Sepp Maier: The blueprint of German goalkeeping

Harry Burford
Harry Burford
Harry Burford
Contributor

There’s something about Bayern Munich having a strong, dependable goalkeeper between the sticks that just feels resoundingly appropriate. Big things were obviously expected of Manuel Neuer when he first signed for the Bavarian giants in the summer of 2011, and after several consecutive seasons of top flight Bundesliga success – the ongoing collaboration seems like a match made in heaven thus far.

Yet the current first choice German ‘keeper certainly owes a great deal to former Bayern Munich shot-stopper, Oliver Kahn. Both keepers have proven themselves as truly resolute last lines of defence throughout their respective playing days, with comparable levels of efficiency and a similar sense of wild charisma when defending their precious goal-line.

But had it not been for the efforts of yet another highly regarded Bayern Munich ‘keeper – one who came to prominence throughout the early 60s and 70s – perhaps we wouldn’t be talking about either of Manuel Neuer or Oliver Kahn in the same rich vein we currently do today.

Perhaps neither player would have ever successfully established themselves among the German top-flight without falling upon the influence of former Bavarian favourite and famed Bundesliga mainstay; Sepp Maier – the archetypal blueprint of German goalkeeping.

Much of Bayern Munich’s sweeping rise within the confines of the European game wouldn’t have been possible without the influence of Maier, an absolute icon for every modern-day goalkeeper.

‘The Cat from Anzing’ – as he was subsequently categorised in light of his sharp reflexes and remarkable sense of agility – won almost every major trophy available to him whilst operating between the sticks for Bayern, both upon the grand European stage as well as at home.

Sepp Maier’s crowning achievement likely came among the 1974 World Cup, however, where the West Germans eventually capitalised upon their status as host nation and subsequently claimed the alluring trophy for themselves.

Although it takes more than just a well-stocked trophy cabinet and a stable reputation to really go down as an everlasting legend within the beautiful game itself, Maier’s record simply speaks volumes. He successfully amassed over 500 appearances during his playing days in Bavaria, whilst also aiding the German national team in asserting their unyielding dominance upon the global stage. A truly great player in anybody’s eyes.

Yet the reason Sepp Maier is still fondly spoken of today isn’t entirely down to his staunch reputation as one of the standout goalkeepers of his generation. Quite the contrary in truth. Whilst certain former greats eventually drift off into obscurity once their time among the spotlight comes to a natural end, Maier’s influence is arguably beginning to have an even greater impact well within the modern era.

‘The Cat from Anzing’ was more than just an able shot-stopper during his time. He was a pioneer, someone capable of shaping the current landscape for future generations of daring goalkeepers to come. Current German favourites in the form of Marc-Andre ter Stegen and the aforementioned Manuel Neuer, love to come charging off their line among the supposedly newfound ‘sweeper-keeper’ phenomenon – but in reality, this should really be seen as nothing all that new.

The long-term Bayern shot-stopper effectively applied himself as another pair of willing legs who didn’t mind getting stuck in all the way back in the mid-1970s. Maier was ruthless, unquestionably agile and particularly urgent whenever his services were required – just like the ongoing series of future German shot-stoppers who continuously seek to emulate his approach and step up in the big man’s absence.

Sepp Maier was confidently charismatic for the most part. He could often be found hanging from the goal-posts whenever the ball was out of play, whilst also regularly engaging with opposing fans via his own openly charming personality. ‘The Cat from Anzing’ will be most notably remembered for his adoption of the so-called ‘super-sized’ gloves among the 1974 World Cup however, a notion initially scoffed at by the rest of Europe – but eventually capitalised upon once everybody decided to keep up with the Germans and their notoriously progressive approach.

From the unrelenting Harald Schumacher and the equally wacky Jens Lehmann, to more recent Bundesliga favourites such as Roman Weidenfeller, Bernd Leno and Kevin Trapp – each subsequent German ‘keeper owes untold amounts to the beloved ‘Cat from Anzing’, an avant-garde shot-stopper of the highest order.

 “And I wonder: How is football actually played in thirty years? What else is coming? Football changes so quickly…”

Sepp Maier

He may have been famously chipped from the penalty-spot by the audacious Antonin Panenka back in 1976, but the long-term Bayern Munich favourite should still arguably go down in history as the first true modern goalkeeper of his kind. Sepp Maier served as an innovative pioneer truly ahead of his time, somewhat underrated and undervalued in light of his overall contribution among world football on the whole.

It’s easy to paint goal-hungry strikers and quick-footed midfielders out as the true immortal legends of the beautiful game we all know and love – but sometimes, when you look at the efforts of Sepp Maier and the subsequent effect he’s had on countless German shot-stoppers over the passing years – maybe it’s the goalkeepers who deserve a little more of the limelight when all is said and done.