• hours
  • minutes
  • seconds
  • Share

Five German villains to remember

May 4, 2010
By David Hirshey and Roger Bennett
Special to

Editor's note: The following is excerpted from "The ESPN World Cup Companion: Everything You Need to Know About the Planet's Biggest Sporting Event," copyright 2010 by David Hirshey and Roger Bennett. Reprinted by permission of ESPN Books and Ballantine Books. Available in bookstores May 4.

Click here to purchase the book.

Along with knockwurst and Werner Herzog, Germany's great postwar gift has been to churn out soccer players the world could despise. English author David Winner claimed that "in the narrative that is the World Cup, Germany plays the role of villain: the bad guy who kills the good guys, the beautiful teams. A World Cup without Germany would be like 'Star Wars' without Darth Vader." The World Cup has a rich tradition of Teutonic heels who have managed to incorporate in a single individual everything that is despised about their entire team.

A blacksmith and apprentice boiler-maker turned World Cup goalkeeper, Schumacher is remembered for the brown-blond mullet-and-moustache combo he sported and the violence he inflicted in the name of keeping the ball at bay. Most famously, in 1982 he stopped a breakaway by Frenchman Patrick Battiston by employing a flying hockey-style hip check that shattered the defender's vertebrae and left him bloodied and unconscious -- an act that transformed him into a despised figure overnight, and a recipient of death threats from around the world, even from compatriots. His autobiography, "Anpfiff" (Blowing the Whistle), a José Canseco-style tome rife with widespread allegations of substance abuse in his national team, cemented his position as the most reviled man in German soccer.

RUDI VÖLLER (1986, 1990, 1994)
His hair and moustache combination screamed porn star, but Völler was a world-class striker who appeared in two consecutive championship matches and had an annoying knack for scoring critical goals. Despite this achievement, he is best remembered for being on the receiving end of two of Dutch midfielder Frank Rijkaard's greatest shots, volleys of spittle that landed and lodged in his curls as both men were sent off in 1990.

JÜRGEN KLINSMANN (1990, 1994, 1998)
With his flaxen, shaggy mane and slight build, Klinsmann was known as the "Golden Bomber" and looked like Siegfried without Roy. Blessed with terrifying speed, Klinsi used it to run at defenders, often flinging himself to the ground and writhing in agony as soon as they entered his general vicinity, even though -- and replays proved it -- there had been no actual physical contact. He was one of the great divers of all time. Referees never saw through his histrionics, even in the 1990 World Cup final itself, where he used them to con the referee into sending off a hapless Argentinian defender. When Klinsmann moved to play in the English league, he publicly acknowledged his own thespian trickery by flinging himself to the floor to celebrate his first goal. This became his trademark celebration, demonstrating at the very least that not all Germans lacked a sense of humor.

OLIVER KAHN (1998, 2002, 2006)
He was a brilliant goalkeeper, known as "The Gorilla," whose fans delighted in pelting him with bunches of bananas thrown from the stands. His outspoken conservative political beliefs already made him a controversial figure, but it was his intensity and competitiveness on the field that made him so utterly detestable and led his own teammate Mehmet Scholl to declare, "I am afraid of just two things in life: war and Oliver Kahn." It is said of him that, at a charity event where a number of small children lined up for the honor of shooting penalty kicks at him, he still could not stand to let anyone score.

Few players have managed to alienate as many fans, teammates, coaches, and German FA bureaucrats in a single career as this midfielder, whose brilliance was matched only by his sheer arrogance. His World Cup experience ended abruptly when, while being substituted, he gave the bird to a whistling crowd of German supporters booing his mediocre performance. His career at German powerhouse Bayern Munich ended shortly after he launched a unilateral political attack on the nation's unemployed, who, in his view, were "too lazy to look for work." But he managed to top all that by stealing his teammate's wife, and then posing with her in a series of erotic photographs to promote his tell-all autobiography, "I Showed Them All," which became infamous for its mix of sexual content and butchery of the German language. In one of the promotional photographs, he and his new girlfriend show off their fresh tattoos, testaments to their newfound love. They, too, had spelling mistakes.