 victory over the Soviet Union in the 1972 final, then the victorious 1974 World Cup campaign and right up to the 1976 EURO final when Antonín Panenka's outrageous penalty for Czechoslovakia denied West Germany a unique hat-trick. Nearly four decades later, Spain did achieve that same feat. Del Bosque, who replaced Luis Aragonés after UEFA EURO 2008, broke Schön's record as the oldest man to guide a side to World Cup success in South Africa; he matched that by lifting the Henri Delaunay Cup in Kyiv, too.
However, Del Bosque will struggle to engender the same level of veneration Schön's charges reserve for the German. Beckenbauer recalls Schön with the reverence of a favourite son, though so do Maier, Hoeness and others. Yet when the 1974 World Cup-winning team arrived at Schön's home in Wiesbaden in September 1990 to celebrate his 75th birthday there was no competition – under Schön they were always family.
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