With a record breaking 9th Bundesliga title for Philip Lahm, he becomes the most decorated Bundesliga player of all time in his final season. It’s been a celebratory season for Germany with Lahm retiring and Lukas Podolski announcing his retirement from the German National Team has seen the German people bid farewell to two heroes. That got me inspired to compose a top ten list of the greatest German footballers of all time. Around 51 players were considered and it was difficult to be able to name 10 that stood out from the rest. The requirements for the list was simple, how much did you win throughout your career and how instrumental were you to your teams’ success. In the end I got 10 while regrettably leaving notable names off the list such as Schweinsteiger, Ozil, Klose, Klinsmann and Kroos. Without further ado, here’s my chosen 10 greatest Germans of all time.
10. Fritz Walter
The list begins with a real throwback of a player with attacking midfielder Fritz Walter. Walter had made his 1st team debut for Kaiserslautern at 17 years old in 1937. He then made his German National Team Debut in 1940 at the age of 20. His career was heavily interrupted when he was drafted into service for Nazi Germany in WWII. Having no choice but to serve his nation, he was captured by Soviets and sent to a gulag in Hungary. Became a prisoner of war until 1945 when a Hungarian guard who recognized him, helped free him from the prison. He returned to Kaiserslautern in 1945 but suffered from Malaria. He went on to find top form in the early 1950s by leading Kaiserslautern to two German league titles in 1951 and 1953. In 1951, Walter was recalled to the German National Team and was named Captain. He went on to Captain the 1954 World Cup Winning German National Team and won the Final over Hungary, the nation where he spent a couple years as a prisoner. At the same time of all that, his brother Ottmar Walter was on the squad as well and they won together. He also won the World Cup Bronze Ball that year. His final cap for the national team came in 1958 at the World Cup Semifinal against Sweden where he suffered a tournament ending injury. That became his final cap and he retired from football in 1959. Kaiserslautern’s stadium is now named after him and he passed away in 2002 at 81. 33 goals in 61 caps, who knows what could’ve been of Walter’s career if not interrupted by the 2nd World War. Even with that, 2 German titles, and captaining his side to a World Cup victory and another World Cup Semifinal appearance makes him immortal and 10th on this list.
9. Karl-Heinze Rummenigge
You may know him now as the Chairman for Bayern Munich, Rummenigge was a prolific and skilled forward for Bayern Munich throughout the 1980s. Was signed to Bayern Munich in 1974 and made his global breakthrough after the hiring of Csernai in 1979. Rummenigge has credited Csernai for adding goal scoring to his game. That along with the arrival of Paul Breitner in 1978 made Bayern the dominant force of Germany. He had taken part in the European dominance of Beckenbauer’s Bayern in 1975 and 1976 but he didn’t become one of the best in the world until later in the decade. He won back to back Bundesliga titles in 1980 and 1981 and later won 2 Pokals in 1982 and 1984. In the middle of that success, he won EUROs 1980 with Germany by defeating Belgium and finished Runner up, losing to Italy in Madrid at World Cup 1982. He earned back to back Ballon d’Ors in 1980 and 1981, one of seven players to win back to back Ballon d’Ors. Was the Bundesliga’s top striker on three occasions in 1980-81 and 84. Led the European Cup in 1981 as well scoring 6 goals. Rummenigge was sold to Inter in 1984 but his Inter career was marred by injuries and he was unable to win any silverware in Italy. He played in World Cup 1986 and lost to Maradona’s Argentina in the final but not without Rummenigge playing his role and scoring a goal in the final. He went to the Swiss League in 1987 and was the league’s top scorer in his final season in 1989. In his career he amassed 95 caps and got 45 goals, he’s Germany’s 11th most capped player, and has the 5th most goals in German history. Also the 10th best scorer in Bundesliga history and Bayern’s 2nd most prolific scorer ever. By ability, may be Germany’s greatest striker ever due to his incredible dribbling and eye for long shots. Germany’s most complete striker comes in at 9th.
