What's the abiding memory of the 1980 Euro Championships in Italy? England limping out? The tear gas?
The low crowds? No. They were all rubbish. What really stood out was Bernd Schuster.
What a player - it wasn't just the mop of blond hair that made him stand head and shoulders above
the rest, it was the way he patrolled the midfield, starting off attack after attack with his
classy range of passing.
A true midfield general, the talismanic German should be regarded as a rival to Zico, Platini,
Boniek and Maradona for the tag of best footballer of the 80's. However, despite winning the
European Championship and spending 13 successful years bossing games in La Liga for Spain's 3 big
clubs, it's a crying shame that Schuster will be remembered almost as much for his controversial
off field persona as for his footballing prowess. Portrayed by the media as an early "enfant terrible"
of European football, his disputes with various coaches and players led to transfers, seasons in
the reserves, and, most famously, an early retirement from the German national team. Whilst this
just seems to have added to the Schuster legend, few would argue that the "Blonde Angel" would
have had a major impact on any of the international tournaments he subsequently missed.
It wasn't just the player who missed out on these tournaments, it was us, the fans, who were robbed
of some genuine star quality. It's probably down to this that he's not that highly regarded by the
Britain media, because in 80's Britain, foreigners who didn't play in the World Cup or European
Championships were largely ignored. Schuster should be mentioned in the same breath as other great
playmakers such as Platini and Socrates, but the average fan in Britain probably doesn't know that
much about him. Schuster returned to Germany in the latter years of his playing career, but will
forever be associated with his time in Spain, and those arguments, that mop of blond hair, those
thunderous 30 yard drives, and those defence-splitting, slide-rule passes. Legendary stuff.
The Early Bundesliga Days
Born in Augsburg, Southern Germany, in 1959, Schuster's first club was SV Hammerschmiede, a local
team whom he joined in 1971. In 1976 he joined regional club FC Augsburg. In 1978, aged 19, he moved
to crack Bundesliga outfit 1.FC Koln. The coach at Koln was Hennes Weisweller, and he immediately
gave Schuster a place in his midfield. So impressive was Schuster in his first year at Koln that by
1979 he became the youngest player to play at international level for West Germany. Koln reached the
German Cup final in 1980 and Schuster was starting to become something of a star. The fans nicknamed
him "der Blone Engel" (the Blonde Angel), a reference to the mass of blonde hair and his graceful,
elegant style. That summer saw him named in the 1980 European Championship squad for Italy.
He missed out on the opener against Czechoslovakia but was named in the next game against great
rivals Holland. Despite being yellow carded in the first minute for a clash with defender Huub
Stevens, Schuster had one of his finest ever games, his range of passing and Klaus Allofs top notch
finishing inspiring the team to race into a 3:0 lead before the Dutch pulled it back to 3-2 with 2
late goals. With a place in the final almost guaranteed, Schuster was rested for the final group
match against Greece but returned for the final against Belgium, enjoying another cracking
performance and providing the killer pass which allowed team-mate Horst Hrubesch to score
Germany's opener as they marched to the title with a 2-1 scoreline. Schuster had a major
international medal under his belt already, aged only 20. He was also awarded 2nd Place in the
Ballon d'Or (the European Player of the Year award).
The Barcelona Years
In the autumn of 1980, after the European Championships had finished, Schuster was transferred to
Barcelona, with the club's vice-president Nicolau Casaus instrumental in the move, claiming he had
"fallen in love with his style and beauty". He joined during a tricky period for the Catalan club,
they were enduring a torrid season on and off the pitch, so the transfer of the talented German was
expected to give everyone a lift. Not everyone agreed with the transfer though - Kubala, the coach
at the time, stated that they didn't need Schuster, whilst Austrian forward Hans Krankl famously
declared that the side couldn't be saved "even if they signed Pele". It wasn't long before both were
on their way out of the Nou Camp. With Danish legend Allan Simonsen befriending him and helping him
out, Schuster's inspired performances lifted the club immediately and the results started to roll in.
