Chicago, 13th June 1993.
It is the summer of 1993, and Germany are the current World Champions. The team are in the United States, preparing for the following year’s World Cup by taking part in a four-team tournament: the US Cup. Taking part in the the tournament are Germany, the other three-time World Champion Brazil, one-time World Cup winner England, and hosts the United States.
Germany have already played the Brazilians, coming back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3, and here at the impressive Soldier Field in Chicago they are up against the hosts. After fourteen minutes, Jürgen Klinsmann gives the Nationalmannschaft the lead, only for the Bundesliga-based Tom Dooley to draw the Americans level twelve minutes later. Then, in the space of twenty-five minutes either side of half-time, Klinsmann’s strike partner Karlheinz Riedle scores a superb hattrick to put Germany 4-1 up, and the game is surely settled.
There are now twenty minutes to go, and a green-shirted player is off the bench. Klinsmann’s number is up, and the striker begins to make his way off the field. Coming on is a man who is imemdiately recognisable to most Bundesliga watchers, making his first bow for the Mannschaft. A man who had become something of a mainstay for his club side, Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Enter Karlheinz Pflipsen, wearing the number thirteen shirt made famous by Der Bomber, Gerd Müller.
Just twenty-two years old, Pflipsen was a local boy from Mönchengladbach. Having played at youth level for SC Rheindalen he would almost seamlessly make his way to Borussia, and shortly after his nineteenth birthday for make his first sebior appearance for the Fohlenelf, coming on as an eighty-sixth minute substitute for the Soviet legend Igor Belanov against 1. FC Kaiserslautern.
Pflipsen’s four minutes on the pitch in 1989 would be his only action of 1989/90, and he would not play again until the beginning of the following season – when he would make his way into the first team on a more regular basis. The attacking midfielder would miss only six of Borussia’s thirty-four league games during 1990/91, scoring four goals in would what be a breakthrough season. Having been part of the national team setup at youth level from when he was in his mid-teens, Pflipsen would also be picked for the Under-21 side.
A quieter 1991/92 would follow, but in in 1992/93 Pflipsen would come into his own as a productive force for Gladbach. Assuming a more attacking midfield role and playing alongside the likes of Swedish star Martin Dahlin, the up-and-coming youngster would score ten league goals – including an excellent hat-trick against SG Dynamo Dresden with Borussia running out out 5-1 winners.
Die Fohlen would finish in ninth place after being as high as sixth, but Pflipsen had clearly made an impression. When Nationaltrainer Berti Vogts – himself a former star at the Bökelberg – named his squad for the US Cup tournament to be held that summer, the young midfielder would be there on the list alongside such names as Lothar Matthäus, Andreas Möller, Matthias Sammer and former clubmate Stefan Effenberg.
Had be been around ten years later, Karlheinz Pflipsen would have almost certainly won more than just his one international cap
When “Flippi” stepped onto the field against the United States in June 1993 he would have been looking forward to what was clearly going to be the start of a great international career, and a possible return trip as part of the squad for the 1994 World Cup; with the Mannschaft 4-1 up, here would be an opportunity to stake his claim, and perhaps even sneak a goal.
Little did he know that this twenty minutes would constitute both the beginning and the end of his international career.
Pflipsen would not have any real opportunity to make any impression during the game, but would not have the opportunity to make any major mistakes either. It was just a sad coincidence that his arrival precipitated a comeback by the Americans, with Ernie Stewart and Dooley with his second pulling the score back to 4-3 before the end. For whatever reason, Pflipsen would not be considered for the national team again.
With his international career at an end even before he had reached his twenty-third birthday, Karlheinz Pflipsen returned to domestic football, where over the following six seasons he would become a stalwart at the Bökelberg. After what had been ten seasons, 197 appearances and thirty-seven goals he would finally move on – taking up a new challenge in Greece with Panathinaikos.
Pflipsen’s Greek adventure would see him play Champions’ League football, but with only nineteen games in two seasons it would be the start of his final transition from one-time international to journeyman. His two seasons in Greece would be followed by three at Alemannia Aachen before his made his final major move to TSV 1860 München in 2004, and long forgotten at a time when the new and young German national team were on the rise, Pflipsen would spend one last season in the nether regions of the Austrian league with Union Weißkirchen.
Like many former players Pflipsen would dip his fingers into the world of coaching, but would have a poor season in charge of Rot-Weiss Essen II in 2008-2009. Rather than engage directly with another club however, he would use his experience and newly-acquired coaching credentials to set up his own agency Sporting 11 GmbH – alongside fellow players Kai Michalke, Stephan Paßlack and former Borussia Mönchengladbach youth team coach Peter Wynhoff.
Karlheinz Pflipsen can clearly count himself among those who were truly unlucky never to win more than just the one cap for the Nationalmannschaft. He would never be given the opportunity to really sell himself on the international stage, and his never being considered after 1993 is perhaps even more surprising given the fact that half-decent German players were thin on the ground in the mid to late 1990s – just as Pflipsen was reaching his peak as a Bundesliga regular and skipper of his club side.
Many less able players than Pflipsen would go on to play more games for Germany towards the end of the nineties, but as to why this was the case only Berti Vogts would have the answer.