8. Sepp Maier
Germany is known to have the most world class goalkeepers on the planet. Sepp Maier may have set that standard first. One of Germany’s greatest goalkeepers, “The Cat From Anzing,” spent his entire career at Bayern Munich and played his career on the famous Beckenbauer/Muller 1970. Sepp Maier played an incredible 442 consecutive matches for Bayern Munich between 1966 and 1979. He was recalled to the German National Team for 4 World Cups but played in 3 of them. Having sat out the 1966 World Cup in England, he started for Germany in 1970 and lost to Italy in the Semifinals. Maier was able to achieve international success by winning EUROs 1972. He achieved glory by winning the World Cup on home soil in 1974 over Cruyff’s Holland in Munich. At EUROs 1976, his Germany finished runner up and Maier was on the receiving end of the legendary Panenka Penalty that sealed Czechoslovakia’s triumph. Maier’s final major tournament was a disappointing one when Germany lost in the 2nd Round of the 1978 World Cup. He won 4 Bundesliga titles, 4 Pokals and 3 consecutive European Cups, along with a World Cup and a triumph at EUROs 1972. He amassed a total of 95 caps in total. An incredible and decorated career, he was right in the middle of Germany’s 1970s golden age. And it gets him 8th on this list.
7. Philipp Lahm
This season, Philipp Lahm announced that he’d retire at the end of this season to cap off what has been one of the most decorated careers of all time. Called a genius by his former manager Pep Guardiola, he could play either fullback position and the defensive midfield. Considered one of the best fullbacks of his generation, his versatility and tactical intelligence made him dangerous from either wing. He could also lock the wings down with his precise tackling and his genius interceptions. Bayern relied on him to be a rock out at the fullback positions for many years. Starting his career at Stuttgart, he had an excellent 2004 season which earned him a call up to EUROs 2004 but Germany disappointed and crashed in the group stages. He became 1st team fullback for Bayern in 2006 and became 1st team fullback for Germany at World Cup 2006 in Germany. He had almost left Bayern for Barcelona or Manchester United in 2008 after losing in the final to Spain at EUROs 2008. He chose to stay at Bayern and achieved incredible success winning 9 Bundesligas and 6 Pokals while with Bayern. After losing in two Champions League Finals to Inter and Chelsea, Bayern would achieve European glory, winning the treble in 2013 and would captain Bayern when winning the Champions League Final over Borussia Dortmund. He would also finally achieve international glory in 2014 after finished 3rd at his previous two World Cups and was a EUROs 2008 finalist AND lost in the semifinals of EUROs 2012. Lahm had to wait his turn to achieve the incredible glory that is the Champions League and the World Cup, but one of the greatest fullbacks of all time was able to achieve it. He would retire from international football in 2014 after his World Cup triumph and is retiring this year, already notching a record , 9th Bundesliga title with Bayern this season. He makes it to 7th on my list.