New coach Helenio Herrera understood the impact Schuster was having on the team's performances and
results, and ensured he had the pivotal role in the side. Such was the success that the Catalan media
labelled him the "Rubio de Oro" (the Blond Gold). However, despite the cracking start to his Barca
career, and nearly single-handedly turning the side around, his first season ended disappointingly,
the amount of yellow cards caused criticism from the media, he had the first of many bust ups with
various team-mates (most notably defender Migueli) and he was criticised for not performing as well when
playing away from the Nou Camp. Additionally, there were off field incidents involving his wife
Gabi, including a semi nude photo shoot in a local magazine. They were the sort of incidents that
would follow the Blonde Angel throughout his career. Back on the pitch, the team were in contention
for the La Liga title but their hopes were shattered when star striker Quini was kidnapped by
nationalists (for money reasons, rather than football). By the time the police had rescued him,
Barca had blown their big chance, with Real Sociedad coming from nowhere to claim the title.
Quini was a big friend of Schuster's and the situation had a big impact on them both, with Schuster
adopting a bodyguard for many years after the incident. The season ended with some success though,
Schuster was awarded 3rd place in the European Player of the Year award, whilst on the pitch
Quini returned in time to hit a brace and Schuster turned in a man of the match performance to
lead Barca to a 3-1 Spanish Cup success over Sporting Gijon.
In Schuster the Cules (the name given to Barca fans) had a new hero - the young German had given them hope.
Schuster's second season in Spain, 1981-82, started with yet another change, with top German coach
Lattek being brought in from Borussia Moenchengladbach to replace Herrera, aka "The Magician" (a
reference to a previous, successful spell at the club). Everything was going okay until December,
when Barca met Athletic Bilbao, and their infamous hard man Juan Andoni Goikoetxea, "the Butcher of
Bilbao". Goikoetxea spent most of the match threatening to inflict damage on Schuster, and eventually
did it, breaking his left knee. The injury robbed him, and the world, of the chance to star in the
1982 World Cup finals in Spain. Despite the injury to their star man, Barca fought hard in La Liga,
eventually losing out to Real Sociedad, but star men Urruti, Simonsen and Quini led the club to
European triumph in the Cup Winners Cup at the Nou Camp.
1982-83, the good news at club level was that Barca had signed the world's most exciting youngster,
one Diego Maradona. The fans expectations rose through the roof, and rightly so. Surely a team with
Maradona and Schuster bossing the midfield and attack was going to be more than a match for anybody?
But it didn't quite work out that way. Despite Maradona and Schuster enjoying a fine relationship,
both on and off the pitch, the results didn't match the expectations. To make things worse,
Maradona caught hepatitis and was forced out of action for a few months, whilst his constant partying
became a worry for the club. Meanwhile, Schuster had fallen out with Lattek, labelling him "a drunk
man". Lattek was sacked and the Argentinian coach Cesar Luis Menotti was brought in. On the pitch,
Schuster's problematic knee injury was still clearly affecting his performances, and he struggled
to recapture his previous form. With the disappointment of not making the World Cup finals still
fresh, Schuster's arguments with the national team started to surface. One of the main problems was
that his arguments were not with just anyone in the German game, but with some of the key names and
players. German legend Beckenbauer referred to him as "a child", coach Derwall fell out with him,
and senior players Paul Breitner, Karl Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Stielike, all had run-ins with him.
The season picked up slightly with the club winning the Copa del Rey but finishing well off Athletic
Bilbao in the title race.
The 1983-84 season began well for Schuster - coach Menotti had the team playing some spectacular
football and the results were good. However, like Schuster two seasons previous, Maradona fell foul
of "the Butcher of Bilbao", Goikoetxea breaking Maradona's left knee and leaving the team without
him for 5 months. Goikoetxea's club Athletic Bilbao had a particularly strong team during this era
and Schuster likened the matches against them to a war. The season turned into a disappointment,
Schuster ended it with some disappointing performances and Maradona took over his mantle as the
troublesome star - his frequent disputes with Barcelona's hierarchy, especially club president Nunez,
led to him handing in a transfer request. Schuster was extremely disappointed - he'd forged a great
relationship with the Argentinian, possibly because they had some similarities both on and off the
pitch. Athletic Bilbao ended up doing the league and Cup double - beating Barca in an ill tempered
final. Schuster managed to avoid the famous pitched battle that resulted at the end of the game but
team-mates Maradona and Migueli couldn't resist showing off a few karate moves.
