Euro legends: Remembering Matthias Sindelar, Austria's inspirational forward

Matthias Sindelar
(Image credit: Getty)

When a gaggle of reporters surrounds a national team manager in a café, begging him to recall a striker from the international wilderness, that marksman may just have something special about him.

That was certainly true of Austria’s Matthias Sindelar. What’s more, this supposed café coup in 1931 was successful in changing the mind of manager Hugo Meisl, who recalled him to the side.

Four years earlier, Sindelar had been dropped by Meisl following a disagreement about his style, but the forward’s speed and creativity soon became the inspiration of Austria’s legendary Wunderteam of the 1930s.

Affectionately known as ‘The Paper Man’ for his slight appearance, Sindelar is considered by those who saw him play as one of the greatest footballers in the game’s history, due to his virtuoso displays that could draw a crowd all on their own.

Sindelar was named captain of the Wunderteam as they went to the 1934 World Cup in Italy and were widely tipped to return home with the trophy, only for the hosts to thwart their charge in the semi-finals. It would be Sindelar’s only appearance at a major finals.

As Nazi Germany made its move across Europe, Austria was annexed in 1938 and the national football team disbanded. The Wunderteam’s stars, including Sindelar, were invited to join the German side. Several did, but Sindelar refused. Instead, the proud Austrian defied Nazi orders to play out a low-scoring draw in the Wunderteam’s final match – a reunification derby clash between Germany and Austria – by inspiring a 2-0 win before allegedly gloating in front of senior dignitaries.

Less than a year later, the Mozart of Football was found dead in his apartment at just 35. The official reason was reported as carbon monoxide poisoning, though conspiracy theories suggest he either committed suicide or was murdered for his defiance.

A true enigma in life and death.

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