Anyone who in the course of an 86-match international career scores five of their eight goals at FIFA World Cups™ and UEFA European Championships can certainly be described as a big-game player, particularly when three of those strikes came in FIFA World Cup semi-finals and Finals. He hailed from the north, made a name for himself in the south, and became a hero throughout Germany and beyond. He is, of course, Andreas Brehme.
Throughout his career, the man from Hamburg tended to do the exact opposite of what was expected of him, and with great success. "If I had my time again, I'd do exactly the same," the 47-year-old told FIFA.com with a cheeky grin, no doubt harking back to that unforgettable summer night of 8 July 1990.
On that occasion, he scored a penalty with five minutes to go that gave West Germany a 1-0 win over Argentina in the FIFA World Cup Final in Rome. Brehme hit it with his right foot, even though he is naturally left-footed - exactly as he had done four years previously in the quarter-final of the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico against the hosts.
*Crucial moments *It was this unpredictability that made Brehme one of the best left-backs of his generation, and the various tales of the unexpected that he created over the years made him a legend in his homeland. Why, for example, did Brehme take that penalty in Rome when there was a certain Lothar Matthaus standing right next to him? And why did he take the free-kicks in the FIFA World Cup semi-finals in 1986 and 1990 which were both deflected into the back of the net to help secure victory for his country when dead-ball specialists such as Felix Magath and Thomas Hassler were available?
Brehme was, and still is, a phenomenon, a talisman. "Can I remember what went through my mind at these crucial moments? No, of course not.
I cleared my head of any thoughts. All I wanted to do was get the ball in the back of the net
," he says. And you believe him.
The two-footed defender is as straight-talking off the field as he was mercurial on it. "I think people dwell on that penalty in 1990 a little too much. We deserved to win. Argentina didn't play well enough in the Final and that is the long and the short of it."
Brehme was German through and through, but that did not stop him heading south to find footballing fame. In the season prior to the 1990 world finals he was named player of the year in Italy, during the glory days when Brehme, Matthaus and Jurgen Klinsmann formed an unstoppable trio for both Inter Milan and West Germany. Matthaus and Klinsmann played further up the park and tended to monopolise the headlines, but Brehme was the thinking man's footballer, bringing a whole new meaning to how a fullback should play.
He also enjoyed a great deal of success in the Bundesliga, plying his trade with Kaiserslautern and Bayern Munich before moving to Italy and then moving back up north to finish his playing days. The year 1996 was the best of times and the worst of times in his domestic career: within a matter of days, Brehme shed tears of sorrow as Kaiserslautern were relegated from the top flight, which turned into tears of joy when they won the DFB Cup in Berlin later that week.
The following year, Kaiserslautern were back up in the Bundesliga and then went on to become the first and, to date, only promoted team to win the title. And then, on top of the world and at the top of his game, Brehme retired - once again doing what everybody least expected.
Keen to coach
Brehme got the second stage of his career off to a flying start. He was director of football at Kaiserslautern when they won the first seven Bundesliga matches of the season in 2001, setting another record. Times changed, however, and when the president of the club resigned, Brehme also lost his job and went on to coach second-tier side SpVgg Unterhaching and work as Giovanni Trapattoni's assistant at Stuttgart, though without great success.
He currently works as an ambassador for the German Football Association, but he does miss the cut and thrust of on-field action. When asked by FIFA.com whether he could imagine going back into coaching, his answer is clear. "Of course I can!" Typical Brehme.