This particular season also saw Schuster retire from international football, aged only 24.
Continuous disagreements with the DFB (German Football Association) and then national team manager
Jupp Derwall saw Schuster earn his final cap came against France in early 1984. Derwall and Schuster
often clashed over tactics and positions and the coach had often sided with that other great
controversial German character of the time Paul Breitner, something that really grated with Schuster.
Typical of the man, and despite many attempts to lure him back into the national fold, Schuster would
never reconsider his decision and never played for his country again. When he announced his
retirement from the national team, he declared he was happy just to play for Barcelona and that the
national team "means nothing for me". This meant he didn't participate at the 1984 European
Championships in France, or those 4 years later in his homeland, or the World Cups in Mexico and
Italy. West Germany were strong at the time, but a midfield of Matthaus and Schuster in the 2nd half
of the 80's would have been awesome. So, despite being one of the top footballers of the decade, he
would gain only 21 national caps in total and played in only one major tournament.
La Liga - at Last !
With Maradona having left the Nou Camp for Napoli, the Barca fans approached the 1984-85 season in a
far from optimistic mood. Schuster, though, felt the opposite. Despite his rapport with Maradona,
Schuster publicly stated that the Argentinian's move away from the Nou Camp would be better for his
own game - "Diego's transfer is a loss, but without him in the team I will score the penalties, I
will take the free-kicks, I will boss the midfield and we will win the league". Big words indeed
from the Blonde Angel. Meanwhile, Terry "El Tel" Venables had been brought in as coach and brought
with him a high tempo British attitude and a new striker... Steve Archibald, unheard of in Spain,
but rated highly in Britain. The relationship between Venables and Schuster went well in the first
season. Venables was impressed with the German's application in training, and built his side around
him, even making him the captain. With Schuster being given total freedom he began to dominate games,
and the results flowed in. After 11 years without the title Barca finally won La Liga again.
Schuster was hailed as the hero of Catalonia, earning rave reviews and being named player of the
league week after week. Despite his international absence he was awarded 3rd spot in the European
Player of the Year at the end of 1985 for his achievements in Spain and was voted the top foreign
player in La Liga.
The Nightmare of El Tel
With the whole of Catalonia still celebrating and the Blonde Angel playing arguably the best
football of his career, Schuster's hopes for the 1985-86 season were understandably high, but big
problems were just around the corner. From early on in the season it became apparent that the
Anglo-German relationship between Venables and Schuster had dropped to the sort of level more akin
to Stan Boardman's local chippy and a German bomber. Despite Steve Archibald becoming a cult figure
amongst some the club's supporters (earning him the nickname "Archigol"), Schuster expressed doubts
about him, complaining to Venables that he wasn't doing the job he should be doing up front.
Venables backed the Scottish striker and claimed Schuster was beginning to believe his own press.
However, if that wasn't enough for Venables then he had Schuster's wife to contend with as well.
She would often give El Tel an ear-bashing to remember when things went wrong and told him that her
husband deserved to be treated better. She often barged through a dressing room full of naked
footballers to get her latest whinge across to the gaffer. Poor old El Tel, he didn't have those
sorts of problems with Gary Micklewhite at QPR. And it wasn't just Venables that Schuster had a
problem with - he was soon involved in a bust up with club president Nunez over unpaid bonus
payments to the players. The off-field shenanigans obviously had an impact as Barca got off to a bad
start in the league. However, their form in Europe was impressive and as their league hopes drifted
away attention fell to the European Cup. A great run against Sparta Prague, Porto, Juventus and
Gothenburg led to a final against unfancied Rumanian outfit Steaua Bucharest. With the match being
held in Seville, and the ground packed with Catalans, it was virtually a home match. But for Barca,
Venables, and Schuster, it would prove to be a night to forget. With the match still goalless after
73 mins, and with Schuster struggling to break down the dogged Rumanian defence, he was substituted.
A furious Schuster stormed off the pitch and left the ground immediately, watching the resulting
penalty shoot out back at the team hotel. He claimed afterwards that Venables had done it to try and
win the match without him being on the pitch, so as to make the point that he was no longer needed.
