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Born: Friday 31 March 1939, Düren, Germany
Position: Full Back
Having represented West Germany in four World Cups between 1958 and 1970, left-back Karl-Heinz Schnellinger is remembered as one of his country's longest serving and most reliable defenders. After starting his professional career with 1. FC Köln, he went on to spend many successful years in Italy where he won a number of major trophies with AC Milan during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Schnellinger was born in the town of Düren, near Cologne, on 31 March 1939. At the age of 10 he joined hometown team SG Düren 99, growing into a strong-tackling and powerful defender who would later earn the nickname 'Volkswagen' due to his consistency of performance. Although primarily a left sided player, his intelligent reading of the game allowed him to make an impact in a variety of defensive positions, including as a sweeper.
Having progressed into Düren's first team, who played second tier football in the pre-Bundesliga era in West Germany, Schnellinger was called up to the national amateur squad in the autumn of 1957 for a match against England. Impressing coach Helmut Schön, who was an assistant to senior manager Sepp Herberger, Schnellinger received a surprise call-up to the full national team for a match against Czechoslovakia in April 1958, just two days after his 19th birthday.
Despite still being an amateur, he was selected in the squad for that year's World Cup finals in Sweden, where West Germany were defending the title they had won in 1954, but as an inexperienced teenager was not a first choice. He played just once in a 'live' match, the 2-2 group stage draw with Czechoslovakia, although after the Germany had been beaten by the host nation in the semi-final he did return for the Third Place Play-Off defeat to France.
Having completed his education, Schnellinger finally turned professional after the World Cup and moved to 1. FC Köln, one of the leading clubs in the Oberliga West. After finishing second behind Westfalia Herne in the 1958-59 season, Köln went on to claim four consecutive Oberliga titles during Schnellinger's time at the club, qualifying them for the national championship play-offs each year.
Having reached the championship final in 1960, where they lost to Hamburger SV, Köln went one better in 1962. With Schnellinger forming a key part of a tight defensive unit, they conceded just one goal in the entire play-off tournament and clinched the championship with a 4-0 thrashing of 1. FC Nürnberg in the final. On the back of that success, he travelled to Chile with the West German national team for his second World Cup, where this time he was a key member of the team.
He was ever present as West Germany drew their opening game with Switzerland before beating Italy and Chile to reach the last eight, where they faced Yugoslavia. In a tight match, the Germans had more than enough chances to win but a late Yugoslavian goal knocked them out. Schnellinger however had an excellent tournament, recognised when he was named in FIFA's All-Star Team and was awarded the honour of West German Footballer of the Year.
Köln reached the championship final again in 1963, but this time missed out to Borussia Dortmund, Schnellinger scoring a rare goal in his team's 3-1 defeat. That summer they were one of the teams selected to form West Germany's first national league, the Bundesliga, but Schnellinger was not to be a part of that new venture. He was signed by Italian side AS Roma, who sent him out on loan to AC Mantova.
Schnellinger impressed with Mantova and in 1964 was called back to Roma, spending one season in the first team there before AC Milan raided the club in an effort to strengthen their own defence, signing three players including Schnellinger. His first season in Milan proved to be the least successful, bringing only a seventh place finish in Serie A, but it ended with a third appearance in the World Cup where West Germany made a great run through the finals in England.
With a strong defensive foundation, West Germany conceded just one goal in winning their group before crushing Uruguay 4-0 in the quarter-finals. After a 2-1 win over the Soviet Union, Schnellinger finally got the chance to play in the World Cup final for the first time. Having led early on against England, the Germans fell behind but when the ball ricocheted off Schnellinger during a late goalmouth scramble, Wolfgang Weber forced extra-time. It took a hugely controversial goal to beat them, the ball bouncing down onto the goalline from Geoff Hurst's shot, as England eventually won 4-2.
Back with Milan, Schnellinger won his first trophy in Italian football when the club beat Padova to win the 1967 Coppa Italia. The team went from strength to strength, winning the Serie A title by nine clear points from Napoli in 1968 and beating Hamburger SV to win the European Cup Winners' Cup. In 1969 they won their second European Cup, a tremendous defensive performance in quarter-final win over Celtic being crucial to their success. Before the year was out, they had also beaten Estudiantes of Argentina to add the Intercontinental Cup.
Schnellinger joined a relatively small group of players to have appeared in four World Cups when he travelled to Mexico for the 1970 finals. Again West Germany made a good run in the tournament, winning all three of their group games and coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the quarter-final against England, gaining revenge for the final defeat of 1966. In the semi-final against Italy, West Germany trailed for more than 80 minutes but with just seconds remaining, Schnellinger scored what would prove to be his only international goal to force extra-time.
That extra half-hour made the match one of the most famous ever played, both sides leading and being pegged back before Italy finally came out on top 4-3. Schnellinger's goal came to be the most famous moment of his international career. After West Germany's defeat, they recovered to beat Uruguay to seal third place, meaning that Schnellinger had achieved second, third and fourth place finishes in the World Cup. His international career came to an end a few months later, having won 47 caps.
The early 1970s brought another run of success for Schnellinger, as Milan won the Coppa Italia in 1972 and as well as retaining that trophy in 1973, added the Cup Winners' Cup for good measure. That season also brought disappointment however, as a 5-3 final day defeat to Verona handed the league title to Juventus by a single point. In 1974 Milan reached the Cup Winners' Cup final again but lost to East German side Magdeburg, after which Schnellinger took the decision to leave and return to his home country.
He signed for newly promoted West Berlin side Tennis Borussia and was immediately made captain, finally making his Bundesliga debut at the age of 35. Sadly, the step up in class proved too much for the team and they were relegated, after which Schnellinger retired from playing. Leaving active involvement in football, he returned to live in Milan and became a businessman. One of the first German players to spend a long period playing abroad, he remains relatively unknown by later generations in Germany compared to his fame in Milan.
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- Published on Wednesday, 21 November 2012 20:58