Stefan Effenberg

The master of the sliding tackle: Stefan Effenberg

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One thing above all is important for great, effective sliding tackles: timing. Only a fraction of a second separates the spectacular goal-saving challenge from the red-worthy professional foul, the powerful announcement from the crude foul. But a stirring tackle must also be perfectly timed in another respect: it has to come at the right moment. Then it breaks waves of attack, marks turning points, sends messages - to opponents, teammates and fans. For the psychology of a game, such a tackle can be immensely significant. And hardly any player in the history of FC Bayern knew this better than Stefan Effenberg. 

Commitment with a signal effect 

Milan, the San Siro, 23 May 2001: the opening period of Bayern's Champions League final against Valencia is under way. And everything seems to have conspired against Effe and his team. Already in the third minute they are behind due to a controversial penalty. Four minutes later, Mehmet Scholl misses a penalty kick. Is it happening again? After the heartbreaking final of 1999, surely they won't lose another?

Putting his body on the line: Stefan Effenberg

Bayern are chasing the game, but many things seem rushed, hectic, inaccurate. And Valencia keep transitioning quickly, as was also the case in the 12th minute. The Spaniards win the ball in their own penalty area and Gaizka Mendieta, Valencia's captain and scorer of the opening goal, runs towards the Bayern half. Just before the halfway line he wants to pass the ball. If the pass goes through, Valencia have a four on three. Determined and precise, Effenberg slides in to take the ball off Valencia's star player's foot. It is not an insanely spectacular tackle, but one that radiates a lot: authority, the will to win and a firm confidence in his own strength.

Anyone who watches the game again will notice: in the minutes after Effenberg's tackle, the Bayern team, who had previously seemed agitated, become more and more confident. The Munich men begin to dominate and control the game. The fortunes turn. Around two and a half hours later, Oliver Kahn saves Mauricio Pellegrino's penalty - and FC Bayern are crowned Europe's best club team for the first time in 25 years.

How much can a sliding tackle change a game? "Something like that will never be decisive," Effenberg himself once said. "But it is an important piece in the puzzle."

Tackling as a multi-use instrument

Effenberg was without question one of the best midfielders of his time. In 2001 he was voted UEFA Footballer of the Year, having previously been labelled "Europe's best midfielder" by Ottmar Hitzfeld. Effenberg's footballing toolbox was bulging with quality: with his fantastic passing game, he leveraged opposing defences; with his great willingness to run, he filled cracks in his own defence; with fine technique and outstanding vision, he cleverly built up the game. But the 1.88-metre tall midfield enforcer was praised above all for his leadership qualities. He was Hitzfeld's "aggressive leader", and his almost virtuoso use of the sliding tackle as a multi-use instrument became his trademark.

As a means of purely physical tackling, he mastered it perfectly anyway. He anticipated his opponent's intentions, nicked the ball off his foot or blocked it in textbook fashion so that the opponent had to jump over him and he could play on immediately with the ball he had won. Now and then, however, he took out the opponent at the same time. Mostly with precisely calculated intensity. For Effe, the sliding tackle often served a psychological purpose too.

His welcoming tackle was famous, often dished out to the opponents' star player. The thinking behind it: "Especially at the beginning of a game, you can create a real wow effect," Effenberg once explained. "The teammates realise that the game plan is clear: we're in charge here today. It also gets the crowd into the game straight away, the spark carries over. And last but not least, you can of course intimidate the opponent if he allows it."

Stefan Effenberg commanded respect on the pitch.

But Effenberg also liked to make tackles with a message later in the game. For example, in the middle of the first half of the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Manchester United in 2001, he so uncompromisingly got the ball off the foot of another great midfield warhorse of his time, Roy Keane, near the corner flag, that the message was clear: We won't give you an inch until the end.

Because Effenberg knew that certain tackles were designed to have a signalling effect, he also knew how best to react when he himself was taken out. Either he stood up as if nothing had happened, or he made one thing clear to his opponent, gladly raising his forehead to forehead or his famous threatening index finger: You won't do that again! Most of the time he was right.

Winning mentality 

There is no record of the attitude Effenberg once displayed as a child on the streets of Hamburg-Niendorf or on the pitches of his youth club Victoria Hamburg. But one thing is clear: in none of his 560 competitive games as a professional did Effenberg go onto the football pitch to make friends there or in the stands. He was never a reckless player, not a brute, but an extraordinary wil to win and assertiveness were part of his character - and a certain toughness and aggressiveness were part of his game.

He received 114 yellow cards (and three reds) in his career, a Bundesliga record. He also secured the entry as the first player to receive the second yellow card introduced in 1991. By then he was already playing for Bayern, who he joined from Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1990 at the age of 22. Augenthaler, Reuter, Aumann - those were his teammates in Munich at the beginning. And Effenberg showed early on that he was willing to assert himself not only on the pitch but also in a dressing room full of seasoned world champions. In his autobiography he writes that during an internal debate, he clearly told the then Bayern libero and World Cup winner Klaus Augenthaler to his face that he thought Stefan Reuter was the better libero. "Effe" rarely shirked a duel.

Stefan Effenberg, together with Oliver Kahn, was instrumental in Bayern's 2001 Champions League success.

He only became an undisputed leading player in Munich, however, when he moved to Bayern for a second time in the summer of 1998 after spells at Fiorentina and Mönchengladbach. And unlike his first stint, this one was also crowned with success. He had only won the DFB Cup in 1995 when he came to Munich in 1998. When he left in 2002, he was a three-time German champion and Champions League winner. 

The verbal tackle

He made a team full of great players, brilliantly managed by Hitzfeld, even better. With his footballing qualities, with his mentality - "his presence alone is tremendously important for us," Oliver Kahn once said - and with his ability to push himself and his teammates to peak performance in decisive phases. With actions as well as words. 

In the days after Beckenbauer's famous "Uwe Seeler traditional team" speech in Lyon, which "Der Kaiser" gave after a 3-0 defeat in the Champions League group stage in 2001, Effe also appeared before the team. He asked the coach to leave, as he recounts in his biography. Beckenbauer's words had been harsh, but they knew him. "You don't have to see it so narrowly," he explained confidently, taking the brunt out of Beckenbauer's attack. They were a "strong as an ox" team. "We're going to bust our asses now and show Franz what we've got." It was basically the verbal version of Effenberg's motivational tackle.

In part one of the Unmatched series, we examined Jamal Musiala:

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