MATTHIAS SAMMER IS ONE OF THE MOST ICONIC FIGURES IN BORUSSIA DORTMUND’S ENRICHED HISTORY. winning the german Bundesliga as player and manager, sammer’s legendary status is very much deserved at the Westfalenstadion.
Sammer spent seven years in Germany in the early stages of his playing career with Dynamo Dresden and VfB Stuttgart. He returned to his native country, joining Borussia Dortmund in 1997, after a brief spell with Inter Milan in Italy. The love story had begun…
He played an instrumental role in Ottmar Hitzfeld’s successful era at Borussia Dortmund, winning two German Bundesliga titles and the UEFA Champions League in 1997. This increased his domestic tally to three German Bundesliga titles, after his triumph with VfB Stuttgart in 1992.
His achievements for East Germany and later the German National Team was also equally as impressive as his honours in his club career. Sammer won helped Germany win the 1996 European Championships, after finishing as runners-up in 1992.
The two-time German Player of the Year became only the fifth German player to win the Ballon D’Or in 1996. He also remains the only ever Borussia Dortmund player to win the most prized individual honour.
Sammer made the transition into management, after a catastrophic knee injury signalled an end to a glistening playing career in 1998. Overall, Sammer made 154 appearances and scored 23 goals during his five-year spell in Dortmund.
Fortunately, the love story between Borussia Dortmund and Matthias Sammer continued when he was appointed as club manager in July 2000. The 50-year-old clinched their third German Bundesliga title and reached the 2002 UEFA Cup final.
Every good thing comes to an end and Sammer and BVB parted ways in 2004, after he was sacked due to a disappointing sixth place finish at the end of the 2003/04 campaign. Despite a sour ending to his journey with his beloved black and yellows, Sammer remains a firm favourite amongst the Westfalenstadion faithful.
Here is the story of the one and only Matthias Sammer…
Matthias Sammer, the Borussia Dortmund player
Matthias Sammer joined Die Schwarz-Gelben in the winter transfer window of the 1992-93 season. He had only just joined Inter Milan in the summer of 1992 following a successful run at VfB Stuttgart, where he won the German Bundesliga.
He played extremely well for the Italian giants, his departure had nothing to do with his performance in Milan, but rather his inability to adjust to the “Italian way of life.” He thus requested a transfer back to the Bundesliga which was granted by the Nerazzurri in January 1993.
Borussia Dortmund under the management of the legendary Ottmar Hitzfeld were brewing something special in the early 1990s. They had built a quality squad and in fact, finished level on points with Matthias Sammer’s VfB Stuttgart during the 1991-92 season, only losing the Bundesliga title on goal difference. Adding Sammer to their roster in early 1993 was another piece to the puzzle of what would arguably become the most successful team in Dortmund history.
After arriving in Dortmund, Hitzfeld immediately moved Sammer to the “libero”, or sweeper position, and the side experienced great success. He is considered by many as one the greatest players in this position in football history, better than Lothar Matthäus, Franco Baresi, and second only perhaps to “Der Kaiser” himself, Franz Beckenbauer.
The incredible fact about Sammer’s game was that it lacked almost any physicality whatsoever. He mastered tackling much later than his youth teammates and in fact relied heavily on his unbelievable instincts for much of his development years.
His positioning was superb on both sides of the pitch. Sammer knew where to be and when to be there. Additionally, he was a master of the pass, not flashy but accurate and effective. Rarely did Sammer give the ball away, an invaluable trait as a player. This allowed his side to keep possession and minimized the chance of turning the ball over in dangerous areas of the pitch.
Matthias Sammer played the game with incredible intensity and had an uncanny ability to inspire his fellow Dortmund players. Sammer wanted to win and would refuse to be out-worked in the game of football. This type of mentality was infectious and grew within the squad, ultimately resulting in the absolute pinnacle of achievements for Borussia Dortmund.
After consecutive fourth place finishes in the Bundesliga from 1992-94, Dortmund finally broke down the door and at long last were champions of Germany in 1994/95. The Black and Yellows successfully defended their championship during the 1995/96 season, becoming only the fourth club in Bundesliga history to defend their crown. All of this, and the best was yet to come…
The 1996-97 season would see Borussia Dortmund make football history. The two-time defending German Bundesliga champions would find themselves back in the UEFA Champions League for the second consecutive season, though unlike in the previous campaign, the squad now had the necessary experience, which quite frankly was needed, in order to truly have a chance of winning the most prestigious competition in club football.
Led by their captain Matthias Sammer, Borussia Dortmund faced Juventus in the 1997 Champions League final. Both sides were loaded with elite players. In Dortmund’s case they featured five players who were members of the German side that won the World Championship in 1990 followed by a European Championship in 1996.
The Black and Yellows controlled the match from the opening kick until the final whistle. Dortmund’s back line frustrated Juventus and future world-champions Zinedine Zidane, Alessandro Del Piero and Didier Deschamps. Despite the early pressure, Dortmund contained the defending European champions and practically secured victory by half-time with a quick brace from Karl-Heinz Riedle.
Alessandro Del Piero emerged from the bench to reduce the deficit with an extremely cute flick past Stefan Klos. If Juventus had of beaten Dortmund, the Italian’s goal would’ve been iconic. Instead, Lars Ricken wrote his name in Dortmund history by scoring with his first kick of the game to send an immaculate lob over Peruzzi from range.
