By Manfred Christoph
In the first German Bundesliga campaign there were just three of them. Forty years later, on the final day of last season's Bundesliga campaign, the number was above 150. Foreign players have brought skill, colour and flair to German football, and the influx of talent shows no sign of slowing.
When the opening Bundesliga season kicked off on 26 August 1963, Eintracht Frankfurt's Austrian Wilhelm Huberts, 1. FC Kaiserslautern's Dutchman Jakobus Prins and TSV 1860 München's Yugoslavian goalkeeper Petar Radenkovic were the only non-Germans in action.
Radenkovic, affectionately known as 'Radi', went on to be one of the new league's most popular figures, not least for his habit of charging into the opposition half. "It is a modern game," explained the first of many players from the former Yugoslavia to enliven German football.
However, German clubs' earliest trips to the Balkans did not always end happily - 1. FC Köln, for instance, were left feeling short-changed after they mistakenly signed Srdjan Cebinac. The club had taken the player on trial along with his brother Zvezdan, but got the two mixed up when it came to signing contracts. To their annoyance Zvezdan, nicknamed 'Zick-zack', went on to star for 1. FC Nürnberg two years later.
Walking the duck
Another fans' favourite was Dutch winger Willi Lippens who played for SC Rot-Weiss Essen in the 1970s. Lippens delighted crowds with his ability to keep possession with his back to opponents - a skill which proved equally popular for VfB Stuttgart's Austrian playmaker Hans 'Buffy' Ettmayer.
Such foreign players had enormous novelty value, but with Hamburger SV's signing of England's Kevin Keegan and VfL Borussia Mönchegladbach's acquisition of Danish international Allan Simonsen, the business of signing foreign players became very serious. Keegan would prove his value to the club by winning the European Footballer of the Year award in both 1978 and 1979 while Simonsen became a club legend with his unforgettable dribbling skills.
By the 1980s, clubs were looking beyond Europe. Brazilian player Tita's move to Bayer 04 Leverkusen was the cue for his compatriots to follow in his footsteps. Not least among them was Stuttgart's Dunga, who lifted the 1994 FIFA World Cup as Brazil captain.
Out of Africa
The arrival of Anthony Yeboah at Eintracht in 1990 was the cue for another wave of incoming players, this time from Africa. The Ghanaian striker was the first of many African players to thrive in a league which now boasts players from Cameroon, Namibia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It was a foreigner who became the first player to command a DM1m fee when 1. FC Köln signed Belgian Roger van Gool from Club Brugge KV in 1976. In June 2001, BV Borussia Dortmund broke the most recent German transfer record by buying Brazilian striker Marcio Amoroso for just over €25m.
The European court's ruling on the case of Jean-Marc Bosman left the way open for even more foreign players to find clubs in Germany. On 6 April 2001, the previously unthinkable happened as FC Energie Cottbus fielded a team of eleven foreign players in a game against VfL Wolfsburg. However, even the use of three non-German substitutes could not prevent a 0-0 draw.
With German national teams continuing to perform well on the highest stages, the idea that foreign players weaken national teams has been shown to be false. The Bundesliga has been improved immensely by its foreign legion.
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