Phantomtor (phantom goal) is a term that, in Germany at
least, will always be associated with Thomas Helmer. It was during
the 1993/94 season when Helmer got on the end of a corner and poked
the ball just wide of the target, only for the unsighted referee to
award what became known as the Bundesliga's most famous
'goal that never was'.
And while that controversial strike was a memorable part of Helmer's trophy-laden time at Bayern Munich, his footballing career had very humble beginnings. Having been plucked out of the regional leagues by top-flight side Arminia Bielefeld, the raw 19-year-old initially struggled to make the required step up. In fact, the team's relegation just one year later proved to be the making of him, Helmer only cementing his status as a first-team regular once the club were in the second tier.
He was later spotted by Borussia Dortmund coach Reinhard Saftig when appearing for the German Armed Forces in a qualifying match for the World Military Championship (now World Military Cup). The defender went on to win the German Cup in 1989 with Dortmund, before making his senior international debut one year later. Fast forward to the tail end of his career and, after 68 appearances for the national team, Helmer headed to England for an unproductive spell with Premier League Sunderland, followed by a brief final Bundesliga sojourn with Hertha Berlin, prior to officially retiring from the game in 2002.
It was at this point that Helmer made a remarkably smooth
transition from professional footballer to highly-rated television
pundit, when reporting on the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. And
he has since won widespread acclaim for his work as a presenter for
German sports channel
Having given an exclusive interview to FIFA.com in the run-up to UEFA EURO 2008, Helmer's pre-tournament predictions are still looking good. "Spain are always seen as the dark horses and they always come up short when it matters most," he said. "But this time they could finally realise their full potential."
And though his prediction of a Germany-Italy final was proved wrong when the Italians fell victim to Spain, his verdict that "if Germany's key players stay fit, they can go all the way" is also looking eerily accurate.
Helmer called time on his own international career after the 1998 FIFA World Cup, two years on from Germany's triumph at EURO 1996 in England. The final of that tournament had been Germany's last win in the European showpiece, but Helmer remained confident his countrymen would do well this summer. "We'll get back to winning ways this time," he predicted. "In the game against Austria at the very latest."
The reality was even better than Helmer had anticipated, the Germans picking up an opening-game win over Poland, before brushing off a surprise defeat by Croatia with victory over Austria in Vienna.
"There is a greater stability about the team because the players have been together since the 2006 World Cup," he said. "The World Cup was the first international competition for many of the players and I think that experience will help them in critical situations. If they fall behind, they won't panic."
Fortune has also favoured Helmer in his private life. Having made a dramatic public proposal of marriage to actress Yasmina Filali, the couple married in 2005 and had a daughter in 2007. He is also the father of two sons from a previous marriage.
And the former Bayern and Dortmund favourite, who is now 43,
also works alongside his wife for a variety of charitable causes.
They are both involved with SOS Children's Villages, a German
charity supporting children in underprivileged areas across the
globe, and are patrons of the Vietnamese village of Dong Hoi.
"I support the charity because it is up to people like me to
take responsibility," he said. "We have to support these
children until they can support themselves."
The village and its SOS Kindergarten are part of the 'Six villages for 2006' initiative, a joint venture between FIFA and SOS Children's Villages. "We visited the building site at Dong Hoi two and a half years ago. Seeing what a great facility it's now become touched us very deeply. Laughing children and mothers, a proud village leader - a really fantastic project," said Helmer in July 2007.
"It's not just about the fun we had with the kids, but also the joy of knowing that the kids have a wonderful home there and a tremendous opportunity for their future."
As an ex-footballer, the German is also an ideal choice as the patron of another educational campaign - one that promotes better foot care. And having taken on a great deal of responsibility in his life after football, Helmer has adhered to one of the game's most-used pearls of wisdom: "You have to stand up and be counted."
Thomas Helmer career statistics
68 senior international caps (5 goals)
EURO 1996 winner
EURO 1992 runner-up
1984-86: Arminia Bielefeld
1986-92: Borussia Dortmund
1992-99: Bayern Munich
1999-2000: Hertha Berlin (loan)
390 appearances in the Bundesliga (41 goals)
German League winner 1994, 1997, 1999
German FA Cup winner 1989, 1998
German League Cup winner 1997, 1998
UEFA Cup winner 1996
German Super Cup winner 1989