Miami Schwarz und Weiß, 9th February 1999
Unlike many who would start and finish their international career with a single cap, Marco Reich’s one and only appearance for the Nationalmannschaft was not the usual forgettable five-minute run on and off. Against Colombia during the team’s tour of North America in 1999, the 1. FC Kaiserslautern midfielder was in the starting lineup and would go on to play for seventy-nine minutes.
Champion Red Devil
Born in the town of Meisenheim in the Rheinland-Pfalz, Reich had impressed for local outfits FC Schmittweiler-Callbach and Viktoria Merxheim at youth level before signing for local giants 1. Kaiserslautern as an eighteen year old in 1995. Within a year, he had worked his way into the first team.
A promising player on the fringe of the national team having made eleven appearances for the German Under-21 side, Reich had been a key member of the Red Devils squad during their amazing charge to the Bundesliga title in 1997/98. At the age of twenty-two, he was a solid pick for Erich Ribbeck’s squad and a genuine future prospect. Together with Michael Ballack, Reich was seen as one of Kaiserslautern’s two big hopes for the future, and nobody could argue with his name being on the list for the winter tour. It was the perfect opportunity for the Nationaltrainer to blood new players, and find the right balance before the following year’s European Championship finals.
Three days earlier, Germany had been well beaten 3-0 by the United States in their first friendly match. The coach rang the changes, and Reich was selected to start. On what was a warm afternoon in Florida, he walked out with the rest of the team, wearing the number 21 shirt.
In front of a crowd of under fifteen thousand at the expansive Orange Bowl, there was a very low-key feel to Germany’s meeting with the Colombians. The timing seemed illogical right at the end of the Bundesliga’s Winterpause, and this was reflected in a game that was little more than a glorified kick around.
In spite of the low-key approach by both teams and the sparse crowd, the first half provided plenty of drama. The South Americans would take the lead through Faustino Asprilla after twenty-six minutes, with Hertha BSC’s Michael Preetz levelling the scores five minutes later. A double yellow card for Colombian defender Alexander Lemus a minute before half time handed the Mannschaft an advantage, and ten minutes into the second half Preetz put Ribbeck’s men in front. Debutant Reich had found it hard to get into the game, and to make matters worse an Asprilla penalty levelled things out at 2-2 for the ten-man Colombians.
Marco Reich in his only appearance for the Mannschaft, against Colombia in Miami in 1999
Then, with sixteen minutes remaining, the young Rhinelander finally had a part to play. After his attempted cross was half cleared by Iván Córdoba, the ball fell to Preetz and then winger Oliver Neuville, whose cross was headed home by Marco Bode. Just five minutes later however, Reich’s afternoon flashed up. He made his way back to the dugout, and Lars Ricken ran on. He wasn’t to know it at the time, but Reich’s international career was already over. Just a minute later, Córdoba made up for his earlier mistake by netting Colombia’s third.
The life of a Journeyman
Reich remained at Kaiserslautern until the end of the 2000/01 season, but after that would become the sort of player he had been drafted into the Mannschaft to replace: a journeyman. Having spent four seasons with the Red Devils, the following twelve years would see him line up for no fewer than eleven different clubs. An unsuccessful year at 1. FC Köln was followed by two equally unproductive seasons with Werder Bremen, and a move to the English Football League Championship with Derby County.
Reich had finally managed to nail down a starting place and would notch up fifty appearances for the Rams, but after that it was something of a procession. He flitted between England and Germany with spells at Crystal Palace, Kickers Offenbach and Walsall, before turning up in the far from fashionable Polish league with Jagiellonia Białystok. Having started out so brightly, his career would peter out in the lower echelons of Austrian football with WAC/St. Andrä, Austria Klagenfurt and Villacher SV.
In 2013, Reich moved back home to rejoin FC Schmittweiler-Callbach, the local side where he he started out as a youngster back in the late 1980s. A short drive from his home town of Meisenheim, Reich had come full circle. After one productive season as a player, he took on the job of player coach of the second team.
Marco Reich may be a forgotten statistic for the Mannschaft, but he will be fondly remembered in Kaiserslautern and even at Crystal Palace, where he acquired cult status for scoring the winning goal to knock then European Champions Liverpool out of the Carling Cup in 2005. Like so many one-cap wonders, he was a bright star who had simply faded away.