Sammer heir to throne of Beckenbauer

Clive White on the sweeper who has played a key role in Germany's success
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With his red hair and even redder face Matthias Sammer - "Feuerkopf", as he is known - looks more like a Brit who has overdone the sunbathing on a Costa Brava beach than the heir to the throne of the bronzed Aryan, Franz Beckenbauer. Yet this is the man who has been described as the most complete German footballer since "the Kaiser'' and like the great man himself is expected to lead Germany by example to their third European title at Wembley tomorrow.

Furthermore, many believe that the former East German, the first from the old country to play for unified Germany, is destined one day to become the nation's coach, just like Beckenbauer. But that is for the future. Sammer, the only player other than the Bulgarian, Hristo Stoichkov, to pick up two official man of the match awards at this championship, has made great strides in the game since his conversion from midfielder to sweeper.

His timely advances from the back, in the true fashion of a libero, have been crucial to the success of a German team that has yet to touch the heights of some of its forerunners. When Germany were overcome with self- doubt - a rare experience - against Croatia, it was Sammer who forced the penalty from which Jurgen Klinsmann scored early on. And when the Croats were reduced to 10 men, it was again Sammer who was on hand to take full advantage of the situation to strike the winner.

A man who has curtailed the international career of Lothar Matthaus has to be a bit special. Yet Germany's Footballer of the Year never considers himself as such. After steering Borussia Dortmund to a second successive Bundesliga title last season, the 28-year-old said: "I can't play at that level for the rest of my life - I'm not that great a player.''

Ottmar Hitzfeld, the Borussia coach, hinted at where he thought Sammer's career was leading when he said: "Of all my players, he is the only one who thinks as a coach.''

His thoughtful approach to the game may have had something to do with the fact that his father, Klaus, was once coach of Dynamo Dresden, Sammer Jnr's first club where he earned 1,320 East German marks a month. When he moved to VfB Stuttgart for pounds 730,000 in 1990 his salary increased thirtyfold. The "Ossi'', as they call East Germans, has not forgiven or forgotten his past. "I feel sorry for the older people [of the GDR] for whom four decades of life were ruined,'' he said. Sammer himself was once investigated by the Stasi - the East German secret police - for his West German connections.

After his peerless performances in this tournament one might expect Serie A clubs to be forming a queue outside the twin towers tomorrow, if it was not for the fact that he has already been tried and discarded by the Italians. Before joining Borussia, he spent a short spell with Internazionale. "I scored four goals in the first six games and then they bought Darko Pancev and I was out,'' he said. "It would have been good to stay but not for me as a man.''

Old Feuerkopf has already found his place in the sun.