He’d won his first and only ever UEFA Champions League in an enthralling and surprising 3-1 victory against defending champions Juventus. In addition this remarkable accomplishment, Sammer was also awarded the Germany Footballer of the Year in 1995 and 1996 and became the fifth German player to win the Ballon D’Or in 1996.
Unfortunately, Sammer’s playing career would end shortly after Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League triumph as he suffered a severe knee injury. Players all around the world suffer this injury on a daily basis and get back on the pitch months later, fully recovered and back in top form. This was not the case for Sammer.
The operation to repair damaged knee ligaments is routine, but Sammer’s leg would become infected shortly after the surgery. It was so bad that doctors had mentioned amputation as a possible treatment. Thankfully in the end, it did not come to this. Sammer would however, never play professional football again as a result of the injury and was forced to retire from the sport as a player in 1998.
Sammer finished his playing career as a three-time German champion, two-time German Footballer of the Year, two-time German Super Cup winner, UEFA Champions League winner, European Champion with the German National Team, 1996 European Championship Player of the Tournament, and 1996 recipient of the Ballon D’Or. Matthias Sammer was later selected as one of the 100 greatest players in history by World Soccer magazine.
Matthias Sammer, the Borussia Dortmund MANAGER
Just because you do not physically play the game anymore does not mean you cannot still be in the game. Sammer was a footballer, simple as that. He had so much more to give to the game, far beyond his outstanding level of play. The next logical move was to to help other players succeed on the pitch.
He knew the best way to do this was by spreading his mass amount of knowledge he had accumulated over his many years of being a world-class player. So it was decided, he would become a manager. Not just any manager though. On July 1st, 2000, Matthias Sammer was hired as the manager of Borussia Dortmund. What followed was more success for the Black and Yellows.
Sammer had to rebuild a Dortmund side that finished an embarrassing eleventh place in the Bundesliga in the 1999-2000 season. His tactics, knowledge of the game, and ability to use his players to the best of their abilities was on display almost immediately. Dortmund would finish Sammer’s debut season as manager in third place in the Bundesliga, eight positions higher than the previous campaign, and qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
After a successful 2000-01 season, Sammer knew Dortmund had both the talent and experience to challenge for the Bundesliga crown. Led by the league’s top scorer Márcio Amoroso and stars Tomás Rosicky, Christoph Metzelder, Christian Wörns, Jan Koller, Déde, and Jens Lehmann, Borussia Dortmund were able to outlast Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern München to win their first German championship since the 1995-96 season.
After a mere two seasons as their manager, Matthias Sammer was able to restore glory to Die Schwarz-Gelben, erasing the mediocrity they had fallen into since winning the Champions League in 1997. Long-since respected as a player, Sammer had now legitimized himself in major club football from the touchline, managing Borussia Dortmund back to greatness.
Dortmund had a slight dip in form during the season following their Bundesliga triumph, fininshing in third place, 17 points adrift of champions Bayern München. Despite qualifying for the Champions League for the third consecutive season, BVB had financial woes that were not being resolved, more specifically, debts that were quickly reaching amounts that were unpayable for the club.
BVB had also recently become the first, and to this day, only German football club to go public, with stock shares being traded on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The financial decisions of the front office had major implications on the squad itself, as Dortmund would no longer be able to afford the big names on their roster, many of whom were largely responsible for Dortmund’s most recent sporting success.
The financial sins of Borussia Dortmund in the early 2000s eventually trickled down to the team itself, effecting the results on the pitch as Matthias Sammer’s players were costing more than the club could realistically afford as it faced almost certain bankruptcy. Dortmund had recorded two third place finishes, won a Bundesliga title, and qualified for the Champions League three years in a row under the leadership of Matthias Sammer, but after a sixth place finish to end the 2003-04 season, he was sacked.
This ended Sammer’s tenure with the club which had begun over a decade earlier with his arrival in Dortmund from Italy. It also officially laid to rest what many consider the greatest period in club history (1994-95 – 2003-04). It would be seven long years before Borussia Dortmund were able to recover and finish in the top five of the Bundesliga again.
Matthias Sammer, the Borussia Dortmund Legacy
When people talk about Borussia Dortmund legends, seldom Matthias Sammer is the name that is immediately mentioned. Yes, he will eventually be discussed, but never is he the first in line. In my opinion he epitomizes the Borussia Dortmund motto: “Echte Liebe.” He was hard-working, loyal, passionate, intelligent, and willing to give every last ounce of effort for the shirt he wore.
Sammer is the only Ballon D’Or winner in Borussia Dortmund history and the last German player to win the prestigious award. Despite all of his personal achievements, Sammer has always felt somewhat “underappreciated” in my mind.
No, he was not the flashy player like Lionel Messi. He did not score an unbelievable amount of goals like Gerd Müller. What he did do, was have an enormous impact on German football for both club and country, initially as a player, then later as a manager.
Now, at the still young age of 50, Sammer has stepped away from the game momentarily to focus on family and to enjoy life after battling with health concerns in recent years. Football is a better game when Matthias Sammer is part of it, and hopefully one day, he will decide to return in some capacity. Whether or not that moment comes is uncertain at the moment, what is certain though, is this: Every manager in the world should pray to the football Gods to have a player like Matthias Sammer in their squad.