If that was Venables' plan then it didn't quite work out - Steaua went on to win the shootout. Maybe
Schuster had a good point though - why substitute your most creative player at such a key point in
the game? The sort of player who could turn the game with one exquisite pass, or ram home a 30 yard
piledriver? Following his early exit to the hotel and his public outburst, things got worse for
Schuster. Nunez claimed that he wouldn't wear the Barca shirt again, while Venables sniggered in the
background and patted himself on the back. A high proportion of the fans backed the chairman and
manager though, believing that Schuster shouldn't have stormed off to the hotel before the game had
The Lost Season
The new 1986-87 season started about as well for Schuster as the previous one had ended - terribly.
Mark Hughes and Gary Lineker were brought in and took the place of Schuster and Archibald. President
Nunez was true to his word and Schuster played no games at all for Barca during the whole season.
Obviously, with such a talented 26 year old being wasted in the reserves, there were many top
European sides interested in taking him, but strangely Barca didn't sell him. With no sign of a
trophy that season, the fans began to change their tune and many called for the Blonde Angel's
return. But with no sign of a call-up, Schuster tried to force the clubs hand and demanded to talk
to other clubs. A stand-off followed, with the club even going through a period of not allowing him
to train with the rest of the players, citing him as a bad influence on the other players. It was an
incredible waste of a season - Schuster, in the prime of his playing career, played no games.
The End of an Era
A bad start to the 1987-88 season meant that El Tel didn't last long before finding a P45 stuffed in
his locker. Which was good news for Schuster. And there was more to come when the club announced
the appointment of their new coach - Luis Aragones, a big admirer of the German's talent. Aragones
made no secret of his desire to rebuild the team around Schuster, and re-installed him as the team's
captain and playmaker. However, things didn't go as well as Aragones would have wished, the league
was won by Real Madrid and they went out in the UEFA Cup to eventual winners Bayer Leverkusen.
The one bright note was the victory in the Spanish Cup but the season still finished on a sour note
as more arguments broke out between the players and Nunez, and yet again the arguments were over
money. Schuster was not involved in this particular argument, his thoughts were elsewhere as he
negotiated a remarkable move to Barca's fiercest rivals, Real Madrid. It was the end of an era, the
club's famous number 8 was gone. "My time here is over" said Schuster, adding that he would try and
start a new life in Madrid to prove to himself and everyone else that he wasn't the cause for all
the troubles at the club. "I'll try to forget my bad moments in Barca and remember only the good
ones. I gave the best 8 years of my life here and I cant forget that. I hope in the future to be
able to remember FC Barcelona as a great time in my career". It was sad that his time at the club
ended like this, his years there being remembered by his on-pitch quality and off-pitch controversy
in almost equal measures. Looking back on it after he'd retired from playing, Schuster commented
that a lot of important moments in his life had occurred during his 8 years at Barca, that he was
both happy and unfortunate there, and that in future games he could never player well against Barca.
But why choose Real? He'd had plenty of interest from other countries, even the big Italian clubs,
but he didn't want to move his young family from Spain, where they were settled. It was an open
secret that Real were interested. The appeal to Schuster was that Real were a settled club in
comparison to Barcelona, and that he would be far removed from the trouble and scandal he'd had in
Catalonia. And of course on the pitch Real had won the last 3 titles, so it was a positive move in a
football sense as well as a personal one.
Reborn at Real
Schuster signed a 3 year contract with Real before the 1988-89 season and with the move came a new
nickname - the Blond Angel was now the White Field Marshall. With Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker at the
helm, Schuster won the league and cup double in his first season there as well as the Spanish
super cup. The German was reborn, revelling in this new calmer environment, a weight obviously
lifted from his shoulders following all the goings on at Barcelona. Winning week in and week out,
and playing alongside quality such as Butragueno, Gordillo and Michel, obviously helped, but
Schuster seemed genuinely at ease with the world. In the European Cup they lost to Milan in the
semi-final. Schuster was gutted, as the final was to be held in Barcelona. However, despite this
disappointment, Schuster was genuinely pleased with how the first season had gone -
"I'm happy here, it's a big change after Barca, but I've found a calmness here and I'm happy to be
playing every week and winning. I know I'm not the main star now, but this team doesn't need a star,
the team is the star".
