Travelling through South-Eastern Bavaria, you will find yourself being instantly captivated by the unique atmosphere. The clean air, crystal clear lakes, rolling green valleys, and the breathtaking mountains that look particularly spectacular against the background of a sky matching the blue of the distinctive lozenges on the Bavarian flag.
If you have ever driven through the region, chances are that at some point you might have made your way past the town of Kolbermoor (in Boarisch, Koiwamoor) without even knowing it. Located some five kilometres west of the city of Rosenheim, it is one of the many small towns you will pass on the Autobahn A8 out of Munich towards the Austrian border.
Should you take a detour and take a drive into Kolbermoor, you won’t see much of the traditional pretty Bavarian chocolate box architecture. Founded as recently as the mid-nineteenth century on the back of the trade generated by the now closed down cotton mill (Baumwollspinnerei), much of what you will see is fairly nondescript – until you encounter the very modern Neues Rathaus, which looks as though it has been built using white and green Lego bricks – something you might expect to see standing next to the training ground in Wolfsburg. However if you take a good look around, there are a few gems like the Altes Rathaus and the refurbished and remarketed old boiler room (Kesselhaus).
While many Germans could probably not locate Kolbermoor on a map, it is a place that has its own little piece of footballing history. This small Bavarian town with a population of just under nineteen thousand would produce two of German football’s greatest stars: one from the 1970s when both FC Bayern München and the German national team were supremely dominant, and another who stands on the threshold of being part another great era for both Bayern and the Nationalmannschaft.
Kolbermoor’s seventies great sported Bavaria’s bushiest beard and biggest hairdo, and could often be found chewing on a Havana cigar or taking a copy of Mao’s red book into the training ground. In contrast, the town’s more recent star would serve up a number of different hairstyles as he transformed himself from a talented tearaway winger into one of Germany’s greatest defensive midfielders.
Their names, if you haven’t guessed already: Paul Breitner and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Born on 5th September 1951, Paul Breitner would spend his youth career at local club SV-DJK Kolbermoor and then ESV Freilassing (where he would be picked for the German national Under-18 side) before joining FC Bayern München as a nineteen year old in 1970. These early years saw the young big-haired revolutionary in the making develop his loathing for authority, where among his infamous escapades would be an attempt to avoid his compulsory military service by hiding in a coal cellar with the collusion of team mate Uli Hoeneß.
While he started to carve out a name for himself on the pitch, the 5′ 9″ Breitner – whose burly appearance and bushy beard made him look something like an angry grizzly bear – created just as big an impression off it. It is hard to determine what was his genuine belief and what was simply an attempt to court controversy: he could be seen posing in front of a portrait of the smiling Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-Tung, but at the same time he very happily lived the high life of a top-class international footballer. Breitner read and quoted the works of Mao, Marx and Lenin, only to leave Bayern for Real Madrid – then seen as the club of Spanish Caudillo Francisco Franco. Having made bold statements about the state of the planet, he then shaved off his beard for a shaving foam promotion that earned him what was at the time the outrageous sum of DM150,000.
Breitner arrived in Munich just in time to form a defensive partnership with Franz Beckenbauer, just as when FC Bayern were about to embark on what would become a period of unquestioned dominance in European football. Die Roten would win the Bundesliga title three times in a row between 1972 and 1974, and 1974 also saw the Munich side secure its first European club title with a 4-0 replay win over Spanish side Atlético Madrid after first drawing 1-1 in Brussels – a victory that would be the highlight of Breitner’s first spell at the Säbener Strasse.
Both Beckenbauer and Breitner would become central to the German team that triumphed in both the 1972 European Championships and 1974 FIFA World Cup, where the young left-back with the devastating shot really made his mark on the international scene. Having scored a stunning twenty-five yard effort in the Mannschaft’s opening match against Chile, Breitner went even better against Yugoslavia in the second phase, sending a thirty-yard thunderbolt into the back of the net.
The twenty-two year old’s power was combined with nerves of steel – something that he himself frequently denied. This was not lost on his team mates however. When he was called upon to take the crucial penalty in the final against the Netherlands, Breitner stepped up and delivered. The finish was calm and clinical; if Breitner was nervous, he certainly didn’t show it.
The New York Times would describe Breitner as “the newest hero of German counter-culture”, but the only thing that probably interested Paul Breitner was Paul Breitner – and it was this self-centred and somewhat haughty attitude that would anger many in the German football establishment. He was one of the ringleaders during the infamous wages debate that sent Nationaltrainer Helmut Schön to the brink of depression and threatened to derail West Germany’s World Cup campaign, and even after the final the bearded one would take umbrage with the DFB’s arguably staid organisation of the post-match celebrations.
