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The 10 greatest German footballers of all time

03 Jan | BY Guy Giles | MIN READ TIME |
The 10 greatest German footballers of all time

Germany have produced plenty of world-class players over the years. We count down our top 10 German footballers of all time.

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10. Bastian Schweinsteiger

With 121 caps for Die Mannschaft, Schweinsteiger is Germany’s fourth-most capped player of all time.

For much of his career, the midfielder was one of the best in the world at his position. Not only did Schweinsteiger dictate the offensive tempo from midfield with his exemplary vision and pinpoint distribution, but his work rate and engine allowed him to contribute at the other end of the pitch as well.

Described by national coach Joachim Low as ‘the brain’ of his team, Schweinsteiger appeared in seven international tournaments for Germany, and was instrumental in their 1-0 win over Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final.

He ended his international career as Germany captain, having taken over from Philipp Lahm following his retirement.

His club record isn’t bad either. Spending most of his career with Bayern Munich, Schweinsteiger won eight Bundesliga titles, seven DFP-Pokals, and one Champions League, in 2012-13.

He also won the Europa League and FA Cup during his 18-month spell with Manchester United, before ending his career in the MLS with Chicago Fire.

9. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Another Bayern Munich legend, Rummenigge is best remembered as a crucial member of the West Germany squad which won the European Championship in 1980.

Playing Belgium in the final, the match was level at 1-1 with the final whistle approaching, but Rummenigge’s inch-perfect corner found the head of Horst Hrubesch, who scored his second of the game to win it.

Widely seen as one of the world’s best attacking players in the 1970s and 80s, Rummenigge amassed 95 caps for West Germany while pulling the strings for both Bayern and Inter Milan in his club career.

Aside from that European Championship win, Rummenigge was also part of the West Germany teams that finished runners-up at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.

At Bayern, he won two Bundesliga titles and a European Cup, scoring 217 goals in 422 appearances for the club before moving to Inter, where he netted 42 goals in 107 games.

8. Sepp Maier

You may be surprised to see that Oliver Kahn and Manuel Neuer are both missing from this list, but it is Maier who blazed the trail for world-class German shot stoppers.

Known as ‘The Cat from Anzing’ due to his lightning-quick reflexes, Maier was the last line of defence for possibly the greatest Germany team of all time.

Starting out as deputy as West Germany finished second at the 1966 World Cup, Maier started between the sticks during their victory at the 1972 European Championship, and then for one of the greatest moments in German footballing history as they won the 1974 World Cup on home soil. They also reached the final of the Euros in 1976, losing to Czechoslovakia.

Maier kept four clean sheets during their triumphant 1974 World Cup campaign which culminated in a 2-1 win over the Johan Cruyff-led Netherlands.

He ended his career with 95 caps for West Germany, as well as 536 for Bayern Munich, where he won four Bundesliga titles and three European Cups.

Maier was named Germany’s goalkeeper of the 20th century, and was a three-time German Footballer of the Year. 

7. Fritz Walter

Heading into the 1954 World Cup, it was widely assumed that Hungary – then known as ‘The Golden Team’ and the ‘Magnificent Magyars’, led by Ferenc Puskas – would win the tournament.

And, when they took a 2-0 lead after eight minutes against West Germany in the final, few were surprised.

However, when Max Morlock and Helmut Rahn drew the Germans level by the 19th minute, that quickly changed. Then, with just six minutes remaining, Rahn netted his second, and West Germany ran out 3-2 winners.

Known in Germany as the ‘Miracle of Bern’, the country’s first World Cup win helped set the stage for the great teams to come in the following years, and is seen as a turning point in their post-war history.

Captain on that day was Fritz Walter, a gifted attacker who spent his whole club career with his hometown club, FC Kaiserslautern.

Walter was known for his love of playing the in the rain – ‘Fritz Walter weather’ is a phrase still used today in Germany to describe rainy conditions – so it’s fitting that he led West Germany to their first World Cup title in dreadful conditions.

He ended his career with 33 goals in 61 appearances for his national team, and 348 in 364 for Kaiserslautern.