1989-90, a new season and another new manager for Schuster, John Toshack getting the honour of
becoming the club's first Welsh gaffer. Toshack surprisingly moved Schuster to a libero role, and
the results, and goals, flowed. The team ran away with the league, scoring more than 100 goals, with
Hugo Sanchez and Martin Vasquez on fire up front. Schuster was a big hit with the fans again, his
position just behind the midfield giving him the freedom to direct the attacking moves as he liked.
So that was two great seasons at Real, but, controversy, as ever, was just around the corner.
Real, in their wisdom, had arranged an end of season tour to America and Mexico, but with the
majority of the players joining up with their national squads ahead of the World Cup in Italy,
the only major stars left to travel were Schuster and Sanchez. As he was carrying an injury,
Schuster suggested to the club that it would be a bad idea for him to tour, a comment that went
down like a lead balloon with the club's hierarchy. Club President Mendoza called Schuster
unprofessional, claiming he was only willing to tour if his family could go as well. Schuster denied
this and went on the month long tour, but his injury only allowed him to play in the last week.
Despite publicly stating his desire to stay with Real, the rumours continued that Real were looking
to move Schuster out in order to bring in both Georgi Hagi and Robert Prosinecki. It was another
bizarre situation for the Blond Angel to be in. The Real fans were totally bemused - Schuster had
performed fantastically for two seasons and still had another year on his contract, yet the club's
top brass were trying to force him out. The rumours were true, Schuster had the final year of his
contract paid up and was free to move to another club. Toshack claimed that it was his decision to
get rid of him as he wanted to bring in some younger players, but the fans believed he had been
told to say this in order to protect club President Mendoza.
Jesus signs the Blonde Angel
Bizarrely, after the goings on at the Bernabeu during the summer, Schuster began the 1990-91 season
without a team. He was linked with moves back to Germany, to Italy, even Japan, but with his family
settled in Madrid he eventually opted for another controversial switch, this time to Real's city
rivals Atletico. Who else but Schuster could move from Barcelona to Real, and then to Atletico?
Run by larger than life president, Jesus Gil, the press thought the signing was purely an Atletico
marketing gimmick - why would Schuster want to join a struggling team after 2 great seasons with
Real, and why join a club with a president like Gil? Schuster and Gil at the same club !?! Surely
this was some sort of Spanish tomfoolery ! It was 2 months into the new season when Schuster
eventually joined and all of a sudden they became a club reborn. With the German pulling all the
strings in midfield, and with quality players such as Paulo Futre and Manolo around him, Atletico
came close to a sensational league title. Ultimately they lost out to the Johan Cruyff's Barcelona
'Dream Team' of Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup, Ronald Koeman et al, but a Spanish Cup triumph meant
that Schuster became the first player to win the Spanish Cup with 3 different teams. At this point
Schuster had been re-united with Luis Aragones as coach and he stated that Schuster was one of the
best players he'd ever coached, remarking that it was his winning mentality that made him stand out
from the rest rather than his more obvious footballing qualities. Aragones also said that Schuster
read the game as well as anyone he'd ever seen, "Sometimes while sat on the bench I thought it would
be perfect now if he passed the ball forward and he would! He would always pass at the right time".
His heroics earned him the 1991 Don Balon Foreign Player of the Year award, the 2nd of his career,
but despite calls from back home he still could not be persuaded to return to the national fold.
Atletico started the next season, 1991-92, in top form, Schuster creating the chances and Manolo
scoring them. La Liga, Europe and the Copa del Rey all looked on the cards for Aragones' team, but
as the season went on Barcelona edged ahead, eventually winning both La Liga and the European Cup.
Atletico went out in Europe following a controversial loss to Parma. However, the Copa del Rey was a
happy hunting ground again. A showcase Atletico-Real Madrid final was won by Atletico, Schuster
scoring with a trademark 30 yarder.
1992-93, Schuster's third season at the Vicente Calderon was one that started with high expectations.
