"When I first became a coach, my mum looked at me like I had become a street cleaner," said Rudi Gutendorf. "She thought there was no future in sport and would have preferred me to become a civil servant."
A settled working life, however, was not to be his destiny. Now 88, the German holds a world record having coached 55 teams during his career, including 18 national sides. "I can't remember all the clubs I've coached, but it's a record that will probably never be broken," continued the former Bermuda, Bolivia, Antigua, Australia, New Caledonia, Fiji, Chile, Nepal and Tonga boss – nicknamed 'Restless Rudi' – looking back on a career spanning five continents.
He first made his name in 1963/64, when he employed a rather unusual tactic to lead the Meidericher SV – now MSV Duisburg – to a spectacular runners-up finish in the inaugural Bundesliga season. "I pulled all my players back to cover and left a lone striker up front," he recalled. "Whenever our opponents got frustrated and careless because they couldn't score, I jumped up and spread my arms out wide. That was the signal for everybody to pile forward from the back. That's how we finished runners-up, just behind 1. FC Köln. It was a miracle."
A miracle of another sort occurred at the end of his career, on 8 April 2000, as Gutendorf's Rwanda national team earned a 2-2 draw against an all-star Ivory Coast side in a FIFA World Cup qualifier. At a time when the country was still horribly scarred by years of civil war, it was an astounding achievement. "I was almost delirious with joy," Gutendorf remembered. "Hutu and Tutsi were hugging and kissing. Their fathers' generation still wanted to cut each other's throats, but now the sons were embracing on the pitch and in the stands. That was probably the most beautiful moment of my career."
Amid all his foreign postings, Gutendorf was still an in-demand coach in Germany – he notably took charge of Hamburger SV, Hertha BSC Berlin and FC Schalke 04, leading the Gelsenkirchen outfit to the 1969/70 European Cup Winners' Cup semi-finals. His Schalke squad were given a unique work ethic by Gutendorf, who insisted they assemble for training at 5am outside a local coal mine so they could get a taste of the challenges faced by pitmen in the Ruhr Valley – once the core of Schalke's support.
However, Gutendorf rarely stayed in Germany for long, with overseas adventures luring him away to unlikely places. "I was always working with the poorest of the poor," he said with a devilish laugh. "Why did I do that? That's a good question. My wife always asked me that too. I think it was some sort of mission for me. Above all, I probably felt it was the right thing to do."
In 2011, his services to football were honoured with Germany's Federal Cross of Merit in the Officer's Cross class. He has been happily settled in his home town, Koblenz, for some years now, yet remains an immensely popular figure, delighted to share memories of his footballing life on television and his busy Facebook page. "I'm just your typical cheery soul from the Rhineland," he said. "When I kick the bucket, I want my life to have been worth it. That's why I enjoyed taking the biggest risks."
Do you know anybody who can compare to 'Restless Rudi'? Let us know below
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