6. Uwe Seeler

Uwe Seeler never won a major tournament for Germany, beginning his international career four years after their 1954 World Cup triumph, and ending it four years before their victory in 1974.

However, the prolific striker is still widely regarded among the greatest players the country has ever produced.

Seeler was the first player ever to appear in 20 World Cup matches, and was the first to score in four World Cup tournaments, beating Pele by a few minutes. He also became the first player to score at least twice in four World Cups, a feat that was matched by the next man on this list.

Overall, he scored 43 goals in 72 games for West Germany.

He played the entirety of his club career for his hometown team Hamburg, scoring 404 goals in 476 appearances, and was named an honorary citizen of the city in 2003.

Seeler is also the first German footballer to be awarded the Great Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

5. Miroslav Klose

In terms of pure footballing ability, Klose should not be so high on this list. Some would argue he would not even be on this list at all.

Football isn’t only about talent, though, and Klose can lay claim to having one of the greatest international careers of all time.

Not only did he win the 2014 World Cup with Germany, Klose ended his career as arguably the greatest World Cup player of all time, with 16 goals in the tournament making him the top World Cup scorer in history.

For Germany, he is their all-time record scorer with 71 goals, and sits second all-time for appearances with 137. 

It’s hard to argue with those numbers.

4. Philipp Lahm

Lahm was Germany captain for that World Cup win in 2014, which served as a bookend to his incredible international career.

Considered by many to be one of the greatest full-backs of all time, Lahm featured in six major tournaments for Germany, being named in the World Cup Team of the Tournament in 2006, 2010 and 2014.

Lahm was known for his footballing intelligence, which allowed him to dictate the game from the right-back position, as well as play as a centre-back and midfielder if needed.

He ended his career with 113 appearances for Germany, good enough for seventh all time.

For club side Bayern Munich, Lahm made 517 appearances and notched 70 assists, winning eight Bundesligas, a Champions League and a Club World Cup.

3. Gerd Muller

‘Der Bomber’ is quite simply one of the greatest goalscorers in the history of football, scoring 68 goals in 62 appearances for West Germany, and 568 in 611 appearances for Bayern Munich.

Muller has the accolades to go alongside those goals as well, winning the 1974 World Cup and 1972 European Championship with Germany, scoring goals in both finals.

At club level, he won four Bundesliga titles and three European Cups for Bayern, and remains their top scorer of all time. His 365 goals in the Bundesliga is a record which also still stands, and is unlikely to ever be beaten. 

He is one of just nine players ever to win the World Cup, European Cup and the Ballon D’or, being named the world’s best player in 1970.

2. Lothar Matthaus

As well as captaining West Germany to victory in the 1990 World Cup, Matthaus is the most-capped German player of all time with 150 international appearances.

On an individual level, Matthaus won the Ballon D’or in 1990, and was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1991, remaining the only German player to win the award.

He appeared in five World Cups between 1982 and 1998, a feat matched by just three other players, and in four European Championships, including winning the tournament in 1980.

One of the greatest midfielders of all time, Matthaus was known for his box-to-box abilities, adding 202 club goals for Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Borussia Monchengladbach to the 23 he scored for Germany.

In possibly the greatest compliment that could be paid to any footballer, Matthaus was described by Diego Maradona as ‘the best rival I’ve ever had.’

1. Franz Beckenbauer

It should be no surprise that the man nicknamed ‘The Emperor’ tops the list of greatest German footballers of all time.

One of the greatest defenders ever, Beckenbauer won 103 international caps, and captained West Germany to their victories at the 1974 World Cup and 1972 European Championship.

He was a two-time winner of the Ballon D’or, and was the first captain to win the World Cup, Euros and European Cup.

His success continued after his playing career as he became just the third man ever to win the World Cup as a player and manager as he led West Germany to the 1990 title.

He was named in the World Team of the 20th century in 1998, as well as the World Cup Dream Team in 2002, and the Ballon D’or Dream Team in 2020.

Guy Giles

Guy Giles

Sports writer who produces regular football and cricket tips, while also covering a range of other sports.

Guy Giles

Guy Giles

Sports writer who produces regular football and cricket tips, while also covering a range of other sports.