Following two seasons at the top end of La Liga, the fans were actually starting to believe that this
could be their year. At the end of 1992 they were still in with a chance, but an injury to Schuster
showed just how reliant they had become on him - with the German running midfield Atletico were
capable of challenging, but without him they were ordinary. His three month absence cost Atletico
any chance they had of claiming the title, and this is where Schuster's next controversy started.
Up until this point his relationship with Jesus Gil had been quite cordial, especially compared with
the previous Schuster-President relationships at BArca and Real. However, now it was open season for
Gil. Realising the impact that Schuster's injury was having on the team's results, he ridiculously
accused Schuster of not doing enough to get better, that he should be having more treatment. This
was the beginning of the end for Schuster at Atletico, and in La Liga. As the end of the season
approached, he was allowed to train with the team, but not play. What a way to end a great La Liga
career. Barcelona, Real and Atletico - life was never dull in Spain for the Blond Angel.
Next stop on the Schuster journey was a trip back home to Germany, as he joined Bayer Leverkusen.
His 3 seasons there seemed to pretty much sum up his career, brilliance on the pitch coupled with
controversy off it. On the pitch he played arguably the best football of his career, the clamour
for him to be named in the 1994 World Cup squad obviously grew, but he still refused to return.
Alongside another German legend enjoying an Indian summer to his career, Rudi Voller, the Werkself
(the Factory Squad) played some fantastic attacking football but missed out on the trophies.
Schuster claimed a first in German football as he became the only player to claim 1st, 2nd and 3rd
positions in Germany's prestigious goal of the season award in 1994-95. His winning goal, a shot
from the centre circle, was also named goal of the decade. However, off the pitch problems started
to surface once again, this time between Schuster and coach Erich Ribbeck. The saga ended before
the 1995-96 season had finished, with Ribbeck dropping Schuster after claiming he was threatening
legal action against the club. Schuster denied the allegation but lost the club captaincy following
a players vote and then had his contract terminated. It was a classic Schuster ending. But he'd
certainly provided the Bundesliga with nearly 3 years of fantastic football. Even the robotic
Lothar Matthaus grieved after his departure, saying, "Schuster is a genius. One of the best players
the Bundesliga has seen, if not the best. Bayer Leverkusen have lost a piece of their heart without
The end is nigh !
Having left Leverkusen, Schuster was on the look out for a fresh challenge. It appeared to have
come in the form of the American team San Jose Clash. They appeared keen to sign him, but wanted to
have a look at him before offering him a contract, so they invited him on their tour of Asia.
Schuster's performances on the tour were good, and it looked like he would be heading to the States,
but after the tour had finished, the Americans pulled out of the deal, citing problems with the
contract. The press suggested it was time for Schuster to retire, but he still believed he had
something to offer. He remained a free agent until December, then surprised everyone by surfacing
in Mexico to sign for UNAM Pumas. Now 37, Schuster may have lost a yard or three of pace, but he
still had an eye for the killer pass, and he still had a passion for the game... "I'm not here for
the money, I'm just here to play. I love football and I believe I can bring something to UNAM" was
Schuster's response to Mexican journalists when they questioned how much he was going to cost the
club. Schuster played 9 games for the Mexicans and then finally hung up his boots. It was probably
quite fitting that he ended his career this way - despite all the criticism and controversy
throughout his career, here was a player who ultimately just loved to played football, and was
willing to move to Mexico to try and extend his career.
It could be argued that Schuster was a classic Latin playmaker in every sense except nationality.
Certainly his strident views, usually backed up by actions, were never going to ingratiate him w
ithin the rigid structure that prevailed throughout his career at national level. Schuster,
idiosyncratic and intelligent, was able to cut himself from the national team with ease. He was
cosmopolitan in outlook and Latin in his playing culture. Sadly, this meant he was never able to
demonstrate his sublime skills on a global stage. Off-field controversy may have followed Schuster
wherever he went, but when it came to the footballing side of things, the Blond Angel had no equal.
It must never be forgotten that from his early days with 1.FC Koln to his last main contract with
Bayer Leverkusen, Schuster carried off his role of midfield general to perfection.
A genuine legend.