Thomas Hassler. From FC Koln to Kangaroos24 April 2019
Photo Credit - Radio Football
By Stel Stylianou
Every football fan has at least one cult hero. Some are for nostalgic reasons, others, like me, simply enjoy reminiscing about a player purely because of their antics on and off the pitch.
My focus is on a very rare breed of person. An individual who was overshadowed by his much more glamorous team mates.
Italia 90 will always be my favourite World Cup, not just because it was the first I can remember, but for the drama and turn of events that occurred as the tournament progressed. Those of us who were fortunate enough to watch the competition unfold can point to many incidents that made us love the game even more. From Toto Schilacci’s incredible Golden Boot winning campaign – after being called up only due to Vialli being ruled out (IIRC) – to Gazza’s semi final tears. It had everything. Granted, the final was diabolical. Utter garbage, in fact.
West Germany’s road to Rome could be described as “vorsprung durch effizienz” (thanks Google). But while Klinsmann, Matthaus, Brehme and Voller stole the show, a tricky midfielder did enough to earn a move to Italian giants Juventus following the tournament. Unfortunately, his switch to the Bianconeri was overshadowed by the world record transfer of Roberto Baggio from Fiorentina to the very same club.
Thomas Hassler’s career hit the big time at FC Koln in 1984, playing alongside another superb German international; Pierre Littbarski. Four years later, “Icke” was included in West Germany’s Olympic squad after missing out on a call up for Euro ’88. Fast forward 12 months and the little man won his first of two Fussballer des Jahres despite FC Koln finishing 2nd in the Bundesliga, 5 points behind champions Bayern Munich (who else?).
Unfortunately, Hassler’s first season at Juve didn’t go as well as he would have liked. A seventh placed finish and 2 goals (in all competitions) to his name meant he was surplus to requirements. AS Roma Head Coach Ottavio Bianchi felt Hassler was the ideal provider for compatriot Rudi Voller, stumping up the equivalent of €7.7M. A four year unsuccessful stint at the (then) capital’s biggest club came to an end as Hassler was unable find a place in the team ahead of Cappioli, Giannini, Thern, Moriero, Statuto and Carboni. As fate would have it, Hassler’s final 2 seasons at the club coincided with the emergence of a future AS Roma legend; Francesco Totti.
Totti’s debut season came in 1992; a famous year for Danish football as the national team won the European Championships, despite only qualifying for the tournament by default. Denmark’s victory is still regarded as one of the biggest shocks in international football, having beaten the first unified German team who – don’t forget – were world champions.
Although the Euro 92 final will be remembered for John Jensen’s howitzer that opened the scoring, one magical moment in Germany’s opening match will forever live in my memory. While the breakup of Yugoslavia meant its highly talented national team was unable to compete, another entrant – Gorbachev’s dissolved USSR and newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States – led a German side, containing 8 World Cup winners in the starting line up, 1-0. Germany’s new Head Coach Berti Vogts could be forgiven for being petrified at the thought of his first tournament game ending in an embarrassing defeat.
Time wasn’t on Berti’s side. With 90 minutes on the clock, a free kick was awarded to the Germans, 19 yards out, left of centre outside the D. Up stepped Hassler. Moments later, the ball was in the back of the net. Top right hand corner. Some call it a “postage stamp”. Other says “top bin”. Either way, it was an unstoppable free kick. Perfect pace. Perfect trajectory. What made the strike even better was goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine was positioned about a yard from his near post. He’s 6ft 2 for crying out loud and he didn’t get anywhere near the ball. Incredible.
It’s fair to say YouTube compilations can make the most dreadful footballer look like Diego Maradona, but Hassler rarely scored a tap in. Most of his goals were belters. A left foot volley against Wales, assisted by former team mate Littbarski is another favourite of mine, as is a free kick – in a similar position to the aforementioned goal against the C.I.S. – versus Bulgaria which nestled into the bottom corner. More often than not, Hassler’s free kicks would leave goalkeepers rooted to the spot.
Of course there was more to Hasslers game than being a dead ball specialist. He was nimble, quick, had a low centre of gravity and left many opponents with twisted blood. Hassler was part of Germany’s Euro 96 winning side, leaving England fans with a feeling of déjà vu having been knocked out on penalties at the semi final stage, just like Italia 90.
After leaving Roma, Hassler had spells at Karlsruher, Dortmund and 1860 Munich before retiring at Austrian side Wusternrot Salzburg – now known as RedBull Salzburg. Despite not winning any medals at club level, Hassler earned another German Footballer of the Year award in 1992 and remains in the top 10 most capped players for the national team with a staggering 101 caps. Just goes to show how important this man was in the 12 years he represented Die Mannschaft. Other personal achievements include Most Assists at the 1994 World Cup, UEFA Team of the Tournament at Euro 1992 and FIFA XI in 1999.
As far as research purposes go, the only thing I can find on Hassler is on Transfermarkt.co.uk which states he’s Head Coach of Berlin United. However, I do know that this little legend has shown off his fancy footwork on RTL’s “Let’s Dance” – a celebrity dance show – teaming up with Latin American dance specialist Regina Luca. He also came 4th on “Ich bin ein Star – Holt mich hier raus!” – the German equivalent of “I’m a Celebrity – Get me out of here!”. I think this career switch takes some beating.