- Horst Hrubesch celebrates his 70th birthday on Saturday
- European champion in 1980 and World Cup runner-up in 1982
- German now has more than 30 years’ experience as coach
It is one of those stories that would be almost unthinkable today.
At the age of 24, Horst Hrubesch was still playing for SC Westtunnen, a small amateur club from Hamm in North Rhine-Westphalia. An impressive 1974/75 season brought him to the attention of Rot-Weiss Essen, where he would score 80 times in 83 games between 1975 and 1978.
Speaking later to Der Westen about his time at RWE, Hrubesch described it as "a decisive factor in my career". Amazingly, before he accepted the club’s offer, he had to get the ok from his family. Back then his job as a roofer paid more than a starting Bundesliga player.
Every training session was a competition and the ideal preparation for what would come later in Hamburg. It was where I learned what curled crosses were. Duck [Willi Lippens] would put them on my forehead, but no matter how I met them I couldn’t direct them at first. I also became captain at RWE quite quickly and learned to run the show, speak up and take responsibility.
His successes at Rot-Weiss Essen put him on the radar of several top clubs, culminating in a move to Hamburger SV in 1978. With HSV he celebrated three league championships as well as the 1983 European Cup (the precursor to the UEFA Champions League). He was an integral part of the club’s golden era alongside the likes of Manfred Kaltz and Felix Magath and enjoys legendary status there to this day.
It was only when I became a coach myself that I fully appreciated his importance. That's when I realised how crucial the immense driving force he possessed is to a team. Horst was the most important player in our side.
Between 1980 and 1982, Hrubesch also played 21 times for Germany and scored six goals – the two most important coming in the 1980 European Championship final against Belgium. The memorable winner in that 2-1 triumph arrived in the 89th minute and saw Hrubesch find the target with a trademark bullet header from a Karl-Heinz Rummenigge corner. The 1.88m classic centre forward was rightfully feared by defenders, especially for his strength in the air, earning him the nickname 'the header monster'.
The player later said: "I didn't score that many headed goals – out of 136 Bundesliga strikes, only 39 were headers – but when I did, they were often decisive." And that's the point: Hrubesch always delivered at the biggest moments. This was also the case in the epic 1982 FIFA World Cup™ semi-final against France, in which he scored the winning penalty in the shootout.
When his playing career ended in 1986 due to injury, Hrubesch immediately made the move into coaching. The Westphalia native has enjoyed considerable successes, especially with Germany’s national youth teams. In 2008 he won the European Championship title with the U-19s and repeated the feat a year later with the U-21s. In 2016, he led the Mannschaft to the silver medal at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in Rio de Janeiro.
However, the highlight of his coaching career came in 2018, when Hrubesch was appointed interim coach of the German women’s national team, a post he held for nine months.
Unable to resist the lure of football for long, he was subsequently appointed director of HSV’s youth academy ahead of the 2020/21 season with a view to streamlining the integration of the club’s emerging talent into its first team. Through it all, he has managed to remain immensely likeable, due in no small part to his down-to-earth demeanour and modesty.
I've always worked hard, and I've been lucky enough to play at a EURO and a World Cup. With HSV I won the Bundesliga three times and the European Cup once, something I dreamed of as a young boy. To this day, I remain humble and grateful for the way things have worked out.
This Saturday 17 April, Hrubesch celebrates his 70th birthday, which he intends to spend with his family.
"Manni banana, I head it – then goal!"
Hrubesch on finishing off the banana-shaped crosses of Manfred Kaltz
"Your team can play without you, but you can't play without them. That's the bottom line in this story."
Hrubesch on football
"Everyone always asks what the difference is between men and women players: well, there’s none."
The former Germany coach on working with players of both genders
I'd never seen a player that lousy – he could barely do anything. I backed him because of his character.