Obituary: Helmut Schon

Click to follow
The Independent Online
From the moment Bobby Moore raised the World Cup in triumph after England's extra-time 4-2 victory at Wembley in 1966, it was almost inevitable that the shrewd German coach, Helmut Schon, would seek and eventually receive his revenge. Four years later he masterminded a quarter-final win over an England side technically better than it had been at Wembley, and in 1974 he guided West Germany to victory on home soil.

This tall and always courteous man in an often ruthless sport has become the second of football's great managers to fall victim of Alzheimer's disease within the month; Bob Paisley, of Liverpool, being the other. Schon's popularity among most of the players he coached bred loyalty and esteem. Berti Vogts, now coach to the German national team, but also a member of Schon's successful sides, said: "He was a man who only saw the good in players and people in general. For me he was the best and most successful trainer ever."

Certainly Schon's record is hard to match. He was appointed West Germany's national coach in November 1964 and finished in June 1978. In that period the Germans were World Cup runners-up to England (1966), third in 1970, winners in 1974, European champions in 1972 and runners-up in 1976. His complete record showed 87 wins, 31 draws and only 21 defeats.

Under his guidance West Germany produced some of the world's most exciting players, not least Franz Beckenbauer, probably the finest constructive defender of all time. Others included Gerd Muller, Wolfgang Overath, Jupp Heynckes and the goalkeeper Sepp Maier who might have played against England in 1966 but was injured.

Curiously, Schon was not West German but came from Dresden. There was scant early encouragement for his football ambitions since his father was an art dealer with little interest in the "working-class" passion. Nevertheless, a compromise was reached. Helmut trained as a bank clerk while spending most of his spare time becoming a good enough inside left to appear for the top Dresden club teams before a knee injury ended his career while he was with Hertha Berlin.

He won 16 caps between 1937 and 1941 and scored on his international debut. In the meantime he had been studying coaching and in 1949 he became trainer to what was the equivalent of a national team selected from the Soviet-occupied east zone. In 1950 he escaped to the West and after working with a number of clubs there became assistant to the West German national coach Sepp Herberger in 1956.

Eight years working with the formidable Herberger, who had been in charge for almost 30 years, left him highly qualified to succeed as national coach but with a different, less disciplinarian approach. His powerful German side lost to Alf Ramsey's well-organised England in 1966 (it was Germany's first defeat by England in 65 years), partly because Schon decided to restrict the young Franz Beckenbauer to marking Bobby Charlton.

He realised the error and in 1972 raised probably his outstanding team for the European Championship. He encouraged Beckenbauer in a more attacking role as sweeper and linked him with the mastermind of the side, Gunter Netzer, the attacking strength of Gerd Muller and the rare abilities of Paul Breitner and Uli Honess. They beat England in the quarter finals at Wembley to bring Schon his revenge, then went on to overwhelm the Soviet Union 3-0 in the final.

The Beckenbauer-inspired team he chose for the 1974 finals in Munich was well balanced but played without great flair until they beat a superb Dutch team led by Johan Cruyff 2-1 in the final after being a goal down after only 90 seconds. Since there were rumours that Beckenbauer was becoming more influential than the manager, possibly that day would have been the time for him to leave the international stage.

As it was he went on to Argentina four years later only to see West Germany eliminated in the quarter-final round.

Norman Fox

Helmut Schon, football coach: born Dresden 15 September 1915; died Wiesbaden 22 February 1996.