6 Most Popular Germany World Cup Stars Since 1990
Skill, a never-say-die attitude, passion and a bit of luck at an opportune time are pre-requisites for footballing success.
But popularity, well, that’s a completely different ball game, especially in Germany where any such list will always be highly subjective.
Playing at club level for Bayern Munich, for example, is a double-edged sword in the popularity stakes. Half of this list polarised the masses and could easily make their way onto any least popular list!
Despite that conflict and the subjectivity involved, we attempt to showcase Germany’s most popular players since 1990—a pivotal date in German football history as it remains the last occasion (West) Germany won the World Cup.
Charisma, courage, flair and perhaps a suspect haircut all help that star live long in the memory of a fascinated German public.
In order to compile a list of the ten most popular, I recently conducted a straw poll of my extended (German) family and friends (aged 16-86), asking them for their six favourite German World Cup stars since 1990 in reverse order.
With the 2014 tournament already well under way, the inclination would surely be to predominantly name those etched in recent memory, so it is interesting to note that every single player has been rewarded for outstanding performances on the world’s highest stage.
The final selection confirms that the Germans fondly remember the success stories and hold these winners in long-lasting affection.
We can conclude that Lothar Matthaus, the winning captain 24 long years ago, is all but forgiven some of his flaws and is arguably not only Germany’s greatest-ever player but also the most popular.
One thing is certain: Jurgen Klinsmann would struggle to maintain his popularity if his USA side had knocked Germany out of the 2014 World Cup.
Ultimately, three “Italia 90” heroes make the grade, along with record goalscorer Miroslav Klose, 2002 Player of the Tournament Oliver Kahn and today’s shooting star Thomas Mueller.
All stats are correct up to and including Germany’s draw with Ghana as per the football association website.
Click “Begin slideshow” to reveal the final results. Interaction is always welcome via the comments.
Honourable mentions must go to Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil and Michael Ballack who round off the Top 10—great players in their own right with many highlights for both club and country.
However, as yet, none of them have crowned brilliant international displays with a career-defining World Cup success—the underlying criteria in this list.
The recently-retired Ballack missed the 2002 final against Brazil due to suspension after some inspired performances en route.
It remains to be seen whether Germany’s class of 2014 can cover themselves in glory in Brazil and make the step up to legend status by achieving Germany's first World Cup title in 24 years.
6. Thomas Mueller
8 World Cup games: 8 goals
Thomas Mueller won the hearts of the German public at the 2010 tournament in South Africa, winning the Golden Boot with five goals and three assists in just six games as part of Joachim Low’s vibrant, counter-attacking side.
The 24-year-old also took home the Best Young Player award for his outstanding displays as Germany eventually finished third.
With his gangly gait and socks slipping halfway down his legs like a schoolboy down the park, there are times when Mueller doesn’t quite fit the bill of a perfectly-styled modern-day footballer. Mueller is always good for a laugh off the pitch and is popular with team-mates and fans alike.
Mueller started off the 2014 competition in stunning style with a hat-trick in the opener and the Bayern Munich attacker seems set to become a German legend over the next decade.
5. Oliver Kahn
8 World Cup games
Oliver Kahn was once undoubtedly the best keeper in the world—an intimidating monster of muscular authority who dominated opposition strikers as they bore down on his goal. One of his most remarkable performances was in the 2001 Champions League final, when he saved three penalties in the shoot-out to earn his Bayern Munich side victory over Valencia.
Still high on the back of his club's Champions League victory, “The Titan’s” fierce aggression and spectacular agility inspired a distinctly average German side all the way to the 2002 World Cup final, where, despite losing, he was the first ever goalkeeper to win the Golden Ball award for the tournament's best player.
Germany had lost 5-1 at home to England in qualifying, so Kahn’s superlative feats in dragging a very poor team all the way to the 2002 World Cup final shouldn’t be underestimated.
We choose to turn a blind eye to his minor error which allowed Ronaldo to score in the final, as without him the Germans would have been on the plane home from Asia a fortnight earlier.
Today, Kahn remains a popular figure, and the German icon has carved out a new career as a TV pundit.
4. Miroslav Klose
20 World Cup games: 15 goals
Miroslav Klose was undoubtedly helped by the timing of the poll as it was compiled on the very weekend that the 36-year-old striker equaled Ronaldo’s World Cup scoring record with an equaliser against gallant Ghana.
