Behind the World Cup record: Helmut Schon

Helmut Schon celebrates with Franz Beckenbauer after the 1974 World Cup final

  • Helmut Schon, born 105 years ago today, coached in a record 25 World Cup matches
  • When they lost, Schon didn’t speak to his players the following day
  • ‘The Lanky One’ led West Germany to glory in 1974

Helmut Schon is the most successful national coach in German football history, and one of the most successful ever to grace the beautiful game. He won the FIFA World Cup™ and UEFA EURO, and still holds a World Cup record to this day.

He was recognised for his achievements in 1974 with the Silver Laurel Leaf, presented by the West German president, and the Federal Cross of Merit. Schon was subsequently named an honorary member of the German Football Association (DFB) in 1980 and received the FIFA Order of Merit in 1984, while Deutsche Post marked what would have been his 100th birthday with a commemorative stamp on 1 September 2015.

The coach

“I’m certain that there is one thing the overwhelming majority of loyal fans would like to see more than anything else: good, authentic, exciting and athletic football – with no frills.”

This was Schon’s motto – and one that brought the former Germany coach a great deal of success. The late Austrian vocalist Udo Jurgens described him as the “general with a heart”, while for Franz Beckenbauer, the man around whom the playing style of Schon’s teams was based and his on-pitch representative, he was “a coach of great stature and humanity”.

Born in Dresden, Schon made as great an impact on German football as fellow world champions Sepp Herberger (1954), Franz Beckenbauer (1990) and Joachim Low (2014). The man whose 1.90m stature led his players to affectionately refer to him as Der Lange or ‘The Lanky One’, whilst always respectfully addressing him as ‘Mr Schon’, was considered to be a blessing to German football. Between 1964 and 1978, the national side played a successful yet highly attractive game, prompting one reporter for Milan’s Corriere della Sera to declare that “Helmut Schon’s team heralds a new footballing era”.

Schon’s track record is unique. At his first World Cup as head coach, he stepped immediately out of Herberger’s long shadow as West Germany finished runners-up to England in 1966. Die Mannschaft secured third place four years later after suffering a semi-final defeat by Italy in what was dubbed the ‘Match of the Century’. The golden era in which Germany won EURO 1972 and the 1974 World Cup followed and the broad smile Schon wore beneath his hat was beamed around the world. ‘The Man in the Cap’ became the most successful coach in Germany’s 116-year history.

Helmut Schon with the FIFA World Cup trophy

The record

On 21 June 1978, Germany faced Austria in Cordoba at the World Cup in Argentina. It was Schon’s 25th World Cup match at his fourth World Cup – a record that no other coach has yet equalled.

His record at these tournaments was remarkable, with 16 wins, five draws and four defeats in four World Cups (the matches lost after extra-time in the 1966 World Cup Final and 1970 World Cup semi-final are counted as defeats). Schon’s 1966 campaign only ended in defeat to the hosts after a legendary match with an even more legendary goal at Wembley.

At Mexico 1970, Germany again suffered just one defeat in another thrilling match that went down in World Cup history as the ‘The Game of the Century’, with Schon and his players ultimately finishing the tournament in third place. Although they followed this up with victory on home soil in 1974, they still suffered a memorable defeat that year – at the hands of none other than East Germany.

Four years later, Hans Krankl scored a goal in the 88th minute to hand Austria an unassailable 3-2 lead and bring Schon’s unique World Cup coaching career to an inglorious end. Having announced his retirement ahead of the 1978 World Cup, that lacklustre campaign in Argentina marked the end of Germany’s most successful era to date.

Helmut Schon.

The memories

“What made Helmut Schon remarkable was his ability to lead a team of exceptional individuals while letting each player express his individuality.”
Berti Vogts

“When the team lost, he took it personally – and didn’t speak a word to us the next day. The fact that he expressed his deep disappointment like that instead of giving us a telling-off or handing out punishments made a real impression on all of us. That was his particular way of doing things. Helmut Schon didn’t motivate his players by giving us a loud lecture but by showing us how affronted he was. It felt as if we’d disappointed our own fathers.”
Bernd Holzenbein on Schon’s strategy after the 1974 defeat to East Germany

“His life’s work has become legendary.”
Egidius Braun, former DFB President, after the death of Helmut Schon at the age of 80 in February 1996

Helmut Schon.

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