The irascible Breitner was one of those troublemakers who was the bane of every coach. Never really wanted, but always needed. He was a man who could both entertain and infuriate in equal measure, and this was something that he himself would help cultivate.
After the World Cup final, Breitner would only play twice more under Schön, signalling the start of a six-year period in the international wilderness. The controversial Breitner and the traditionalist Schön had never really got on that well in any case, with the coach famously lambasting Der Afro for dancing naked around a swimming pool following Bayern’s title celebrations – antics that resulted in the club handing down a heavy fine.
As far as Breitner’s exile is concerned, the reasons for it have always been open to interpretation. While the player himself had insisted that he no longer wanted to play for the national side (countered by his making two appearances in 1975), others argued that his behaviour and negative effect on squad dynamics had been the main reason for his being jettisoned. After the wages and bonuses debacle, it was said that Schön could never truly look him straight in the eye again.
Breitner clearly felt that there was little more to achieve at Bayern, and having decided that the club would never really be happy the idea of naked poolside antics he would decide to move on. His move to Real Madrid after the World Cup finals created no little controversy – not for the move itself, but in the context of Breitner’s apparent political persuasion. Der Afro had over the years accumulated a number of left-leaning supporters as a result of his attempt to style himself as a modern day footballing “revolutionary”, and the move to Real – when Barcelona or even Bilbao might have been seen as more appropriate – was seen as something of a slap in the face for many.
Neither surprisingly nor unexpectedly, Breitner departed for Spain with a number of hefty parting shots aimed at both Bayern and the DFB hierarchy – as well as anybody else who might have dared to question either his decision or motives.
On a personal level the move to the Santiago Bernabéu worked out very well for Breitner, whose three years working with Yugoslav coach Miljan Miljanić saw him pick up two La Liga titles and one Spanish cup winners medal. He would also get to play alongside fellow German “rebel” Günter Netzer, who had joined Real from Bayern’s rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach a year earlier.
The move away from Germany – and the constant scrutiny from the country’s yellow press – would make the spell abroad a memorable and enjoyable one for both Breitner and his family. Whilst in Spain – a country that was witnessing dramatic change following the death of Franco in late 1975 – the bearded one would also tone down and attempt to qualify some of his earlier and more outrageous political statements, though it is unclear whether this was truly meant or whether it was a simple matter of expedience.
Never one to maintain a low profile or eschew the limelight, Breitner also found the time to extend his horizons beyond the football pitch. In 1975 he made his mark on the film world, featuring in a movie called Potato-Fritz: Masacre en Condor Pass, Zwei gegen Tod und Teufel – known elsewhere as Montana Trap. Despite the low-budget title the film featured more than a few well-known names, including the Irishman Stephen Boyd and the more-well known German actors Hardy Krüger and Anton Diffring.
After his three years with Los Merengues Breitner returned back home to Germany in 1977 to spend one year with Eintracht Braunschweig, then funded by the chief executive of Jägermeister distillery, Günter Mast. Mast’s company would become the first commercial shirt sponsor in German football and his money would help bring Breitner to the Eintracht-Stadion, but the money would mask what was for him an amateur outfit masquerading as a big-time football club – in his own words, Ein Tante-Emma-Laden, in dem alle nur über Pferdeäpfel sprechen (essentially, “a family corner shop where everyone only speaks about horseshit”). His signing had been met with great fanfare, but it was never going to be a recipe for long-term success.
Having spent just one season in Lower Saxony, Breitner headed back down south to Bayern in 1978 – where he would finally see out his domestic career. In 1979 coach Gyula Lóránt was replaced by fellow Hungarian Pál Csernai, and one of the first changes made by the new coach saw Breitner being given the captain’s armband. This second spell at Bayern also saw the attacking left-back reinvent himself as a roving box-to-box midfielder, which in turn led to the development of an excellent partnership with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge – popularly known as Breitnigge. This dynamic partnership help lift a then struggling Bayern out of the doldrums, and after five years without a domestic league title the Bavarian club would win the Bundesliga in both 1979-80 and 1980-81.
The 1981-82 season saw Bayern relinquish their Bundesliga title to Hamburger SV, but for Breitner personally it would be a highly successful period. He racked up a total of eighteen goals in twenty-nine league matches for Bayern, only three behind the club leading scorer Dieter Hoeneß (21 in 33) and ahead of the great Rummenigge (14 in 32). There were ten more strikes in the DFB-Pokal and European Cup, and Breitner’s goals saw Bayern reach Europe’s showcase final for the first time in five years. The big game in Rotterdam would end up in disappointment however, as an off-colour Bayern side failed to take their chances, falling to a 1-0 defeat against rank outsiders and first-time finalists Aston Villa.
