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Born: Thursday 5 November 1936, Hamburg, Germany
Position: Centre Forward
Although he was unfortunate that his World Cup career fell in between West Germany's first two titles, Uwe Seeler has a guaranteed place in the competition's history as one of only two players to have scored goals in four different finals tournaments. Despite many offers from foreign sides, he remained loyal to Hamburger SV throughout his playing career, winning numerous team and individual honours with the club.
Seeler was born on 5 November 1936 in Hamburg, where his father Erwin played football. Both Uwe and older brother Dieter joined their father at Hamburger SV in 1946. Aged just 10, the younger Seeler learned a lot about the game from his brother. With money in short supply, he was forced to leave school early and seek employment in the shipping industry but remained on the books at Hamburg, continuing to juggle both careers for many years.
A superb athlete and a prolific goalscorer throughout his career, Seeler worked his way up through Hamburg's youth system and eventually broke through into the first team in 1953. Still only 16 and much smaller than most of his opponents, he was nevertheless able to make an immediate impact and almost fought his way into the West German squad for the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland despite not yet having made his international debut.
Early in the 1954-55 season Seeler did make his first international appearance in a 3-1 defeat against France in Hannover, while his first full campaign in Hamburg's first team brought a remarkable 28 goals in 26 games as the team won the Oberliga Nord title. With no national league in Germany until 1963, Hamburg went into the championship play-offs and were narrowly beaten to a place in the final by Kaiserslautern.
That season marked the beginning of an incredible run of domination by Hamburg, who went on to win the Oberliga Nord for nine years in a row. Seeler himself scored at least 22 goals in each of those seasons, becoming renowned as one of the most fearsome strikers in Germany. Relatively small in stature, standing only 5'6" or 165cm, his speciality was the acrobatic overhead kick which brought him many goals throughout his career.
Seeler's international opportunities were initially somewhat limited, in part due to West Germany having qualified automatically for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden as holders. He was nevertheless selected in the squad and made an immediate impact, scoring in his first World Cup game as West Germany came from behind to beat Argentina 3-1. He also scored a vital equaliser against Northern Ireland which sealed his team's place in the quarter-finals.
After edging past Yugoslavia to reach the last four, Seeler was injured in West Germany's semi-final defeat to hosts Sweden and had to miss the Third Place Play-Off which his team lost to France. He had however made his first impact on the World Cup and would go on to enjoy a long and successful career in the competition. Back at domestic level, his first big success came in the national championship play-offs in 1960.
Hamburg had been beaten in the final in both 1957 and 1958, but this time a 3-2 win over 1. FC Köln secured the crown. Seeler scored an astonishing 13 goals in the seven matches in the competition, his performances winning him the inaugural West German Footballer of the Year award. A year later, he was named captain of the national team for the first time, marking the occasion with a hat-trick in a 5-1 thrashing of Denmark.
Seeler could easily have cashed in on his fame with a big-money move to Italy in 1961, with Internazionale keen to secure his signature, but he decided to remain loyal to Hamburg. At the 1962 World Cup in Chile, he again scored twice as West Germany won their group, but they were beaten in the quarter-finals by Yugoslavia. After the tournament, regular national captain Hans Schäfer retired from international football and Seeler was made full-time captain.
In 1963, Seeler's hat-trick in the final of the German Cup against Borussia Dortmund brought Hamburg another major honour. That summer they were one of the teams which qualified for the first season of the new Bundesliga, where Seeler proved to be one of the stars of the inaugural campaign. Although Hamburg only finished sixth, Seeler scored 30 goals in as many games, finishing as top scorer and again being named Footballer of the Year.
Just as he was at the top of his career however, Seeler's playing days almost came to a sudden end in February 1965 as he tore his Achilles tendon in a match against Eintracht Frankfurt. Remarkably, little over six months later he was back in action for the national team, scoring a vital goal in 2-1 win over Sweden which set West Germany on their way to qualifying for the 1966 World Cup in England.
In those finals, Seeler scored a vital goal in the 2-1 victory over Spain to seal West Germany's place in the last eight, before adding another in the comprehensive 4-0 win over Uruguay. A 2-1 win over the Soviet Union earned West Germany a place in the final, but they were unable to claim the title as they were beaten 4-2 by England. Seeler's contribution to the tournament was nevertheless recognised when he was named in the FIFA All-Star Team.
Seeler came close to further success in the German Cup in 1967 and the Cup Winners' Cup a year later, but Hamburg were beaten each time. By now in his 30s, he felt that his career was beginning to wind down. Following West Germany's failure to reach the last four of the 1968 European Championship, he announced his retirement from international football. However, with the 1970 World Cup in Mexico approaching, he was persuaded to reconsider and went to the finals in the role of a second striker, playing behind the prolific Gerd Müller.
In West Germany's first match, with the team surprisingly trailing Morocco 1-0, Seeler created history by becoming the first man to score in four World Cups, beating Pelé to that distinction by a matter of minutes. He also scored in the next game against Bulgaria and the quarter-final against England, where West Germany gained revenge for their 1966 final defeat by coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2. After a remarkable 4-3 defeat to Italy in the semi-final, they eventually finished third and Seeler was destined to retire without ever winning the World Cup. His final international appearance came a couple of months later, his 72 caps and 43 international goals both being national records at the time.
Seeler played on for two more years with Hamburg, but was troubled by reoccurances of his old Achilles injury. He retired from professional football in 1972 aged 35, having scored more than 400 goals for his hometown club. He went on to work in the clothing industry, both as a representative of Adidas and as owner of his own clothing company. His link with Adidas led Seeler to come briefly out of retirement in 1978 to play one game for Cork Celtic in the League of Ireland, in which he scored two goals.
In his later years, Seeler spent a short time as club president at Hamburg. That period came to an end as a result of a financial scandal at the club, although Seeler was not guilty of any wrongdoing. He remains one of German football's most popular figures, fondly remembered for his goalscoring exploits and sense of fair play on the field as well as for his unwavering loyalty to Hamburg.
References (all accessed 30 October 2012):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_European_Cup_Winners%27_Cup_Final (accessed 20 November 2012)
- Published on Tuesday, 30 October 2012 22:04