Forgotten Idols: Stefan Effenberg

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For the first part of this series, on the great Dejan Savićević, click here.

The latest instalment in this section takes a look at the career of the man who, in the 1990’s, was German football’s original bad boy. The man opposition teams loved to hate, a controversial but fantastic player. The heartbeat of Bayern Munich’s 2001 Champions League winning team – Stefan Effenberg.

Instant Star

Born in 1968, Stefan Effenberg started out in the youth team of local side Victoria Hamburg, before being scouted by Bundesliga side Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1986. They instantly signed him, and within a year he had not only made his first team debut but become an undisputed starter whilst still a teenager. Blessed with a fantastic range of passing, supreme physical presence and stamina to burn, he scored league goals over the first two and a half seasons with the club.

With a talent such as his, it wasn’t going to take long for the big clubs to come calling. Bayern Munich won the race for his signature (unlike today, where, if Bayern want a Bundesliga player, there is no race) and he transferred to the Olympiastadion in 1990 for a fee of £1.4 million. Effenberg spent two seasons at Munich during his first spell at the club, and despite impressive personal performances which saw him called up to the Germany squad, Bayern did not win any silverware.

Serie A

In 1992, Effenberg represented his country at the European Championships, and was a starter in the Final defeat to Denmark. At this time, Italian clubs could outbid anybody if they wanted a player and his performances had caught the attention of several Serie A clubs. It’s hard to imagine Fiorentina bullying Bayern Munich into selling their best player in today’s climate, but a fee of around £6 million took Effenberg, along with his team-mate Brian Laudrup, to the Stadio Artemio Franchi at the start of the 1992 – 93 season.

Incredibly, despite adding these two quality players to a squad that already included Gabriel Batistuta, Fiorentina were relegated at the end of a season that saw four different managers in charge. What followed was even more amazing. Despite playing in Italy’s second tier, Fiorentina managed to hold onto both Effenberg and Batistuta, although Laudrup went on a season-long loan to A.C. Milan.

Naturally, with players of that calibre, Fiorentina were promoted back to Serie A at the first attempt, but the amazing thing is that they managed to hold onto them in the first place. Even more incredibly, despite playing at a lower level, Batistuta was selected for Argentina and Effenberg was picked for Germany for the 1994 World Cup.

World Cup Controversy and return to the Bundesliga

Effenberg’s World Cup campaign was to end prematurely following an incident in Germany’s final group game against South Korea. Following a below average performance, he was substituted while Germany were leading 1 – 0, and was so incensed at the reception he received from the fans that he “gave the finger” to the supporters. He was promptly sent home by national team coach Berti Vogts, who declared that Effenberg would never play for his country again.

Following the World Cup, Effenberg was loaned back to his first club, Borussia Mönchengladbach. Instantly at home back in the Bundesliga, he collected a DFB Pokal (German Cup) winners’ medal, scoring in the 3 – 0 victory over Wolfsburg (at that time, a second tier club) in the Final. The move had been such a success that Mönchengladbach made the transfer permanent in the summer of 1995.

With no international football to concentrate on, Effenberg began to flourish once more in the Bundesliga, a fact that Arsenal found out in 1996. Drawn against each other in the first round of the UEFA Cup, new Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger had no answer for his pace and power and he scored in both legs of a 6 – 4 aggregate victory.

The form he had shown since returning from Italy had prompted many calls for his return to the Germany squad but Vogts would not hear of it. Effenberg’s form, however, had not gone unnoticed by Bayern Munich, who signed him for a second spell in 1998. His first season back at Olympiastadion saw him win the first of three consecutive league titles. Bayern missed out on a unique treble that season, losing the DFB Pokal Final to Werder Bremen, and the UEFA Champions League Final to Manchester United.

Shortly after returning to Bayern, Effenberg did make a couple of appearances for his country following the appointment of Erich Ribbeck as national team manager. These were to be his last international caps, despite sparkling form in both domestic and European competition for Bayern.

With the man nicknamed “Der Tiger” at the heart of the midfield, Bayern Munich comfortably retained their Bundesliga title in 2000 and 2001, by which time he had been made club captain. In addition to a hat-trick of league triumphs, Effenberg also experienced the finest moment of his career as Bayern won the 2001 UEFA Champions League Final. Following a 1 – 1 draw with Valencia at the San Siro in Milan, he was one of the Bayern players to successfully convert a penalty which saw the Bavarian club crowned European Champions for the first time since 1976.

The 2001 – 02 season would be Effenberg’s last at Olypmiastadion, as Bayern failed to retain either their Bundesliga crown (finishing third) or the Champions League. With competition in midfield already provided by Owen Hargreaves, Hasan Salihamidžić and Thorsten Fink, Bayern added Michael Ballack, Ze Roberto and Sebastian Deisler during the close season. Effenberg was given a free transfer, promptly joining Wolfsburg.

Life after Bayern and Further Controversies

Despite his achievements on the pitch, Effenberg remained a controversial character, which had gifted him another nickname, “enfant terrible”, throughout his career. In 2001, he was found guilty of assaulting a woman in nightclub, for which he paid a substantial fine.

His spell at Wolfsburg lasted just one season, and was most notable for his acrimonious departure. Citing “irreconcilable differences” with the management, Effenberg later claimed that his coach had deemed him overweight. The player’s response was that he was at the exact same weight as when he had won the Champions League with Bayern Munich. A parting of ways was inevitable.

He also published an autobiography titled “I Showed Them All”, publicly slating several of his former team-mates. He saved special praise for a certain German legend, even dedicating a chapter entitled “What Lothar Matthäus knows about Football”, and then leaving a blank page.

In 2003, Effenberg signed for Qatari club Al-Arabi and played one season with them before hanging up his boots at the age of 35. Despite a few appearances as a commentator, he remained largely in the football wilderness for more than a decade following his retirement.

He moved to Florida with his family, remaining there until October 2015, when he accepted the job as manager of SC Paderborn, who had recently been relegated from the Bundesliga. At the time of writing, the club are fighting a second successive relegation battle.

Given the talent he had, the successes he achieved and an outspoken nature to rival that of José Mourinho, it’s strange that more hasn’t been written about him.  Time will tell if Stefan Effenberg can make as much of a success of his career in the dugout as he did on the pitch. It is safe to say that it probably won’t be dull.

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