Bernd Schuster faces his biggest challenge yet
When Bernd Schuster is asked whether he has any interests outside the sport that is his life’s passion, he issues the following blunt response: “I am football”. The 47-year-old German is now ready to take on the biggest challenge of his managerial career: coaching
In the mid-1970s, a time when nearly all West German youngsters wanted to be Franz Beckenbauer, Schuster – who has himself praised der Kaiser for his exemplary conduct – joined Augsburg, with whom he went on to win the Bavarian league championship. Playing a free role in midfield, Schuster became the linchpin of the side and soon received a call-up to the West German national youth team. At the same time, the Bundesliga’s big guns were closely monitoring him, although Bayern Munich pulled out of the race for his signature because of the expense.
In 1978, Borussia Monchengladbach, then Germany’s top side, and Gologne, fought tooth and nail to secure the services of the promising 18 year old. Legendary coach Hennes Weisweiler eventually won the day as Schuster chose to make the step up into top-flight football with Cologne. Weisweiler was to have a decisive influence on his career, as Schuster has always recognised
Two years at Cologne were sufficient to transform Schuster into the new sensation of German football. At the tender age of 20, he was the star of the West German team that lifted the 1980 European Championship in Italy. Strange as it may seem, this virtually proved to be both the beginning and the end of the Bavarian’s relationship with his national side. A serious injury, his fiery temperament and confrontations with national team coaches and players prompted him to take early retirement from international football.
THE THREE GRANDES
Schuster’s first foreign club was Barcelona, where he spent eight highly eventful seasons which brought trophies (eight in total, including one league championship, one Cup Winners’ Cup and three Copas del Rey [Spanish cups]), serious injuries, controversy and huge disappointments. The low point of this period was the European Cup final against Steaua Bucharest in Seville, where Schuster expressed his fury at being substituted before the final whistle by departing the stadium in a taxi before the end of the match and only learning of his team’s defeat at the team hotel.
In 1988, he left the Catalan club through the back door and signed for their eternal rivals, Real Madrid. Schuster, or the “blond angel”, as he came to be known by fans, orchestrated play in midfield and spurred the Merengues on to score a Spanish record of 107 goals in a single season. He played for Real Madrid for two seasons, winning the Spanish league championship twice and the Copa del Rey once. History then repeated itself following his departure for another direct competitor, in this case Real Madrid’s arch-rivals Atletico Madrid.
Indeed, Schuster and Miquel Soler are the only two players to have worn the colours of the three grandes (giants) of Spanish football. The highlight of Schuster’s tenure on the banks of the Man-zanares was the Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, in which he opened the scoring with one of his specialities – a free kick.
A return to Germany for a spell with Bayer Leverkusen, a brief flirtation with football in the US with San Jose Clash and a handful of appearances for Pumas in Mexico brought the curtain down on Schuster’s brilliant footballing career, which finally came to an end in 1997 at the age of 38.
When Schuster qualified from the German national coaches school, Jean Loring, the president of Fortuna Cologne, the city’s second club, was almost literally waiting for Schuster outside the gates with a job offer. In his single season at the club, Schuster took Fortuna to fifth place in the second division. It then became common knowledge that he would taking over at Cologne, the club with whom he made his debut in the Bundesliga, but things did not turn out as expected. “That season at Cologne is one of my worst memories,” admits Schuster of the 1998-99 season.
He then gained valuable experience in the dugout at Xerez (Spain), Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) and Levante (Spain again) before his arrival at Getafe in 2005, where he captivated fans and neutrals alike with the attractive, attacking football played by the club from the outskirts of Madrid. His first season at the club paved the way to a second season of consolidation and success.
His second year at Getafe was crowned by their extraordinary run in the Copa del Rey, which included a 4-0 home victory over Barcelona in the return match of the quarter-finals to overturn a 5-2 loss in the first leg, and was only ended by a narrow defeat against Sevilla in the final. By then, Schuster’s signature for Real Madrid was an open secret and not even protracted negotiations and a get-out clause requiring almost half a million euros in compensation could prevent the German from taking over at the Bernabeu.
GABY AND EMINEM
Schuster has the greatest respect for Beckenbauer and still has nightmares about the day he was forced to mark Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in a Cologne-Bayern match. He cites West Germany-Netherlands in the 1980 European Championship as his best ever game, while Rome and New York are his favourite cities and the USA is his favourite country. His fondest memory is of the day he married Gaby, the woman of his life and also his erstwhile representative. Away from football he plays golf and ice hockey and his favourite singer is Eminem, although he would have liked to have met Bob Marley. He loves driving and, as befits a former manager of Valencia’s second club Levante, his favourite food is paella.
“What I fear the most as a coach is the players losing confidence in themselves,” explains Schuster. Perhaps for this reason, one of the first things he said on taking over at Real Madrid was that he would need Raul’s assistance as an ally with a strong influence in the Spanish champions’ dressing room, an environment that he knows only too well. He knows that he is not only under the obligation to win (Capello has already managed that) but to win by playing good football and bring back entertainment to the extremely demanding fans at the Bernabeu. He is a devotee of the 4-4-2 system with two holding players, one defensive and the other attacking.
In a recent interview, he said, “As a player I only had problems with coaches who had no personality. Those who have character bring out the best in you.” Schuster’s choice of sporting epitaph is equally revealing: “I would like to be remembered as a good footballer and an even better coach.”