This period of success at club level saw Breitner force his way back into the national side with Rummenigge providing the biggest source of support, though the decision to recall the controversial midfielder would raise eyebrows in many circles. Having suffered two defeats in South America following an unbeaten spell that had lasted the best part of three years, many thought that the side was lacking steel – and Breitner’s run of good form made him the perfect candidate to fill the breach.
Not everybody would see things the same way however. Nationaltrainer Jupp Derwall found himself having to accommodate a man who had thrown personal insults in his direction in the past – something for which Breitner would have to apologise for – while playmaker Bernd Schuster, himself a difficult and volatile personality, refused to play alongside him. The squad was also upset by the absence of skipper Bernard Dietz, who made his feelings known by calling time on his international career in the wake of Breitner’s return.
Breitner would make the squad for the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, and in what was a highly fractured campaign the Mannschaft worked their way through to the final at the Bernabéu – where they were convincingly beaten 3-1 by Italy.
Having fallen 3-0 behind, the Germans would finally get on the score sheet seven minutes from time. The goalscorer was none other than Breitner, who became only the third player after Brazilians Pelé and Vavá to score in two separate World Cup final matches. The showpiece in Madrid would be Breitner’s final appearance in the Schwarz und Weiß: in a two-part international career spanning eleven years he had made forty-eight appearances, scoring ten goals. For a player so competitive his disciplinary record would be flawless: he had not registered even a single booking.
The tournament in Spain had shown off what was arguably the worst side of German football, from the shock opening defeat against Algeria and the so-called Nichtangriffspakt von Gijón against Austria through to Toni Schumacher’s flying challenge on Frenchman Patrick Battiston in what was an otherwise memorable semi-final in Seville. The Nationalmannschaft may have reached its fourth World Cup final, but the team had done itself few favours in front of the watching world.
Behind the scenes things were even darker, with Derwall continually being undermined by senior members of the squad – to the point where nobody really knew who was actually running things in the dressing room. The atmosphere could hardly be described as harmonious, and once more Breitner found himself right in the thick of it. Cliques had started to develop, and with it the sniping and backbiting that would define the entire World Cup campaign.
Breitner would retire from the professional game at the end of the following season, eventually becoming part of the furniture at FC Bayern in between adding a few more roles to his CV as an actor in both film and television. He would have a brief brush with the position of Nationaltrainer in 1998 following the resignation of Berti Vogts, but pressure from elsewhere in the DFB hierarchy had resulted in association president Egidius Braun rescinding the offer just hours later. It would be a small, but typically controversial chapter in the story of this exceptional player and at times exceptionally complicated character.
In between working as an columnist, analyst and pundit, Breitner now can be seen in and around the Säbener Straße as both a player scout and an advisor to the board – somewhat ironic given his earlier reputation as an anti-authority figure. The famous beard is still there, but much greyer and considerably thinner.
Little more than a year after Paul Breitner decided to call time on his professional career, the town of Kolbermoor saw the arrival of a boy who would become the town’s second famous footballing son. One not as controversial as Breitner, but more than capable of becoming even more iconic.
Bastian Schweinsteiger was born on the first day of August 1984, a couple of months after Germany’s catastrophic defeat against Spain at Euro 1984 and the retirement of Jupp Derwall. He would be one of the first young players to benefit from the country’s revamped youth development system, and after an early youth career at both FV Oberaudorf and TSV 1860 Rosenheim signed for Die Roten at the age of fourteen, having chosen football over a career as a professional downhill ski racer.
Schweinsteiger would make an instant impression within the Bayern setup, and by 2002 was an integral part of the reserve team playing in the third tier Regionalliga Süd. Playing mainly as a left-sided winger, Schweinsteiger quickly impressed many at the club – and in November 2002 at just eighteen years and two months he made his debut for the first team as a 76th minute substitute in a Champions’ League group fixture against French side RC Lens. Schweinsteiger’s short time on the pitch saw him set up Markus Feulner to give Bayern a 3-2 lead, only for the opposition to spoil the evening with a late equaliser.
The young winger flitted between the first and second teams for the remainder of the 2002-03 season, making his Bundesliga debut as an 83rd minute substitute against VfB Stuttgart in December 2002 before making his first senior team start against Arminia Bielefeld in February 2003. A more successful 2003-04 followed, with “Schweini” making twenty-six 1. Bundesliga appearances, as well as further seven in the Champions’ League, DFB-Pokal and Liga Pokal.
In what was a rapid rise to the top, Schweinsteiger was called up for his international debut on 6th June 2004 against Hungary in Kaiserslautern – two months short of his twentieth birthday. Nationaltrainer Rudi Völler was a big fan of the youngster, and also picked him for the Euro 2004 finals in Portugal. The nineteen year old played a part in all three of Germany’s games, and despite the disappointing campaign there were plenty of encouraging signs.