6. Manuel Neuer
A pretty young entry on this list, Neuer gets a nod because despite his age, only being 31, he’s accomplished a career’s worth of accolades already. As of now, Neuer is considered as the top goalkeeper on planet earth and he has a World Cup to prove it. Making his first team breakthrough in 2006 for Schalke, he helped Schalke become competitors for both Bundesliga and European Titles, reaching the Semifinals of the Champions League in 2011. Due to his wonderous form in Gelsenkirchen, he was tipped to succeed Jens Lehmann as Germany’s number one shot stopper. This claim was truly put to the test when Rene Adler sustained an injury and couldn’t go to World Cup 2010. Neuer would step up and take over the role as German Goalkeeper and performed very well. He even had a worldie of an assist, bombing a long ball that was put away for a goal by Miroslav Klose with only one touch. Germany went on to finish 3rd in the tournament, losing to eventual winners Spain in the Semifinals. He left Schalke for Bayern Munich in 2011, one season after being named Captain of Schalke at the age of 25. Neuer would also win his only trophy with Schalke in his final season with a Pokal triumph. He was bought for 22 million Euros by Bayern, which is the 2nd most expensive purchase for a goalkeeper in history. Neuer would go on to take over the goalkeeper position for Bayern and would lift trophy after trophy with the club including 5 consecutive Bundesliga Titles and a Champions League triumph in his second season with Bayern, this coming after losing in the final to Chelsea the year before. Manuel Neuer’s most crowning achievement to date has been his World Cup triumph in 2014 when Germany blitzkrieged to the Final, annihilating Brazil 7-1 in Belo Horizonte. Neuer had even finished 3rd in the 2014 Ballon d’Or voting only behind Messi and Ronaldo. Manuel Neuer is also attributed for beginning the sweeper keeper style, which is when goalkeepers use aggressiveness and pace to cut out attacks before they reach the box. Neuer’s reflexes and pace makes him the best goalkeeper in the world right now, he ends attacks before they even begin and is never afraid to challenge attackers, and he rarely concedes penalties. His ball distribution and poise on the ball is something to marvel as well, with nobody else in the world being able to do what he does with the ball at his feet including cut throat passing and calmness when on the ball. He’s 6th now, but he could finish his career higher on this list.
5. Oliver Kahn
The third and final goalkeeper on this list. Neuer may surely pass him one day, but as of right now, I prefer “The Titan,” as the greatest German keeper of all time. Before he even going to Bayern Munich, he motivated his Karlsruher squad to a Semifinal appearance in the UEFA Cup in 1994. Once he had signed to play in Bavaria was when his silverware count when through the roof. Most often, Neuer is compared to Kahn for greatest keeper of all time, and although Neuer could be argued to already have topped Oliver Kahn for greatest German Keeper ever, I’ll tell you why Kahn still reigns over the rising Neuer. First, I’ll tell you what Neuer has over Kahn. The most glaring piece of silverware that Neuer owns over the great Kahn is a World Cup. Kahn was German shot stopper, directly in the middle of their World Cup drought between 1990 and 2014. In fairness, Kahn only one chance at World Cup glory while Neuer had two. Kahn also made the most of that World Cup chance by being the only Goalkeeper to win the Golden Ball at a World Cup and losing to Brazil in the final after carrying a poor Germany side. A huge criticism for Kahn’s international career as well, was his Germany sides’ poor exits from two European Championships. Being made the starting goalkeeper for both EUROs 2000 and 2004, Germany had exited in the group stages at both tournaments. Neuer has never made it to at least the Semifinals of every major international tournament he’s started in. Neuer also has just helped accomplish the impressive feat of winning five consecutive Bundesliga titles with Philipp Lahm. Kahn had never won more then three in row. Now as for Kahn’s side of the story, Kahn had played with very poor Germany sides and required him to play out of his skin at World Cup 2002 to even reach the final. Neuer has been blessed with a golden generation of attacking German talent that is capable of putting up 5, 6, or even 7 goals in a game. Although Neuer’s 5 consecutive Bundesliga titles is impressive, he still needs three more to reach Kahn’s 8 Bundesliga titles which has only been surpassed by Lahm. Kahn has also secured two more Pokal triumphs as Neuer, having won the Pokal 6 times. Oliver Kahn has also lifted the Champions League as well, triumphing in 2001, after having the title ripped away from his clutches by Manchester United in 1999. Regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time and named in the FIFA 100 by Pele. Neuer may climb over Oliver Kahn soon enough, but as of right now, the mad man of Bavaria will take the title as greatest German goalkeeper of all time.