Klose has notched 15 goals in just 20 World Cup games with a celebratory salto becoming his trademark. Few would bet against the Polish-born striker breaking the Brazilian’s record over the rest of the tournament.
With 70 goals in 133 matches, Klose is currently Germany's all-time leading scorer having beaten the long-standing record previously held by “Bomber” Gerd Mueller.
Klose burst onto the scene with five headers in the 2002 World Cup, including a hat-trick against Saudi Arabia. The ex-Bayern striker was top scorer and Golden Boot winner at the 2006 tournament, which was held on home soil, and scored four at the 2010 World Cup as part of the side that eventually finished third.
The goal against Ghana means Klose matched his compatriot Uwe Seeler's and Brazilian legend Pele's feat of scoring at four different World Cups. He is also one of only two players, along with Peru’s Teofilo Cubillas, to have scored at least five goals in two different World Cups, as well as the only player to have scored at least four goals in three different tournaments (2002, 2006 and 2010).
Sufficient grounds methinks for Klose to comfortably make this list in fourth place with room for improvement in coming weeks. Coach Joachim Low will be hoping there is more to come from his only recognised striker as the tournament progresses: Germany have never lost a game in which Klose has scored.
3. Rudi Voeller
15 World Cup games: 8 goals
Voeller was a standout figure in the German game and a member of the legendary 1990 World Cup winning side.
He was also famous for his haircut which earned him the nickname “Tante Kathe” (Aunt Kathe). Tight-perm hairstyles were all the rage back in the day. Voeller and Klinsmann were the favoured strike duo which struck fear into opposition sides. “Rudi” won the decisive penalty for Franz Beckenbauer’s side in the final against Argentina.
Voeller is interestingly the only player on this list not to have played for German champions Bayern, but he did star for Bavarian rivals 1860 Munich in the early '80s.
He is perhaps best remembered for being the player famously spat on by Holland’s Frank Rijkaard in Italia '90 in arguably one of the most thrilling, yet ill-tempered games in World Cup history.
His finest hour as German coach came when he guided a limited German side to the 2002 World Cup final which they lost 2-0 to Brazil.
Voeller is still a popular figure in the game today, serving Bayer Leverkusen (where he ended his playing career) in a whole host of capacities—currently as Director of Football.
2. Jurgen Klinsmann
17 World Cup games: 11 goals
Yes, that’s right USA fans, current coach Jurgen Klinsmann once excelled on the highest stage for Germany. Klinsmann was a figurehead in West Germany’s 1990 winning side forming a potent strike partnership with Rudi Voeller.
The blond-haired striker was also Germany’s captain at Euro 1996 which remains Die Mannschaft’s last major tournament success.
He is remembered with great affection in England, too, after two successful spells with Spurs, showing great self-deprecation for his legendary dive celebration.
He also reinvigorated the German national side during his spell as national team coach from 2004-06, leading them to third place at home in 2006 which triggered a massive Berlin parade where Klinsmann and his side were feted by hundreds of thousands of jubilant fans.
It is doubtful, however, whether “Klinsi” would remain as popular if his current USA side had bundled his country of birth from the 2014 competition.
1. Lothar Matthaeus
25 World Cup games : 6 goals
Lothar Matthaeus is the only outfield player to have played in five World Cups (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998).
He is arguably the best player Germany has ever produced, winning a record 150 caps, spanning a time period of 20 years. He still holds the record for the most World Cup matches played by a single player (25 games).
Matthaeus was a dynamic box-to-box midfielder who starred as sweeper towards the end of his career. He is best remembered as captain, fulcrum and inspiration of the triumphant 1990 side.
He is the only German to have won the FIFA World Player of the year award and won his second German Footballer of the Year award in 1999 at the ripe old age of 38.
Even Argentinian legend Diego Maradona heaped praise on Matthaeus in his autobiography Yo Soy El Diego (I am Diego)—"He is the best rival I've ever had. I guess that's enough to define him."
Despite the odd blip, mainly down to a few failed dalliances with younger women, “Loddar” is still very present in German high-society and is an opinionated TV pundit for SKY Germany.
Follow Mark @LovellLowdown