Eight minutes in Stuttgart, 17th April 2002
With the World Cup in Japan and Korea fast approaching, Nationaltrainer Rudi Völler would be in the process of sorting out the final squad shortlist – trying his best to get a sighting of all those players looking to make that big impression and book their ticket to the finals. Talent was thin on the ground, particularly up front where Völler found himself having to find the right balance of experience, promising young talent, journeymen and desperate workarounds.
Experience would come in the form of thirty-something former national team captain Oliver Bierhoff. The promise of the future was represented by 1. FC Kaiserslautern’s Miroslav Klose and Schalke 04’s Gerald Asamoah. The journeyman were FC Bayern München’s inconsistent and oft-derided bald giant Carsten Jancker. The workaround, meanwhile, was Oliver Neuville – usually a winger. The long string of experienced, young and reliable strikers – an illustrious band which Völler himself had been one of in the 1980s and early 1990s – had shrivelled up, and the Nationaltrainer would soon find himself looking around outside of usual places.
One of these places was München – though not the great FC Bayern but TSV 1860, a club where Völler had once plied his trade in the early 1980s before his move north to Werder Bremen. There he would find yet another journeyman – the thirty-three year old Polish-born striker Martin Max.
Born in the Silesian town of Tarnowskie Góry (Tarnowitz) – not that far from Klose’s hometown of Oppeln – Max had moved to Germany in his teens and embarked on a Bundesliga career with Borussia Mönchengladbach. Six years at the Bökelberg had brought an adequate but not exactly spectacular return of twenty-two goals in 142 matches, before he upped his rate to a more respectable goal every three games during a four-year spell with Schalke 04.
The 5’11” striker seemed to be getting better with age, and his strike rate would improve even further when he made the move south to München in 1999. He scored nineteen goals in thirty-one matches during his first season for Die Löwen – finishing off as the league’s top goalscorer – and although this would fall away during the 2000/01 season Max’s touch returned in 2001/2002 – when his form would lead to a media campaign for his inclusion in the national team.
Germany were playing a late spring friendly against Argentina in Stuttgart, and Max’s name finally made it onto the squad list. He had scored seventeen goals in Bundesliga twenty-five games up to that point, and had seemed to hit a rich vein of form with a hat-trick against St. Pauli and a brace against SC Freiburg – victories that helped keep 1860 in a comfortable mid-table position.
The in-form striker might have hoped for a spot in the starting eleven, but would have to play second fiddle to elder statesman Bierhoff and young hotshot Klose – and then Jancker who replaced Bierhoff in the seventieth minute. It was the eighty-second minute when the 1860 München man finally took to the field wearing the number seventeen shirt, replacing midfielder Torsten Frings as part of what would be a last-ditch attempt to rescue a match where the Mannschaft had fallen behind three minutes into the second half.
Martin Max in action against Argentina’s Mauricio Pochettino
Unfortunately for Max, he was unable to make an impact in those paltry eight minutes. When the final whistle blew Germany had been beaten 1-0, and Max’s international career was over as quickly as it had begun. He was never picked again, and his short spell on the field would be the third-shortest career for a German international after VfB Stuttgart defender Bernd Martin (two minutes v Wales, 1979) and 1. FC Kaiserslautern defender Thomas Ritter (three minutes v Uruguay, 1993).
Max would take his fine form to the end of the season, and with a total of eighteen goals from thirty-three games he finished as joint-top goalscorer with Borussia Dortmund’s Márcio Amoroso – the second time he had been crowned as Torschützenkönig in three seasons. Given the dearth of top-quality strikers during the early 2000s, it is truly surprising that Max wasn’t able to add to those sad seven minutes in the Nationaltrikot.
When the World Cup squad was finally selected, Völler picked five strikers – Asamoah, Bierhoff, Jancker, Klose and Neuville. It turned out to be a well-worked gamble; by the time the tournament was over and Klose had bagged five goals to become Germany’s new goalscoring hero, Martin Max had long been forgotten.
After a slightly less productive 2002/03 season with 1860 Max moved on once again, this time north-east to Hansa Rostock where he would have his finest moment in his final season as a 1. Bundesliga player at the age of thirty-five. He missed out on just one league match, finishing as the league’s top scorer with twenty goals in thirty-three matches – more than a third of the club’s overall goal tally of 55. There was some talk about his being selected for the Euro 2004 squad, but it was not to be.
Following his retirement from top-flight football at the end of the 2003/04 season, Max returned to the game in 2007 alongside former 1860 teammate Daniel Hoffmann as co-trainer of Bavarian district side TSV Grafing v.1864 – a position he would keep for three years as he worked towards obtaining his DFB coaching licence. Like many former players, Max is also involved in local development programmes for young players, including the Martin Max Camp.
Martin Max was probably one of the unluckiest German one-cap wonders. However, there is hope that his son Philipp may do slightly better. Already a promising left back with his father’s former club Schalke 04, the eighteen year old is one of the most promising of the new crop of German players coming through the youth system.