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Born: Wednesday 15 September 1915, Dresden, Germany
Died: Friday 23 February 1996, Wiesbaden, Germany (aged 80)
Coach of West Germany for 14 years, Helmut Schön remains to this day the only man to coach both a World Cup and a European Championship winning team. Initially faced with the unenviable task of succeeding the legendary Sepp Herberger as coach, he arguably outdid his predecessor in a remarkably consistant run which also brought 2nd and 3rd place finishes in the World Cup and a narrow European Championship final defeat.
Helmut Schön was born in Dresden on 15 September 1915. He first began playing football in the streets and parks of Dresden and as a teenager first played for SV Dresdensia before moving on to Dresdner SC where he would spend the majority of his playing career. At Dresdner, Schön became an accomplished inside forward as well as continuing his education, training as a bank clerk and eventually working for a pharmaceutical company.
Soon being considered for the national team, injury ruled Schön out of contention for the 1936 Berlin Olympic team but he did make his debut for Germany in a 5-0 World Cup qualifying win over Sweden in 1937, scoring two goals. He missed out on the final tournament, but helped to establish Dresdner as one of the leading clubs in their region. They won the regional league of Saxony in 1938-39 to reach the German national championship play-offs, and would be champions of their region five times in six years during Schön's time at the club.
During his playing career he helped the team to win the German Cup in 1940 and 1941, narrowly missing a double in 1940 when beaten by Schalke 04 in the championship final. During the war years Schön fell out of favour at international level, his last match coming in 1941 after a career which brought 17 goals in 16 games. Schön finally won the German title in 1943, as Dresdner beat FV Saarbrücken in the final, before retaining it in 1944.
After the war he began to take an interest in coaching. While still playing in Dresden, Schön trained select teams from both Saxony and the Soviet-Occupied Zone (the future East Germany) and became player-coach of Hertha BSC Berlin in 1950. Midway through the 1950-51 season, he left Berlin and moved to West Germany, where he became coach of SV Wiesbaden. In 1952 Schön was approached to take charge of the Saarland national team, with that region still being administered separately from West Germany.
He led the team into the qualifying competition for the 1954 World Cup where they faced Norway and West Germany. Although they did not qualify, losing both games to West Germany, Schön led the Saar team to second in the group. Their win over Norway in Oslo was their only success at international level before reincorporation into West Germany. When the Saarland federation ceased to exist in 1956, Schön became assistant to West German manager Sepp Herberger, who had led the team to victory in the World Cup of 1954.
Working with Herberger for eight years, during which team West Germany finished 4th in the World Cup of 1958, Schön took over as manager when Herberger retired in 1964 and adopted a far less disciplinarian approach than his predecessor. His first task was to qualify for the 1966 World Cup in England, which was duly achieved when Schön gambled on the fitness of Uwe Seeler for a crucial match against Sweden and was rewarded when his captain scored the winning goal. In England, his team reached the final with a narrow win over the Soviet Union, but two extra-time goals gave hosts England the title and prevented Schön from emulating Herberger's success of 1954. He was left regretting his decision to restrict the young Franz Beckenbauer to a defensive, man-marking role in the final.
A goalless draw in Albania cost Schön the chance to lead his team to the European Championships of 1968, but he got his revenge with a crushing 12-0 win in qualification for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The final tournament also brought revenge over England as Schön's team came from 2-0 down to win the quarter-final 3-2. In an astonishing semi-final with Italy, which saw five goals in extra-time, West Germany lost 4-3 and eventually finished third. Schön realised that he would have to rebuild his team if the 1970s were to bring greater success.
A much more positive, attacking team was built around the formidable spine of Gerd Müller, Günter Netzer and Beckenbauer in the new role of sweeper. Schön was sometimes accused of lacking leadership, but his players appreciated the fact that he was prepared to listen to their ideas and give them freedom to express themselves. His new style worked, with a 2-1 win over hosts Belgium taking the team into the 1972 European Championship final. A comfortable 3-0 win over the Soviet Union gave Schön a first major international title and formed ideal preparation for the hosting of the World Cup in 1974.
West Germany suffered a historic 1-0 defeat to East Germany in the group stage, a result which hurt Schön, but it ultimately helped his team as it gave them an easier second round group. Wins over Yugoslavia, Sweden and Poland set up a final against hot favourites the Netherlands, where Schön's team recovered from conceding an early penalty to win 2-1. At the third attempt, he had finally emulated his mentor Herberger and won West Germany's second World Cup, completing a unique European-World double for the coach.
With some suggesting that captain Beckenbauer was becoming more of an influence than Schön, 1974 seemed like a good time to bow out as coach but he carried on, leading West Germany into their defence of the European Championship in 1976. Having qualified for the final tournament in Yugoslavia, they edged out the hosts after extra-time to reach the final but lost on penalties to Czechoslovakia in the final, still the only time a German team has lost an international penalty shoot-out.
Schön decided to end his time as manager with the defence of the World Cup in Argentina in 1978. However, West Germany were nowhere near as strong as the team of four years earlier and his reign as coach ended in disappointment, with defeat by Austria in the last match of the second group stage sending them out. In all, Schön led West Germany in 139 matches across 14 years, winning 87 of those games. He was succeeded by his assistant, Jupp Derwall.
Former players remembered Schön as an incredibly popular coach who had been able to inspire great loyalty from his team. In his retirement, he continued to live in Wiesbaden, which had been his home since he first joined the West German national team in 1956. He stayed out of the media spotlight, rarely giving interviews. In his later years, Schön suffered from Alzheimer's Disease and died on 23 February 1996, at the age of 80.
References (all accessed 19 February 2012):
- Published on Sunday, 19 February 2012 21:41