Whether young or old, everyone in the stadium, indeed everyone in Cologne knows Overath the footballer. He had a sweet left foot and was a genius in possession, the driving force, the brains of the team, a battler, a rebel, a leader and an oppressor.
He was a superstar whose career peaked with victory in the 1974 FIFA World Cup”. Overath also played in the 1966 final at Wembley, and in Mexico four years later, his goal against Uruguay sealed victory in the play-off for third place. His international career drew to a close with that memorable win over the Netherlands in 1974, Overath explaining his decision to retire with “there’s nothing else left”.
His decision to quit the national team was impeccably timed, just like his retirement from club football three years later. Overath actually took a while to heed the warnings of Cologne’s rather unpopular coach Hennes Weisweiler but in the end he jumped before he was pushed, although as it turned out, he could have said farewell in rather more spectacular style. As fate would have it, in 1978 – one year after his retirement – Cologne, led by their new heroes Heinz Flohe and Herbert Neumann, finally clinched their long-awaited second league title.
Overath had retired from the game, but he had not said goodbye to the sport altogether. “In my heart and soul, I am a footballer,” he would often say, proving it on an almost daily basis. In scenes rather reminiscent of Groundhog Day, people would forever cross paths with Cologne’s former number 10, a man with dark shaggy hair, an ascetic figure, bright eyes, nimble feet and a sharp reply. As the years went by, Uwe Seeler put on weight and Gunter Netzer lost his pace, but Wolfgang Overath barely changed.