In the final group match against the Czech Republic, Schweinsteger’s neat touch set up Bayern team mate Michael Ballack for the opening goal – kindling dreams of a German recovery. Two Czech goals quashed all remaining hopes and condemned the Mannschaft to a second successive group stage exit, but the FC Bayern starlet had made his mark.
The appointment of Jürgen Klinsmann as national coach following Euro 2004 would see an even greater emphasis being placed on transformation and young talent, and Schweinsteiger was at the forefront of the plan to develop and reshape the side.
By 2006 the twenty-one year old was well established in the Bayern team, and by the time of the World Cup in 2006 was seen as one of the nation’s young heroes alongside Lukas Podolski. “Schweini” and “Poldi” were among the stars in what was an enjoyable tournament for the Nationalelf, and the young pair quickly established themselves as not only highly talented players but a pair of lovable pranksters – the Mannschaft’s very own Beavis and Butthead.
While Germany’s troublesome twosome provided plenty of laughs off the pitch – best captured in Sönke Wortmann’s highly entertaining fly-on-the-wall documentary film Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen – they would also do more than pull their weight on it. Podolski found the back of the net three times on his way to winning the tournament’s Best Young Player award, while Schweinsteiger lit up Germany’s “mini-final” against Portugal with two stunning long-distance strikes.
For all Schweinsteiger’s raw talent, skill and unbridled passion, there would remain a downside. At times he could be impetuous and hot-headed, best summed up when he received a straight red card for retaliating to some expert Croatian provocation during Euro 2008. This tempestuous nature was finely balanced by his natural good grace and humour, exemplified by his apology to Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel after she had chided him – or so the story goes – for his previous indiscretion.
However, the biggest change in Schweinsteiger’s career would take place at Bayern following the appointment of Dutchman Louis van Gaal as coach. Under the Dutchman’s expert tutelage, the dynamic and at times impulsive young winger was transformed into a defensive midfielder, quickly becoming the team’s engine room. The change in direction mirrored that of Paul Breitner; in addition to developing Schweinsteiger’s game and fine-tuning his footballing brain, van Gaal’s changes provided him with additional responsibility. To the surprise of many who had followed the career of the fiery young Bavarian, he took to these changes like a duck to water.
Gone was the old “Schweini” with the bleached blond hair and attitude: here was a revamped Bastian Schweinsteiger who had fallen naturally into the role of midfield general, the beating heart of the Bayern München midfield.
Schweinsteiger’s natural footballing ability and reading of the game would be brought to the fore, and praise quickly started to come in from all directions. His signature was sought by a number of high-value clubs across Europe, and he would take his new-found role into the national side as well. Described by current Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw as the “brains” of the side, Schweinsteiger is now an indispensable figure in the German team, and looks well set to finish his career with well over a century of international caps. At the time of writing, he had played for the Mannschaft on ninety-eight occasions, scoring twenty-three goals.
Schweinsteiger was a fixture in the German team that had finished third at the 2010 World Cup and then reached the semi-finals at Euro 2012, and was a key figure in the Bayern side that reached the Champions’ league final in both 2010 and 2012. The latter in particular would be the cause of much heartbreak in Munich, as a rampant Bayern side somehow conspired to lose in a penalty shootout to a hard-working but ultimately very ordinary Chelsea. Having his missed his crucial kick in the shootout, the first questions about Schweinsteiger’s character started to appear, with some commentators started to entertain the idea that the twenty-seven year old midfielder was perhaps not such a tower of strength after all.
This would be massively disproved in 2013, as a reinvigorated Schweinsteiger not only reinforced but enhanced his reputation as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world as part of a dominant Bayern side that has brushed aside all opposition. Having won the Bundesliga title by a massive margin and reached the finals of both the DFB-Pokal and the Champions’ League, Bayern are looking at securing an unprecedented treble. With Germany having overtaken Spain on the European stage in club football, it only remains for the national team to make similar progress heading towards the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Should this momentum carry FC Bayern and the Nationalmannschaft onto greater things, Schweinsteiger stands a chance to become the second boy from the small town of Kolbermoor to win a World Cup winner’s medal. For some, it is just a matter of time, though the boy once known as “Schweini”, with his head now firmly screwed onto his shoulders, is clearly taking nothing for granted.
So ends our little story of the two boys from Kolbermoor. Well, for the time being as it is a story that still has more chapters to be written. One small town, two great players… So if you are ever heading south out of Munich on the A8 and have a little time to spare, you might just think about taking that little detour.