Ask a German football fan about Gunter Netzer and you will get a range of different responses. Most will describe him as a FIFA World Cup™ winner, a midfield schemer or a Borussia Monchengladbach legend, but his roles as a TV pundit and a "rebel on the ball" are also part of his repertoire - and let us not forget the time he substituted himself on in a German Cup final.
But one thing is for certain: Netzer was an exceptional footballer, an artist verging on genius on the one hand and insanity on the other: "I know exactly when I need to run, even though I don't like running - at least, not without the ball," Netzer once said of himself.
The midfield strategist's inspired performances on the pitch were matched by his razor-sharp analysis as a TV pundit, which has only served to enhance his reputation as footballing icon in Germany: "I trust myself to say things that are really bad. It's just part of my character, the way I am - it was the same back in my playing days!"
World and European champion
Netzer excelled as a player, winning the German league (1970, 1971) with Borussia Monchengladbach and the Spanish league (1975, 1976) with Real Madrid. But his success was not just confined to his club career, the outstanding playmaker also helping the German national side to victory at the 1972 European Championship and the 1974 World Cup in his homeland.
Gunter Netzer might have been the Michel Platini or the Zinedine Zidane of his day, but he only made 37 appearances for his country, scoring six goals. A player from Cologne by the name of Wolfgang Overath stood in his way.
Overath was more of a team player and with the German squad of that era packed full of stars, there was a real reluctance to embrace Monchengladbach's policy of building a team around Netzer. Unfortunately, it meant that one of the greatest players of his generation was unable to fully shine for his country like he did for his hometown club.
Arguably his best performance in the white of Germany came in a 3-1 victory over England in 1972, the quarter final of the European Championship and Germany's first-ever triumph on English soil. Netzer scored a penalty which hit the inside of both posts before rolling in and went on to finish the tournament as a European champion.
The world of pop
On his day the No10 with wavy blonde hair was unplayable, with one of his most memorable performances coming in Borussia Monchengladbach's European Cup clash with Inter Milan in October 1971. He steered the German side to a 7-1 victory that day, a game described by many as a Netzer masterpiece. It was a shame that the match did not receive official recognition, UEFA retrospectively voiding the result after Inter striker Boninsegna was allegedly struck on the head by a can of drink.
At the Bokalberg, where the Foals played their home games back then, the crowd would be awash with excitement at the prospect of a Netzer free-kick. For those who watched him dictate the play or drive forward from deep, it was a joy to behold.
"He was a master at changing the pace of the game. He would spray long passes over 40 metres, play direct, hit short or long balls and show a phenomenal awareness of distance," said former Germany coach Helmut Schon of his midfield strategist.
But Schon knew about the other side to Gunter Netzer all too well: "He was the first footballer to foray into the world of pop, a player who appealed to female fans, people in showbusiness and intellectuals alike."
"I'm going on"
Netzer was a "rebel" and a maverick. He was well aware of his own abilities and often showed as much, making football look easier than most other players could. One of the most famous incidents involving Netzer took place in 1973 as he sat on the bench for the German Cup final against arch rivals Cologne. With the game all square at 1-1 in extra time, Netzer substituted himself on and scored the winning goal minutes later. "I'm going on," he is said to have declared to Hennes Weisweiler, his coach at the time.
The man with the long blonde mane later transferred to Real Madrid before finishing his playing days at Grasshoppers Zurich in Switzerland. But Netzer has remained active in the football world since his retirement, enjoying remarkable success in the process.
Netzer, who confesses a weakness for fast cars, has also acquired legendary status among German fans for his outspoken approach to his job as a TV pundit. But he brought his 13-year career as a football analyst for a public television channel to an end after the 2010 World Cup, a stint for which he received recognition in the form of the Grimme Award, one of Germany's most prestigious prizes for television work.
Only a few games away from immortality
But it was not just on the pitch and in the TV studios that Netzer made a name for himself, the trained businessman becoming general manager at Hamburg in 1979 and guiding the team to three German titles and a European Cup triumph in 1983. He also used his influence to lure some of the great coaches, such as the Austrian Ernst Happel and the Yugoslav Branko Zebec, to Hamburg and even enticed Franz Beckenbauer to join the club on his return from the USA. But Netzer left the city on the Alster after an eight-year spell to begin a new adventure, this time founding a sports marketing company.
But Junter, as he is affectionately known in his hometown of Gladbach, does not seem to have changed one bit. Netzer has been a playmaker, a football philosopher and a businessman, an individual who has never shied away from making that risky pass, taking the rockier road or throwing himself into a new adventure.
"Some people have to slave away for years, but he was only a few games away from immortality." That description, published by German newspaper FAZ, is about as good as it gets.
1. FC Monchengladbach (1953-63), Borussia Monchengladbach (1963-73), Real Madrid (1973-76), Grasshoppers Zurich (1976-77)
1 FIFA World Cup™ (1974)
1 European Championship (1972)
2 German Championships (1970, 1971)
1 German Cup (1973)
2 Spanish Championships (1975, 1976)
2 Spanish Cups (1974, 1975)
2 German Player of the Year (1972, 1973)