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Karl-Heinz Körbel On Eintracht Frankfurt Success, Being A One-Club Man And Facing Gerd Müller

Karl-Heinz Körbel On Eintracht Frankfurt Success, Being A One-Club Man And Facing Gerd Müller

An interview with Karl-Heinz Körbel, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

As a player, you were a one-club man and played over 600 Bundesliga games for Eintracht Frankfurt. How much does the club mean to you?

“When I came to Frankfurt back then, I was told that the club was “the moody diva”. I had to experience that myself. The ups and downs. That is also part of Eintracht Frankfurt.

“The club is one with an incredible tradition. It all started with the game against Real Madrid in 1960, which was the first step towards becoming internationally known. In the last five years, however, it became more and more so with the Cup victory and the Europa League win.

“We also used to be successful, but today, because of the digital age, many things are different. If we had had these circumstances back then, we would have been superstars too.

“But thank God there were no mobile phones, everything was much humbler. The club now has over 130,000 members, compared to 2,000 in my day.

“That’s a boom I would never have dreamed of. Eintracht Frankfurt is one of the most extraordinary traditional clubs in the Bundesliga.”

You have the most appearances in Bundesliga history. That must be a nice record to have?

“I hope it’s a record for the ages.

“The special thing about it is that I only played these many games for one club.

“Nowadays there are a lot of club changes. My temptation was also greater at times when there was disappointment, players were sold and there was no success. That’s when you’ve thought about changing clubs.

“But thank God I resisted that temptation. Today I know what it means. My whole life at Eintracht Frankfurt. I have now been with the club for over 50 years.

“The people thank you for that. Tradition, values – these things have even greater meaning in this day and age.”

During your time at the club as a player, you won four DFB-Pokal trophies. What are your memories of those successes?

“Every cup victory has its own story. Every final was special. In the past, the finals were not played in one place, like today in the Olympiastadion in Berlin. Stuttgart, Hanover, Düsseldorf – different cities. I’m glad it’s like today. Berlin is like Wembley.

“I was lucky enough to be a cup winner there in 1988 to experience it as it is today. That was also the most beautiful cup victory for me. It wasn’t an amazing game, but I was captain and got to lift the trophy into the night sky. That image always comes back to me.”

You also won the UEFA Cup in 1980. What are your memories of that success and how did playing in European competition compare to playing in the Bundesliga?

“It was special because four German teams were in the semi-finals. But when I compare the celebrations then and now, it was like night and day.

“The final was during the week and we played Bundesliga again on Saturday. You couldn’t celebrate at all and enjoy the whole thing so much.

“When I think of the pictures after the Europa League victory in 2022, that was completely different. But the sporting success remains forever, of course.”

You represented West Germany on six occasions. What are your memories of representing the national team?

“I was lucky enough to have played with all the top stars. I was young at the time, 20, 21 years old. They were all players from whom I had previously collected autographs. Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Sepp Maier. Günther Netzer, Paul Breitner, Uli Hoeneß. Those were some incredible encounters for me.

Hoeneß was already like a manager of the team back then. You could guess what his second career would look like.

“Those were my international apprenticeship years.

“Back then, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t play so much. Today I understand it better. Maybe it was a mistake on my part to end my career in the national team so early.”

You have played a massive role in the academy set-up at Frankfurt that has seen many young players go on to have strong careers in the Bundesliga and beyond. How would you reflect on your work at the academy?

“At that time, I was a youth coach and co-coach of the first team at the same time. That was a huge challenge. But it was unbelievable fun.

“The players I had almost all became Bundesliga players. Oka Nikolov, Matthias Hagner, Thomas Sobotzik, Thomas Reis, the former coach of Bochum and Schalke, or Erol Bulut, who is now head coach at Fenerbahce. It was a really great time.”

Finally, Karl-Heinz, which players would you pick out as your best teammates and your toughest opponents over the years?

“It wasn’t Gerd Müller (laughs). Everyone was afraid of him, but he was my favourite opponent.

“But I didn’t like playing against Klaus Fischer at all. He was very uncomfortable. Hardly any player scored three goals against me, but he did.

“A player I would have liked to have in my team would have been Thomas Müller. He would have also fitted in with Eintracht Frankfurt back then. His manner, on and off the pitch. A great personality.”