Matthias Sammer; a name that it widely known across football history. A commanding figure at the heart the physical, hardworking German era. In a era that had favoured the sweeper; Sammer will probably go down as one of the last liberos at Dortmund and even possibly the Bundesliga.
Starting off at his home town in Dresden, his father – Klaus Sammer – gave him his debut for Dynamo Dresden, where Matthias started as a striker, before being moved out onto the wing, then finally found a home in central midfield. This was at the heart of Dresden’s success and during his time Sammer won consecutive East German League titles and the East German Cup.
Following his league and cup double with Dresden, Sammer moved to VfB Stuttgart where he spent the best part of two seasons tearing up the Bundesliga. Sammer’s physicality and hard working ethic made him a force in the middle of the park. In his first season Stuttgart finished 6th place, but the following year brought success as Stuttgart clinched the Bundesliga ironically beating Dortmund only goal difference. Imagine missing out of the title for that reason, it would be heartbreaking.
Once again after winning another league title, Sammer was off, this time overseas to Italian giants Inter Milan. Sammer shook up the Serie A with his tough physical style, it was something that the Italians weren’t used to. He scored 4 goals in 11 games for the nerazurri, but life in Italy was hard on Sammer, he simply couldn’t adapt to life there. So after 6 or so months, Sammer returned to Germany where he built his legacy.
Sammer signed during the winter break of the 92-93 season for one of Germanys biggest clubs, and the club that so narrowly missed out on the title to Stuttgart the year before; Borussia Dortmund. Sammer continued his fine form Inter to Westphalia scoring an impressive 10 goals in 17 games, a quite brilliant record for a midfielder. Dortmund themselves finished 4th, 7 points behind winners Werder Bremen. The following season, despite Sammer’s great return of goals, his position was changed.
Introducing Matthias Sammer, the Libero! The libero or sweeper, had been a trend in German football for decades, going back to the pioneer Franz Beckenbauer. The idea is the libero would act as a ‘free’ defender who wouldn’t mark opposing attackers, instead he would simply be there that mop up any lose balls. This was ideal as the main influence the libero needed for was to turn those lose balls into counter attacks. the libero needed to be technically good, with the eye for a pass. Most liberos would be midfielders who were dropped deeper designed to be effective in the attacking transitions. So legendary German manager Ottmar Hitzfeld moved Sammer into this libero role to fulfill this iconic Germany system. Dortmund finished 4th for the second successive season but this was the transition period, with plenty of potential.
The following season the libero system had reached its full potential as Dortmund were crowned Bundesliga Champions, their first championship for over 30 years. Sammer was at the heart of all things great during this success and was pivotal in Dortmund’s retention of the Bundesliga the following year, where Dortmund finished 6 points ahead of 2nd placed Bayern. In both seasons Sammer and his new found libero role, was named German Footballer of the Year. In addition to the individual and team accolades, Sammer was named Ballon d’Or winner in 1996 ahead of Barcelona’s Ronaldo and Newcastle’s Alan Shearer, becoming the first defender to win the award since Franz Beckenbauer 20 years earlier.
Sammer also shone that year with the German national side, winning the European Championship and being named Player of the Tournament as Germany beat Croatia 2-1 at Wembley.
Dortmund couldn’t continue their domestic dominance for a third year as Bayern pipped them to the title. However the season will go down in history for BVB as Sammer captained his side to Champions League glory. Borussia Dortmund defeated the mighty Juventus 3-1 at Bayern’s Olympiastadion, in a night that BVB fans will never forget. A double from Karl-Heinz Riedle and a wonder strike from Lars Ricken within a number of seconds. It was a huge night for Sammer, Dortmund & German football as BVB defeated the star of Juventus who had Ciro Ferrara, Alen Boksic, Didier Deschamps and the great Zinédine Zidane. It was no fluke, no scrappy win, Juve were outplayed with Sammer once again running the show.
The Champions League win signaled the end for Sammer as a serious knee injury stopped him from returning to the first team. He retired in 1998 but returned to the club two years later, this time he was manager. In his first season in charge he led Dortmund to a 3rd place finish 5 points behind winners Bayern, but even more disappointingly for BVB fans, Schalke finished 2nd. It was the next season that broke more records for Sammer & Dortmund.
Sammer, with the likes of Tomáš Rosický, Márcio Amoroso and Jan Koller, won the Bundesliga. He became the first manager to win the Bundesliga as a player and then as a manager. It almost became a perfect season but defeat in the UEFA Cup final to Feyenoord ended those dreams. Things didn’t continue in the winning fashion for Sammer after that as Dortmund finished 3rd the following season, a massive 17 points behind walkaway winners Bayern. Things then started spiraling into free fall as Dortmunds financial issue become apparent. Players leaving to repay debts and Sammer was sacked for finishing 6th. It’s a shame that his legacy that he built at Dortmund ended in that way, the off the field mayhem did not help the situation.
He returned for a season with Stuttgart where he finished 1 point off a champions League place, which was a decent finish for them, but for Sammer it wasn’t enough. He left the Stuttgart and had stints at the German national side and Bayern as Technical directors, but effectively his managerial career had ended. Due to health reasons the great Sammer left his position with Bayern and is now focusing on his personal life with his family.
A great midfielder turned libero, national and club winning hero and successful manager. Matthias Sammer, a historical legend.