Jupp Heynckes: the right striker in the wrong era

It might seem rather obtuse to suggest that 1970s West German goal machine Jupp Heynckes was unfortunate to have been playing in the era he was. He was after all one of the talismanic figures in the very talented and very successful Borussia Mönchengladbach teams that defined that decade – a four-time Bundesliga champion, a UEFA Cup winner and a long-serving member of the German national team during what was a long and hugely rewarding era. Even today he remains the third highest-ever Bundesliga scorer with 220 goals from his 360 top-flight matches.

The problem for Jupp Heynckes came in the formidable, squat form of Gerd Müller; Heynckes’ counterpart at Bayern Münich during the same era. For however many goals Heynckes scored for club or country, Müller invariably scored more and the love-in that surrounded one of the game’s most instinctive marksmen tended to cast shadow over the still-laudable career of Heynckes.

Which is a shame because this was an excellent forward, and a very different one from his Munich rival. Comparisons in style could be made with England’s Kevin Keegan; Heynckes too was a dynamic and powerful front man, good at bringing teammates into play, always willing to make runs, work defenders and a fine finisher with head or either foot into the bargain.

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He started out with the then second-tier club where he would make his name in 1963 and in 1965 promotion to the Bundesliga was achieved, thanks in large part to the teenage striker who scored 23 goals in 25 matches during his breakout season.

In 1967 he moved on for a spell with Hannover 96. Mönchengladbach was a small provincial club at the time and notoriously poor payers – the striker tripled his wages with the move. By now a West German international, Heynckes was drawn back to his roots in 1970 where he spent the next eight years scoring goals with unerring consistency.

His peak scoring years came between 1973 and 1975 when he hit 28, 30 and 27 goals respectively; winning one Bundesliga top scorer award (in 1975) and sharing another with Müller the year before. European football was no impediment for him either and his goals helped Mönchengladbach to three European Finals in five seasons.

The first came in 1973 bringing a couple of titanic battles against Liverpool. Heynckes scored twice as the German side took a 2-0 first-leg lead, though Liverpool recovered in the return to win the trophy with a 3-0 win at Anfield. To compound his disappointment, Ray Clemence saved his penalty kick which would have given Mönchengladbach a precious away goal.

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Two years later and another UEFA Cup Final, this time against Dutch outsiders FC Twente. Surprisingly held at home, Mönchengladbach ran riot in the return in the Netherlands inspired by a Jupp Heynckes hat-trick. His last final came in 1977, against Liverpool once more though this time in the European Cup, but his club failed to avenge that 1973 defeat.

His international career had come to an and the year before and it was an arena in which Heynckes enjoyed little good fortune, despite being an integral part of the European Championship-winning team of 1972. A thigh injury meant he missed out on a place in the 1970 World Cup, he played two games during the 1974 tournament then pulled ligaments which ended his participation by the group stages and a groin injury meant he missed out on the 1976 European Championships.

His career drew to an end in 1978 and he went out in suitable style scoring five goals in his final game as Mönchengladbach ran up a record 12-0 win over Borussia Dortmund. A new and even more successful career in coaching began: Heynckes took over as assistant coach to Udo Lattek that very same summer and was promoted to first-team coach the following year when his boss departed, meaning he became the youngest team manager in Bundesliga history at the age of 34.

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While a record of 220 Bundesliga goals and six major honours seems to represent an exceptional career well-served, as soon as you bring Gerd Müller into the conversation with his 365 Bundesliga goals and thirteen major honours then the achievements of Jupp Heynckes seem slightly less auspicious. Even the Mönchengladbach man’s exceptional record in European competition wasn’t quite enough. His 51 goals at an average of 0.8 goals per game is a better rate than any other player in history, apart from, you guessed it, Gerd Müller.

Had Heynckes played a generation before or a generation after Müller then perhaps he wouldn’t have had to carry the millstone of unfair comparisons around his neck and history might remember him as the exceptional striker he was – rather than the ways in which he was inferior to the Bayern Munich man.