4. Thomas Muller
Yes indeed, the youngest member on this list, Muller sweeps in for the number 4 spot despite only being 27 years old. But he has enormous experience in the world’s grandest stages. He made his Bayern Munich breakthrough into the first team at just 19 years old, he had played in a World Cup by the time he was 21, and had won the Champions League on his third trip to a final by the time he was 24. And of course his most triumphant moment, at the ripe age of 25, he helped spearhead the German attack as they ran through everyone en route to claiming the throne. He may be young, but Muller has already scored over 150 goals for Bayern and over 35 goals for his country. Muller also has the most Champions League goals scored by a German in history. Having made his first cap in March of 2010, Muller received Gerd Muller and Michael Ballack’s number 13 shirt and performed gloriously, earning the golden boot. He played in every game except for the Semifinals after being suspended for yellow card accumulation. He would repeat the performance with a silver boot, 5 goal, output in their triumphant 2014 campaign. Muller has won 6 Bundesliga titles for Bayern, including 5 straight and has secured 4 Pokal titles. At 27, he’s won it all, and all that’s left is seeing how much more he could win. By the end of his career, Muller may have won the most everything, that any German has ever seen. He’ll be 29 in his next World Cup and 33 after that. With 6 Bundesligas, he’s three away for tying the most of all time and Bayern is always threatening to win the Champions League and he’s never finished outside of the Semifinals of a major international tournament. We’ll revisit his placement in a few years when his silverware is even more crowded.
3. Lothar Matthaus
The greatest opponent that Maradona has ever come up against, according to El Diego himself. Matthaus is considered by a minority to be the greatest German Footballer of all time. If he hadn’t crossed paths with Maradona throughout his career, he may very well be the greatest of all time. No German has ever amassed more caps then Matthaus, which stands at 150 caps over a 20 year international career. During his club career, Matthaus dueled Maradona in Serie A with Inter for a few years, in between two different stints at Bayern Munich. Matthaus started his career with Borussia Monchengladbach in 1979, remaining there until 1984 when Bayern purchased him, he won EUROs 1980 with West Germany along the way. He also made two appearances at World Cup 1982 in Spain but Germany would lose to Italy in the Final in Madrid. Matthaus made his move to Bayern in the summer of 1984 after the EUROs. In four years in Munich, he won three consecutive Bundesliga titles between 1985 to 1987 and the Pokal once. Matthaus even made the European Cup final against Porto in 1987 but would lose 2-1. Matthaus would also be one of Germany’s most integral players at World Cup 1986 in Mexico. His fantastic display would eventually pit him against Diego Maradona’s Argentina at the Estadio Aztecta. Although Matthaus would do a fantastic job detaining El Diego, Germany would lose to Argentina 3-2. Matthaus would move to Inter in 1988 after Germany’s Semifinal exit at EUROs 1988. Matthaus would triumph over Maradona’s Napoli in his first season, and Matthaus’ career would climax at World Cup 1990 in Italy when Matthaus would captain Germany to their third World Cup triumph. To make things even sweeter, he won it against Maradona’s Argentina in a rematch of the 1986 final in Mexico City. Matthaus didn’t participate in EUROs 1992 due to an injury, which Germany would lose to Denmark in the finals. He would make his move back to Bayern that summer and Matthaus would play out a very successful second stint in Bavaria. He would go on to win an additional 4 Bundesligas, 2 Pokals and his 2nd UEFA Cup after having won his first with Inter. Matthaus would captain Germany at World Cup 1994 in the United States but Germany would disappointingly lose to Bulgaria in the Quarterfinals. Having sat out the 1996 EUROs due to a dispute with Captain Jurgen Klinsmann, Matthaus’ final opportunity for international glory would come at World Cup 1998 in France but Germany would lose in the Quarterfinals once again, this time losing to Croatia. Matthaus’ biggest failure was never winning the European Cup/Champions League. He had reached the final with Bayern during each stint but would lose in each, Porto in 1987 and to Manchester United at the end of his career in 1999. 1999 would be Matthaus’ final season in Europe before playing out his final professional season in the United States with the New York MetroStars. Matthaus earned three final caps at EUROs 2000 but Germany would bomb out of the tournament in the group stages. Matthaus would retire with an eye popping, 7 Bundesligas, 3 Pokals, 2 UEFA Cups, a Serie A title, a European Championships victory in 1980 and his immortalizing 1990 World Cup win. Matthaus certainly deserves a top three spot in any list involving the best but his greatest failure is never winning the Champions League which is something that every other player on this list (except for Fritz Walter) was able to accomplish and that’s what keeps him outside of the top 2.
