This latest piece will probably be completely lost on everyone under the age of thirty, and many people not quite into their forties. But I will try anyway.
Back in the early 1980s, the German national team would be viewed in a completely different light from how they are today. Today, we have the urbane, blue cashmere-wearing Jogi Löw. A bunch of coiffed and photogenic young lads that like keeping a tube of hair gel in their bathroom cabinet and a jar of Nutella in their fridge. Back in the day when everyone was still driving Opel Mantras and Ford Granadas, we had a bunch of characters who were the perfect unreconstructed pantomime villains.
Uli Stielike. The leg-breaker who looked a little like a bandit in a spaghetti western. Back in the days before he would be associated with loud jackets and awful ties. Paul Breitner. The bearded, cigar-smoking, opinionated Maoist who liked a tipple. A man who looked like an extra from a movie about the Baader-Meinhof gang. Harald “Toni” Schumacher. Perhaps the team’s most famous bad boy. Whistleblower, and applicant for the job of Patrick Battiston’s dentist.
I could go on. The Förster brothers, Bernd Dietz, Wolfgang Dremmler, Horst Hrubesch. Und so weiter.
Then there was Hans-Peter Briegel. The square-jawed, heavy set defender whose name always cropped up whenever describing the archetypal Teutonic bonecrusher. Without shin pads and with socks rolled down, the farmer’s son from Rodenbach near Kaiserslautern was the ultimate hard man. The sort of defender who was carved from granite, and whose Panini album photograph was taken while he was chewing on a wasp.
It was with good reason that Briegel was given the nickname Die Walz von der Pfalz – “The steamroller from the Palatinate”.
A young Hans-Peter Briegel, lining up for the Nationalmannschaft at the Euro 1980 final against Belgium in Rome
In May 1981 in Helsinki, Briegel scored the second of his four international goals in a World Cup qualifier against Finland. A month later, the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only was released. With Roger Moore as 007 and the lovely Carole Bouquet as a feistier than usual Bond girl who was pretty handy with a crossbow. Among the many baddies was an East German biathlete called Erich Kriegler, a villainous KGB goon played by the British actor John Wyman.
Like Hans-Peter Briegel, Kriegler had the same square jaw, archetypal Germanic blond hair and similar wasp-chomping expression. In one scene where a rather keen female character tries to get his attention out on the training loipe, she receives a stark and emotionally absent stare as he skis past.
Every time I see this, I imagine a glowering Briegel at the Kaiserslautern training ground, stomping past the army of small kids clad in red and white demanding his autograph. (There were no selfies in those days, children).
The manufactured reputation was a good distance away from the reality. Respected for his energy, commitment and physical presence, Kaiserslautern’s favourite steamroller was also one of Germany’s most popular players during the 1980s and a big fan favourite. While he was clearly intimidating on the pitch, Briegel’s disciplinary record was outstanding. He did not receive a single red card, in a professional career spanning over thirteen years.
Briegel made 240 appearances for his local club, and proved that he was more than just a defensive hard man. While he was Jupp Derwall’s defensive enforcer in the Nationalmannschaft, for Die roten Teufel he scored 47 goals. A record not to be sniffed at.
In the mid 1980s Briegel was one of the many German Legionäre to ply their trade in Italy’s Serie A. Typically modest, he eschewed the bigger names and signed for unfashionable Hellas Verona, with whom he would win the coveted Scudetto in 1985.
Briegel moved into coaching after his retirement as a player in 1988, and would make his biggest impact as the coach of the Albanian national team between 2002 and 2006. Like the comedian Norman Wisdom, the former German international became something of a cult hero. After guiding the Albanians to victories against the likes of Russia and neighbours Greece, the story goes that a number of Albanian children were named Hans-Peter.
The former Kaiserslautern man’s managerial career would fizzle out not long after that. Following short spells in Bahrain and Turkey, Briegel remained in the football world, but turned to other things. Today he is heavily involved with the DFB in a charitable foundation, helping homeless children in Mexico.
Far from being a stone-faced villain, Hans-Peter Briegel is in fact a rather pleasant guy. He can even be found cracking a smile in the odd photo here and there.
Having made his debut in the Euro 1980 qualifier against Wales in 1979, Briegel played 72 times for the German national side. He was a member of the German squad that won the European Championship in 1980, and was also part of the World Cup squads in 1982 and 1986, winning two runners-up medals.
Briegel, socks rolled down, cannot prevent Jorge Burruchaga from scoring Argentina’s late winner in the 1986 World Cup final
Briegel’s last appearance in the Nationaltrikot would come in the final of the 1986 FIFA World Cup against Argentina. Indeed, one of the most famous photos of that match was that of an exhausted Briegel, manfully trying to chase down Jorge Burruchaga before the Argentine scored the winning goal.
Born: Rodenbach, Rheinland-Pfalz, 11th October 1955
International Appearances: 72
International Goals: 4
International Debut: v Wales, 19th October 1979, Köln
Final Match: v Argentina, 29th June 1986, Mexico City