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EURO cult heroes: 1972 – Günter Netzer

Not perhaps a man to buy a used car from, Günter Netzer's dazzling skills helped West Germany shred all-comers at EURO 1972 and he was charismatic off the pitch too.

Günter Netzer ahead of West Germany's 1972 EURO final success
Günter Netzer ahead of West Germany's 1972 EURO final success ©AFP

West Germany reached their absolute peak during the 1972 UEFA European Championship. Star striker Gerd Müller lit the way while playmaker Günter Netzer simply oozed class. Starting in the absence of the injured Wolfgang Overath, he helped the Nationalmannschaft to their first-ever win at Wembley in the quarter-finals, then played his part as they beat finals hosts Belgium and the Soviet Union to lift the trophy.

Opponents could not handle the creativity and verve of Netzer – then 27 – and Franz Beckenbauer, who took turns in driving the ball forward. "We didn't get these instructions from the coach," the charismatic Netzer said later. "We just did that ourselves on the pitch and it worked."

Two touches for eternity

Twice a Bundesliga champion at home-town club Mönchengladbach, the creative midfielder outraged Foals fans by negotiating a move to Real Madrid in early 1973. In the final weeks of the season, coach Hennes Weisweiler confined his captain to the bench – even for the German Cup final against Köln, which was to be Netzer's last match for Gladbach.

Günter Netzer in action in the 1972 final
Günter Netzer in action in the 1972 final©AFP

When, at half-time, Weisweiler told Netzer he would be bringing him on, the schemer refused, laying the ground for one of the great fairy-tale endings in German football. In added time, Borussia's Christian Kulik sustained an injury and signalled that he had to be taken off. Netzer removed his tracksuit top, walked past his coach and mumbled: "I am going to play now." Two touches later, he fired the ball into the top-left corner and Gladbach were cup winners.

Pop life

In terms of public profile, Netzer was the David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo of his age. His natural flamboyance and rebellious behavior nettled some, but the media could not get enough of the blond Netzer, who made no attempt to hide his love for fast cars and beautiful women. If he spoke his mind too much for some, his skills on the field spoke even louder.

Wheeling and dealing

The kind of temperamental genius who was happy to let others do the slog work on the pitch, Netzer was exceptionally industrious outside of football. During his time at Gladbach he published the match programmes; later he worked as general manager at Hamburg as well as running a night club, an advertising agency and a business dealing with television media rights.

Watch highlights of the 1972 final
Watch highlights of the 1972 final

An expert salesman, he sold one of his used Jaguar E-Types to international team-mate Beckenbauer, who – according to legend – rang him the next day to complain that the roof leaked and the brakes did not work. "Franz, what do you expect? It's a British car," Netzer reportedly replied.

Famous partnership

German fans were to witness a different side of Netzer's brilliance when he linked up with presenter Gerhard Delling in an award-winning commentary team for big Germany games; even if the match was forgettable, the volatile 'Netzdelle' duo were guaranteed to produce some entertaining chat, needling each other relentlessly though they remained good friends – Netzer was best man at Delling's wedding. The following famous on-screen retorts to Delling give a flavour of their relationship:

"That's a very wise question you ask. I am surprised"

"I am the football aesthete and you are the man for the coarse stuff."

"Wayne Rooney is unpredictable but Fabio Capello can't do without him. He's like you. You are wayward as well but unfortunately you cannot be substituted."

"I have been working in a poisonous atmosphere with this man for 13 years. I am a hero."

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