2. Gerd Muller
At two is one of the greatest strikers that this world, let alone Germany has ever seen. “Der Bomber” has done it all and won it all with Bayern Munich and Germany throughout his career. He would go on to win various titles throughout the 1960s and 70s. Muller would win 4 Bundesligas, including three in a row between 1972 and 1974. He would win the Pokal 4 times and the European Cup 3 consecutive times between 1974 and 1976. Muller would also play in the 1970 and 1974 editions of the World Cup. After scoring 10 goals at World Cup 1970, Muller would reach immortality by pulling off a treble never before seen. He would win the Bundesliga, European Cup and World Cup in 1974 for Bayern and Germany, cementing his incredible legacy as one of the greatest of all time. Muller would finish his international career on top by saying goodbye to Die Mannschaft after their 1974 win. Muller would finish with an absurd, 68 goals in 62 caps. In 2 World Cups, he’d score 14 goals in total. He won every trophy he possibly could for club and country, and would be the greatest of all time for most countries. But Germany isn’t most countries and the greatest German Footballer of all time is on the highest of levels…
1. Franz Beckenbauer
Was there ever a doubt who number one was going to be? “Der Kaiser and “Der Bomber” shared many of the same accolades due to their unstoppable run together with Bayern and Germany throughout the 70s. 4 Bundesligas, 4 Pokals, 3 European Cups, a European Championship and a World Cup all match up together between Beckenbauer and Muller, but there are a few things that Beckenbauer has over his old teammate and friend. The first is a minor one. They both won the Bundesliga with Bayern 4 times, but Beckenbauer returned to Germany in 1981 with Hamburg and won the Bundesliga that year with them, bringing his count up to 5 with 2 different teams. The second reason Beckenbauer trumps Muller is Beckenbauer’s Ballon d’Or that he has over his Muller. The striker won it first in 1970 but Beckenbauer would go on to win it twice, in 1972 after Bayern’s Bundesliga win and Germany’s EURO victory. And in 1976 after Bayern won their 3rd consecutive European Cup. The third reason Becks beats Muller is perhaps the biggest. Beckenbauer was the captain of those great sides that ran riot in Europe. Although Gerd Muller scored all the goals, Franz Beckenbauer locked down the world’s top offenses. Bayern and Germany would thrive in the 1970s due to Beckenbauer’s leadership which would culminate at World Cup 1974 when Beckenbauer’s superior defensive qualities would top Johan Cruyff’s Dutch Total Football side. Every side on the planet steps to the beat of their Captain and Beckenbauer led the whole damn dance in Europe throughout the decade. Nothing went through the back line of Germany’s best without Beck’s approval and that leadership would be demonstrated again in 1990 which leads me to my fourth and final reason, Der Kaiser tops Der Bomber. The national team would turn to their legendary captain when they summoned him to manage his beloved his country at the upcoming 1990 edition of the World Cup in 1990. Beckenbauer would manage the national side admirably, taking them to glory and managing them to victory in their rematch of the 1986 final against Argentina. The rest of Beckenbauer’s managerial and executive career is spotty and shady but it can’t be denied what “The Emperor” has given to his club and to his country. He’s won more then most could dream and revolutionized the role of the sweeper in modern football. His play encouraged, creative center halves to come forward and join in the attack. He would pave the way for players like Sergio Ramos who’s defensive leadership is invaluable when coupled with his heroic goals. Beckenbauer was a revelation and there’s almost no debate on who Germany’s best footaller of all time is. And that belongs to Franz Beckenbauer.