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Josef "Sepp" Herberger (March 28, 1897 in Mannheimmarker, Germanymarker — April 20, 1977 in Weinheimmarker-Hohensachsen, Germany) was a Germanmarker football player and manager. He is most famous for being the manager of the West German national team which won the 1954 FIFA World Cup - The Miracle of Bern.

Herberger played three times for the German football team between 1921 and 1925 before becoming assistant to Dr. Otto Nerz in 1932. Herberger succeeded him as national coach after Germany's uninspired loss to Norway at the 1936 Olympics. After the war he had a short club spell with Eintracht Frankfurt. He remained national coach until 1964, when he was succeeded by Helmut Schön. He died of pneumonia in Mannheimmarker aged 80.

Early Life

'Sepp', as he was affectionately known, was the youngest of six children in a working-class family. When his father died, Herberger was sent out to work at the age of 14, taking odd jobs on building sites before entering employment in a metalworking factory.

Even as a young child, however, he was only really interested in football, and he made his senior debut for home town club Waldhof Mannheim at the tender age of 17.

Army, internationals and university

Herberger was drafted into military service in 1916 and served two years in the army before returning to play for Waldhof, where he earned rave notices as a gifted striker with battling instincts and hard-running stamina.

He received his first international call-up in 1921 and made his Germany debut in a 3-3 draw against Finland, although he was to win a total of only three caps. In his club career, Herberger moved across town to bitter rivals VfR Mannheim but was accused of accepting an illegal payment and received a year-long ban for contravening the game's amateur statutes.

With VfR, the 28 year-old scored the winner in the 1925 South German championship final, appearing for the third and final time in a Germany shirt against Holland that year.

He moved to Berlin in 1926 and embarked on a four-year stint with Tennis Borussia. At the age of 30 he began studying for a coaching diploma at the University of Physical Education in Berlin, graduating top of his class. His thesis was entitled 'Towards peak performance in the sport of football'. He subsequently spent four years with the Western Germany Sports Association in Duisburg as a senior coach.

Rebuilding the German Team

After Germany's poor showing at the 1936 Olympics, Herberger was named Reichsfussballtrainer, succeeding Otto Nerz. He fashioned a team widely expected to do well at France '38, but his work was undone by the ugly politics of the age. The regime in Berlin forced him to field players from annexed Austria, and Germany were knocked out ingloriously in the preliminary round.

International competition was suspended during the devastating war years, but the determined Herberger made every attempt to maintain contact with his players. At the cessation of hostilities he began the tough task of rebuilding the national side and was officially named national coach again in 1950.

Germany were excluded from the FIFA World Cup that year, but in November a national side again took the field after an eight-year absence. It was Germany's first game since the war and ended in a 1-0 win over Switzerland in front of 115,000 spectators in Stuttgart, ushering in an inspiring era in German football.

Herberger assiduously crafted a team around legendary captain Fritz Walter, but his men were still considered rank outsiders at the 1954 FIFA World Cup in neighbouring Switzerland. The all-conquering Hungarians were rated as nearly invincible as an 8-3 first round victory over Herberger's men appeared to prove. The boss was battered by a storm of criticism, but he later claimed that he had chosen to field a weakened side and saw the defeat as part of a broader strategic plan.

The football strategist par excellence

'Sepp' had calculated that he needed two first-round victories to progress. His men defeated Turkey in their opening match but the coach knew even his strongest side had little chance against Hungary. Thus he accepted there would be a defeat, sent out his reserves and rested his best players for the decisive match, once again versus the Turks.

Strength of character enabled him to ignore the barrage of hostility, but further events proved him right as a full-strength side duly disposed of Turkey a second time and progressed to the next round. His critics were silenced and suddenly he was hailed as "an outstanding football strategist."

His fame spread, partly due to a trademark notebook with details of upcoming opponents' strengths and weaknesses, but largely thanks to a gift for unforgettable pearls of wisdom. "The ball is round" and "A match lasts 90 minutes" have passed into the standard German football vocabulary.

For Germans, the 4th of July 1954 is written in indelible ink in the history books. Their national team, back on the world stage after a long, cold winter, would have to face Hungary in what seemed a lopsided final. Instead the event would be immortalised in the annals of German history as the 'Miracle of Berne.'

The Chief masterminds German triumph

Always a fighter, Herberger knew how to motivate a team. He was an authoritarian, but had a real feel for his players, highly aware of the effect of his words and how to stoke up his men's ambitions. The dressing room, and later an entire nation, respectfully addressed him simply as 'Chief'.

The football world may still be looking for his equal in terms of getting the best from individual players. His teams were superbly prepared, bristling with stamina, strength, discipline and fighting spirit, the virtues generally classed as typically German to this day.

Of all these attributes, interpersonal restraint was the most important, as he believed a side must be primarily functional as a group of people. He lived by his motto, "You have to be 11 friends." Captain Fritz Walter, Herberger's only real confidante, executed the Chief's instructions on the field, taking a key role in both sporting and personal terms.

The rain poured down as Germany defeated Hungary 3-2 after trailing by two early goals at the Wankdorf stadium in Bern. Herberger's tactics paid off: it was Hungary's first defeat in four years.

But the triumph in Bern meant far more than the prestige associated with a first FIFA World Cup success. It was a signal for renewal in devastated post-war Germany, restoring national pride and confidence, and sparking a powerful determination to rise from the ruins. It was the first sign of hope for a battered and bruised people.

Founding father of a new generation

Likewise, Sepp Herberger's influence stretched far beyond the role of FIFA World Cup-winning coach. He helped create the foundations for a new generation of Germans. In Germany, the 'Miracle of Bern' had a psychological effect greater than any other sporting success, and his achievement was recognised with the National Order of Merit First Class in 1962.

Herberger remained in the job of national coach until 1964. In 1958, Germany finished fourth at the FIFA World Cup in Sweden, before losing to Chile in the 1962 quarter-finals. His last match as German national coach was a victory over Finland on 7 June 1964.

He handed over his position to Helmut Schon and retired. Herberger died after a lung infection in 1977 in his hometown of Mannheim at the age of 80.


Herberger was a shrewd tactician. After his team started the 1954 FIFA World Cup with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Turkey, he made eight changes, resting his best players for the second game against favourites Hungary. Only captain Fritz Walter, Jupp Posipal and Werner Kohlmeyer remained in an otherwise second-string 11.

Inevitably, Herberger's men were handed a merciless 8-3 defeat. However, the manoeuvre would later be acknowledged as a stroke of genius as the fully recuperated German team cruised to a 7-2 win in the deciding game against Turkey to progress to the next round. "I believe we would have lost today, even with our strongest team," claimed Herberger defending his actions, which caused wide resentment in his homeland.

In the 1954 final when he met Hungary again, Herberger went for neutralizing his opponent's main strength by smothering their passing in the middle field rather than marking their elusive key figures Puskás, Hidegkuti & Kocsis. He instructed his midfielders to keep a constant eye on the famous Czibor-Puskás diagonal pass combination in order to abort attacks from the blind spot. He focused his defending lines on blocking Puskás more than Tóth because he knew the latter would almost always cross the ball, not shoot it, something that Turek the goal keeper would be more comfortable in dealing with.

Famous Quotes

Herberger was noted for his ability to sum up the essence of the game in short phrases, many of which survive to this day, such as:
  • "The ball is round"
  • "The game lasts for 90 minutes"
  • "After the game is before the game"
  • "The next game is always the toughest one" ("The next opponent is always the toughest one")
  • "The ball has always the best condition"

Three of these sayings are quoted in the 1998 film Run Lola Run.


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