KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Dettmar Cramer was nicknamed ‘Napoleon’ by the German media because of a joke photo once taken of him. He disliked it. He told this writer once, in a very different football era, that his only intention was to teach not to order and lead. But lead he did, in a visionary, missionary pilgrimage which took him to more than 90 countries.
Cramer, who has died aged 90 at his home in Reit im Winkl in south-eastern Bavaria on the Austrian border, has a fixed place in football history as the coach who led Bayern Munich to European Champions Cup victory in 1975 and 1976.
But his greater work was in teaching the game to footballers and, more important, coaches in far more modest corners of the developing football empire. As German federation president Wolfgang Niersbach said: “We have lost a great coach and a great person. Dettmar Cramer was a highly recognised ambassador for German football around world.” Not only for German football in particular but for football in general.
There were few corners of the world which Cramer had not assessed. Not for administrative and commercial potential but for playing conditions in which youngsters could learn the game and learn how to pass on the message and the passion.
The annual FIFA Gala next January would be an ideal occasion on which Cramer’s name – never mind FIFA’s ongoing travails – deserves to be recognised by application to one of the coaching or development awards.
Born on April 4, 1925 in Dortmund, Cramer survived service as a second lieutenant in the paratroopers in the last years of war before, afterwards, finding his way onto the coaching staff of the reconstructing West German football federation.
Cramer had played earlier at Viktoria Dortmund and Germania Wiesbaden and his coaching apprenticeship was with Teutonia Lippstadt, VfL Geseke, FC Paderborn, and TuS Eving-Lindenhorst before he was brought into the DFB by national coach Sepp Herberger.
The two had met initially when Cramer was 16, at a youth seminar Herberger had run in Dortmund in 1941. Herberger recognised Cramer’s coaching aptitude even if they did not always see eye-to-eye. On one occasion Cramer told his boss: “Here we have a player who is better than Fritz Walter.” Herberger, who held his 1954 World Cup-winning captain in the highest regard, replied: “Dettmar, that’s not possible.”
The young player was Franz Beckenbauer.
That disagreement apart, Cramer remained a firm admirer of Herberger and his methods. Later Cramer wrote: “Herberger had a genius for resolving apparently complicated issues with simple practical examples.” This was a method Cramer adopted himself, encouraging players to think ‘outside the box’ – as it would be described nowadays – to improve aspects of their game.
Not only amateurs either. Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge are all Bayern heroes with specific tales to tell about how Cramer opened their footballing eyes.
Beckenbauer owed Cramer more than even that. Herberger wanted Beckenbauer dropped from the West German youth squad over a teenage ‘love child’ scandal. Cramer argued, successfully in the end, to keep Beckenbauer on board.
Space and time
Cramer liked his aphorisms. One of his favourites was: “In a football match there are only two problems: space and time. But if I find space then I also have enough time for what I need to do.”
His engaging ability to talk about the game earned Cramer an appointment as sports editor of the newly-created ZFD in 1963. But he hated the office environment. Within three months Cramer had returned to the DFB, this time on the staff of Helmut Schon who had succeeded Herberger as national coach. He and Udo Lattek went to 1966 World Cup in England as Schon’s assistants.
Already Cramer had enjoyed one short stint on secondment to the Japanese Football Association. He returned in 1967 as national coaching consultant and played a crucial role in Japan’s shock achievement of bronze at the 1968 Olympic Games football tournament in Mexico.
Cramer would be inducted into the Japanese Football Hall of Fame of 2005 and Emperor Hirohito personally awarded him the highest Japanese Order of Culture. But Cramer said later: “I don’t know who learned more, the Japanese from me or I from the Japanese.” Years later Arsene Wenger would deliver a similar assessment of his time in the Far East.
The next decades would take Cramer round the world as a coaching missionary for FIFA. Notably he worked, among other places, in Egypt, Greece, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Thailand and the United States (where he was appointed an honorary chief of the Mohicans and Sioux).
Along the way Cramer, apart from being awarded two honorary doctorates, took up intermitment Bundesliga appointments with Bayer Leverkusen, Eintracht Frankfurt and briefly Hertha Berlin (Cramer walked out when he learned about the corruption culture there).
The pinnacle of his club career, however, was with Bayern.
Beckenbauer, Muller, Sepp Maier, Uli Hoeness, ‘Schorsch’ Schwarzenbeck & Co had won the Champions Cup under Lattek in 1974 and then, weeks later, the World Cup. But the hangover endured throughout the autumn ‘term’ and Bayern were down in 14th place at Christmas.
In mid-January president Wilhelm Neudecker replaced Lattek with his one-time DFB colleague Cramer. Bayern retained the European Cup in 1975 (against Leeds) and again in 1976 (against Saint-Etienne) and even won the World Club Cup. But the departure of Beckenbauer for New York Cosmos was fatal. By December 1977 Bayern were third from bottom of the Bundesliga.
Neudecker, in a remarkable sleight of hand, exchanged Cramer for Eintracht Frankfurt’s Gyula Lorant. “We would have the best-educated players in the second division,” said Neudecker, in a derisive reference to Cramer’s earnest style.
Cramer’s sometimes humourless approach was not always appreciated by rival coaches either. The extrovert Max Merkel taunted him: “What does he know? He has only been teaching blacks in Senegal how to dribble around cactus plants.”
“Herr Merkel needs a geography lesson,” replied a deadpan Cramer. “There are no cactus plants in Senegal.”
But his own players admired him. Rummenigge, now Bayern’s chairman, says: “Dettmar Cramer was more than just a major figure in football. To me, he was a father figure – the most important in my career when I started out as a professional. To a great extent, I have him to thank for having had such a successful career.”
Two shots of cognac before a game had been Cramer’s recipe to Rummenigge as a cure for nerves before the youngster’s first European Cup Final in 1976. Clearly it worked.
Oddly Cramer remains the only coach of a German club to have retained the Champions Cup. Yet he is also one of the few Bayern coaches in the Bundesliga era never to have guided them to the league title.
On his death on September 17, many newspapers and websites dug into their files to find the ‘Napoleon’ picture which Cramer had disliked.
In the photo Cramer is pictured in a 19th-century French army uniform with a tricorn hat and his right hand on his chest in Napoleon pose. The picture was taken in the Munich Olympic Stadium in 1976 by the American photographer Diane Sandmann, then Beckenbauer’s partner.
“It was taken as a Oktoberfest joke,” Cramer told this writer years later. “I didn’t like it and I certainly didn’t like the nickname but, I must say, Napoleon won many more battles than he lost so maybe that was not so bad.”
Cramer lost his own last battle on September 17. The world of football lost not an emperor but an all-conquering missionary.