The mid-1990s was not a vintage era for Germany’s national team, which says
a lot for the usual standards, given that they reached the final of Euro 92 and then won Euro 96. These weren’t classic Mannschaft XIs, yet they got results.
Then in 1997 Borussia Dortmund won the only Champions League title in their history, so something was up. The common denominator? Matthias Sammer, the greatest midfielder/defender you’d half-forgotten about.
Before injury cruelly struck in the late ’90s, the majestic Sammer was shaping up for Beckenbauer-esque status. He had emerged from Dresden as an attack-minded midfielder, helped Stuttgart to win the Bundesliga in 1991–92, then went to Euro 92 as a rare East German in the newly unified side.
He set up a goal for Karl-Heinz Riedle in the semi and looked sharp against Denmark in the final, but came off as his side were chasing the game. Germany lost Sammer, their mojo, and the final.
Back then, Sammer was trying to fill the injured Lothar Matthaus’ mighty boots as a box-to-box midfielder, and he even followed him to Inter that summer. Six months later, Sammer was back in Germany – an odd move but a good one.
At Dortmund, he really found his feet as a libero and won the Bundesliga again in 1995. And 1996. Yet even bigger trophies were coming. Matthaus had switched to a sweeper role for Germany’s calamitous USA 94 campaign, but Sammer took over in England two years later.
At Euro 96, he masked Germany’s shortcomings by doing a bit of everything, which included scoring two huge goals: the opener against Russia and the winner over Croatia that set up the fateful semi-final against England. Sammer was named Player of the Tournament.
He also took that year’s Ballon d’Or, then captained Dortmund to an unlikely Champions League the year after, before busting his knee, never to recover. Sammer time was bright, but all too brief.
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