With his trademark gait, bow legs and small stature, there were few footballers easier to recognise from afar than Pierre Littbarski. The Berlin-born player began his illustrious career at Cologne in 1978, before receiving his first international call-up three years later at the age of 21. Littbarski was subsequently included in the Germany squad for the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™.
His nine-year international career, which included 73 caps and 18 goals, came to an end when he retired from the national team following their Italy 1990 triumph. Littbarski, however, continued playing club football in Germany and Japan, before finally deciding to hang up his boots in 1997.
His greatest success at club level was winning the German Cup with Cologne against local rivals Fortuna in 1983, with Littbarski himself scoring the decisive goal. His club career was otherwise awash with numerous second places: Littbarski claimed runners-up medals in the Bundesliga in 1982, 1989 and 1990, the German Cup in 1980 and 1991, and the UEFA Cup in 1986.
The master dribbler became a familiar face to football fans around the world, after gracing three successive FIFA World Cup deciders between 1982 and 1990. Following defeats by Italy in 1982 and Argentina in 1986, Litti finally got his hands on the coveted Trophy at the third time of asking when Germany defeated Argentina in the Italy 1990 Final in Rome. He was a key member of that German team, one which boasted the likes of Lothar Matthaus, Andreas Brehme and Jurgen Klinsmann.
Littbarski is not surprised one of his opponents from the 1986 and 1990 Finals, Diego Maradona, has recently been appointed coach of the Argentina. “I always thought that Maradona would become the national coach, sooner or later. He should be given a fair crack of the whip. If he brings in experienced people to help him, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be successful,” Littbarski toldFIFA.com.
Although El Diego took part in four FIFA World Cups as a player – one more than Littbarski - the German did work as a ballboy at one game at Germany 1974. Though he has fond memories of the encounter between East Germany and Chile in Berlin, he would have relished the chance to witness one of the decade’s outstanding teams in action: “I would have loved to have seen the Netherlands play. They played breathtaking football throughout the tournament.”
Littbarski recalls the impact that one particular Oranje player made on the impressionable teenager: “
My admiration for Johann Cruyff was such that even in the Final against [West] Germany, he was the only player I was interested in
,” Littbarski told FIFA.com.
Littbarski did not turn his back on the game after ending his playing career, opting to stay on in Japan and coach Yokohama FC. After overseeing the club’s promotion to J.League 2, he took the opportunity to return to Germany in 2001 to work as Berti Vogt’s assistant at Bayer Leverkusen.
Following a year at Duisburg, Littbarski resumed his travels in 2003, first returning for a second spell at Yokohama before going on to coach Australian side Sydney FC. A further period spent working in Asia between 2006 and 2008 involved Littbarski coaching J.League outfit Avispa Fukuoka and Iranian side Saipa. Earlier this month, the 48-year-old accepted the offer to return to Europe and coach Liechtenstein's Vaduz, who play in the Swiss Super League.
“On a cultural level, it's a more relaxed time for me. Things are a lot easier here given that I have no problems communicating directly with people. The pace of the game is definitely quicker here than in Asia, quicker even than in Japan’s top flight,” Littbarski revealed to FIFA.com.
While refusing to rule out a return to the Bundesliga one day, he is solely focusing on the task in hand. “First of all, I have a job to do here. We have an 18-month plan in place to gradually improve and strengthen the team.”
Looking to the future, Littbarski accepts that coaching the national side would be very tempting. “
I think every coach dreams of leading their national team and you never know, maybe that might happen in my case one day
," he said. "But for now I’m just happy getting to grips with the work I have here on a daily basis. It’s interesting and exciting.”
Facts and figures
Clubs (Player):Cologne (1978-86), Racing Paris (1986-87), Cologne (1987-93), United Chiba (1993-95), Brummell Sendai (1996-97)
Clubs (Coach):Yokohama (1999-2000), Bayer Leverkusen (2001), Duisburg (2001-02), Yokohama (2003-04) Sydney (2005-06), Fukuoka (2006-08), Saipa (2008), Vaduz (since November 2008)
National team:73 appearances (18 goals)
Honours:German Cup winner (1983) FIFA World Cup winner (Italy 1990)