Helmut Haller: Footballer who scored against England in 1966
He played the game with a certain panache and a sense of theatre, which made him a star
Saturday 13 October 2012
Helmut Haller was one of Germany's most revered football heroes, best remembered in England for opening the scoring against the hosts in the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley, and fêted in Italy for helping to lift League titles with Bologna and Juventus.
The stocky Bavarian cut a distinctive figure on the field, his thick, bright blond hair swept back from a broad forehead, his solidly constructed frame seemingly at odds with his obvious athleticism and the range of expansive skills he deployed as an old-fashioned goal-scoring play-maker, an attacking midfielder in modern parlance.
Then there was his charisma. Haller played the game with a certain panache, a sense of theatre which, allied to his deft precision with the ball at his feet, made him a star.
Augsburg was the city of his birth and his death, and also of the beginning and the end of his football career. Clearly gifted as a boy, he enlisted with his local club at the age of nine in 1948, making his senior entrance in 1957, then graduating to the international stage with West Germany under the aegis of the renowned, innovative and long-serving coach Sepp Herberger, in 1958. Haller featured in the first of three consecutive World Cup final tournaments in Chile in 1962, assisting the Germans' passage to the quarter-finals, where they lost 1-0 to Yugoslavia.
That year, too, his club career gained impetus when he joined Bologna, where his productive combination with the prolific Danish centre-forward Harald Nielsen proved a colossal factor in the club gaining their first Serie A crown since the Second World War, in 1963-64.
During his six-year sojourn with the Rossublu Haller emerged as a talent both dynamic and sophisticated. Though he always had to watch his weight, he was a deceptively brisk mover. There was a flair and vision about his passing which, when he was at his dominant, decisive best, enabled him to command a midfield. He was a natural finisher, too, adept at wrong-footing a goalkeeper with a subtle, almost imperceptible feint before shooting, usually along the ground, often into a corner of the net.
When Haller arrived in England in 1966 he was a mainstay of Helmut Schon's efficient and frequently entertaining side, at his most effective operating behind a potent strikeforce of Uwe Seeler, Sigi Held and Lothar Emmerich, and slightly in advance of the elegant, creative Wolfgang Overath and the brilliant young Franz Beckenbauer. His six goals made him the tournament's second-highest scorer, behind the great Portuguese, Eusebio, who struck nine times. Haller's tally included a brace against Switzerland at the group stage, two more in the quarter-final victory over Uruguay (some historians attribute one of these to Held) and another in the 2-1 last-four victory over the Soviet Union.
And finally there was that Wembley strike which threatened to ruin a glorious summer afternoon for a nation transfixed by the increasingly enthralling exploits of the home team. It happened after 13 minutes and it came as a rude shock to England fans after Alf Ramsey's men had made a promising start.
There seemed to be no danger when Held delivered a cross and Ray Wilson rose unchallenged to make a routine headed clearance. But somehow the ultra-consistent, supremely polished Wilson, recognised widely as the best left-back in the world, got it wrong, nodding to the feet of Haller, who was lurking unmarked in the inside-right position 12 yards from goal.
The German controlled the ball instantly and hit a low cross-shot which bisected goalkeeper Gordon Banks and centre-half Jack Charlton to put the visitors in front.
Now unfolded a contest replete with drama and controversy which ended with England's 4-2 triumph, thanks largely to a Geoff Hurst hat-trick, but for Haller that was not the end of the matter. When the final whistle sounded he picked up the ball, which he kept as a souvenir for the next 30 years, before giving it to Hurst – to whom football tradition dictated it belonged – when he returned to England for the European Championships of 1996.
By the time of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, Haller had entered his thirties, and he made his international farewell in the Germans' opening game against Morocco, during which he was replaced by Jurgen Grabowski. His 33 caps had yielded 13 goals and he had been one of the team's most high-profile members for most of his tenure.
Back on the club scene, in 1968 Haller transferred to Juventus, with whom he shone for five years alongside the likes of Pietro Anastasi, Roberto Bettega, Franco Causio and Fabio Capello. In Turin he played his part in winning Serie A championships in 1971-72 and 1972-73, and he was involved in losing the 1973 European Cup final 1-0 to Ajax in Belgrade, and the two-legged 1971 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final to Leeds United on the away-goals rule.
In 1973 Haller returned to a revamped Augsburg club, with whom he remained until his retirement in his 40th year in 1979, apart from a fleeting stint with Schwenningen in 1976-77.
Later he coached amateur clubs and ran a fashion shop. He had been in failing health for some years before his death.
Helmut Haller, footballer: born Augsburg, Germany 21 July 1939; played for Augsburg 1957-62, Bologna 1962-68, Juventus 1968-73, Augsburg 1973-76, Schwenningen 1976-77, Augsburg 1977-79; capped 33 times by West Germany 1958-70; married three times; died Augsburg 11 October 2012.
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