Football: Brehme's invitation to Gazza

Andrew Longmore meets the German player with cause to remember England's tearful playmaker
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The Independent Online
ANDY BREHME asks for Paul Gascoigne's telephone number. He wants Gazza to play in his testimonial match on 6 October. He chuckles at the thought. "Funny man, Gazza," he says. Gascoigne owes the German a favour. Without Brehme, there would have been no tears for the clown and no lasting image of Gascoigne in his pomp. Brehme rehearses the foul now in his suit and tie. "It was a foul, for sure." And the booking which ruled Gascoigne out of the 1990 World Cup final long before Chris Waddle's missed penalty? "Ja, ja, for sure." Sentiment rarely ousts truth in Teutonic priorities.

Few international players deserve a healthy testimonial more than Brehme. His international career embraces three World Cups, including two finals - one win, one loss, both against Argentina - and 86 caps. His penalty decided the 1990 final in the Germans' favour. Lothar Matthaus and Brehme were the two regular penalty-takers for Germany, the choice depending on circumstance and confidence. But, with the World Cup at stake, it was Brehme who stepped up, an eloquent testimony to his unshakeable temperament.

"The worst thing was having to wait five minutes while the Argentinians kicked the ball away and argued with the referee," he says. "I just wanted to find some peace away from all the chaos. I was thinking of nothing." The penalty clipped the inside of Sergio Goycochea's right-hand post and rolled gently into the back of the net. The kick was taken with his right foot, though Brehme spent much of his career on the left of the German defence, illustrating a point once made by Franz Beckenbauer. "I have known Andy for 20 years and I still don't know if he is right- or left-footed," he said.

Many will struggle to put a face to the name. Short, chunky, wavy almost ginger-tinted hair, a ruthless tackler, though resembling him neither in stature nor tonsure, Brehme was the successor to Breitner, the original wing-back before such terms were invented. Had England been a more fashionable, not to say lucrative, destination then Brehme would have fitted comfortably into the Premiership long before Jurgen Klinsmann demolished a few stereotypes. After Milan, where he was as highly regarded as the two more celebrated emigres, Matthaus and Klinsmann, he had an unsuccessful spell with Real Zaragoza before returning to Germany.

The lack of recognition was not just Anglicised prejudice. Germany did not fully appreciate Brehme's worth until Beckenbauer, then the national coach, suggested that he was "the most complete German footballer of his generation" before Italia 90. The public agreed. Brehme's popularity is so unquestioned these days that a campaign in Bild, the German equivalent of the Sun, persuaded the German Federation to reverse a decision not to grant Brehme a testimonial, an honour traditionally reserved for players with 100 caps.

Donations to the fund from this side of the Channel would have been coined in a different currency in the aftermath of that steamy night in Turin. English minds are freeze-framed in the virtual reality of Brehme's free- kick and the arc of the ball which deflected off Paul Parker and looped over the despairing Peter Shilton. Forgiveness has taken time to follow. "I can understand," Brehme says. "It was very lucky." Briegel, Breitner, Berthold, Buchwald, Brehme. Jammy Bs, the lot of 'em.

The semi-final against England was Brehme's sort of game, attritional, physical, a proper duel to the finish. "Everything was there in that game," he recalls. "Either team could have won. The players had real comradeship. Even now, if I meet one of the England players, we could go and have a drink and talk about it. I always enjoyed playing against England." Not least because he never lost. "It was a matter of mentality. Even if we were 2-0 down, we never gave up. Maybe other countries did not have that spirit."

"He was absolutely typical of the way the Germans approached the game," Trevor Steven said. "He was methodical, dogged, efficient. Next to Matthaus he was the most influential character in that 1990 German team, though you wouldn't have known it. He was a quiet general." Steven came on with 25 minutes of normal time remaining in the semi-final, to exploit Brehme's flank. "Before that, the Germans had our measure, but we surprised them. They were stretched there. You know, at the end, they almost felt upset for us. It was one of those games."

This time, for the first World Cup since 1982, Brehme will not be a member of the German squad. His club Kaiserslautern might have won the Bundesliga, but the coach Otto Rehhagel was reluctant to use the 37-year-old in his regular first team. Typically, Brehme took to life on the bench without moaning, joined in the celebrations when an unlikely title was won and then announced his retirement. For the next month, viewers to the German service of Eurosport will have the benefit of his thoughts and experience. For once, he and Steven will be on the same side; Steven providing expert analysis on the English channel in a Eurosport cast of thousands including Bryan Robson, Arsene Wenger, Johnny Rep and Soren Lerby.

Without him, Matthaus and Klinsmann will be left to bridge the generation gap in Bertie Vogts' World Cup squad, always presuming they can patch up age-old differences. "I remember their time at Inter," Brehme says. "Even then they weren't the best of friends." Of more concern to physical teams like Germany and England, Brehme believes, is the anticipated spate of red cards. "Fair tackling is part of the game," he says. "I'm not very happy with the new ruling on the tackle from behind. The authorities really should be looking hard at whether they are taking the game the right way." Even so, Brehme rounds up the usual suspects for the final week - Brazil, Germany and Italy - and rates Spain a potential semi-finalist. And he will watch Gascoigne's progress with interest. "He's still a world-class player and a personality. Every team needs a personality." Strange, though, that Brehme should not have Gazza's number. He always has before.