Eccentric, revolutionary, firebrand, uncompromising rebel: Paul Breitner was a player who split opinions. He is remembered for the strategic vision on the football pitch which decisively helped to shape Bayern’s game in the early 1980s, and he also became one of the leading lights in the Germany team.
Breitner started playing football as a six-year-old for SV Kolbermoor. In 1961 he moved to ESV Freilassing where his father, an administrative officer, acted as his youth coach. He then made it into Udu Lattek’s Germany youth side at a tender age. Here he met his future team-mate and colleague Uli Hoeneß. When Lattek was appointed coach at Bayern in 1969 he brought both his model pupils with him.
Greatest success in the seventies
Breitner quickly became a regular in the Bayern side. Toughness, energy, the ability to react quickly, his extreme level of fitness and willingness to shoot were all characteristics that marked out the midfielder who made such a great contribution to his team’s success. He enjoyed the most successful phase of his footballing career at Munich in the early 1970s: he won the DFB Cup in 1971, the 1972 to 1974 Bundesliga titles, and the 1974 European Cup.
When he was 19, Breitner made his debut for the national side in a 7-1 win against Norway in Oslo on 22 June 1971. The following year saw his first international success as Germany lifted the 1972 European Championship title in Belgium. At the 1974 World Cup in Germany he then produced hispièce de résistance, scoring the all-important equaliser from the penalty spot in Germany’s 2-1 victory over Holland in the Final. “I wasn’t supposed to take the spot-kick but I was nearest to the ball,” the goalscorer admitted after the game.
After the World Cup Breitner switched to Real Madrid, where he teamed up with Günter Netzer to form an outstanding midfield duo. At Real he won the league and Cup double in 1975, and the Spanish title again in 1976.
“At Real I came to recognise how important it is to be seen and respected as a human being,” declared the midfield magician later on. Breitner even appeared in a film during his spell in Madrid, performing in the moderately successful “Potato Fritz” alongside Hardy Krüger.
Return to Bayern
In the summer of 1977 Breitner returned to the Bundesliga when he joined Eintracht Braunschweig. However, he only spent one season in Brunswick before making a return to Bayern in 1978.
In his second spell with Bayern, Paul Breitner became the real boss of the team. He was soon appointed captain and starred alongside Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. He picked up his fourth and fifth Bundesliga titles in 1980 and 1981, and in 1982 he once again lifted the DFB Cup.
Comeback for Germany
The Bayern captain returned to the Germany side in 1981. He had initially retired from the international stage after the game against Greece on 11 October 1975 in Düsseldorf, but reversed his earlier decision and went on to win another 20 caps and assume the role of midfield maestro. In the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Breitner was the “leader of the pack” for Germany and led them to the Final, where Italy ran out 3-1 winners.
Breitner’s playing career ended in the 1982-3 season through injury following a challenge from SV Hamburg’s Wolfgang Rolff. His last big match was his testimonial match for Bayern against a World XI which came out on top 3-2.