“Art is magic delivered from the lie of being truth”
- Theodor Adorno, German Philosopher, critic of fascism.
The young man entered one day into a hall of mirrors/ And discovered a reflection of his own
- Spiegelsaal by Kraftwerk, Trans-Europa-Express, 1977.
Does age mean compromise? Does time erode our principles? Is passion simply an intuitive stage that fades away?
Or does pragmatism trump everything?
“At the age of 16, the death of Che Guevara had a great impact on me," the man said. "That was a very important stage of my development”.
He would answer questions from journalists with confrontational returns of his own, ingeniously suffused with left-wing grandiloquence. “You are asking me which footballer I admire the most – I admire Mao – what do you read? My greatest desire? A defeat for the Americans in Vietnam”.
The New York Times hailed him in the early 70s as "the newest hero of German counter-culture".
“I was educated to ask questions” he stated. “When I started in 1970, footballers had to do everything the managers and trainers told them to do. Nobody asked "why" or said "no". It was a shock for the club, the people and the press. The image started there, but I was part of "the 68ers" in Germany. There was a revolution in the minds of the students and I felt like part of them. And so I was interested in the ideas of Mao and Che Guevara”.
He told people that listening to the national anthem before internationals was boring and "ruins the concentration". Opposing fans would hurl the worst insults they thought at him: "Maoist! Communist!" they would froth, not realising he took them as a complement; at the time.
He grew a moustache, and a beard, and an Afro, and read Lenin, and Marx. He undertook a course in child welfare. He described international football as “airport, hotel, airport”.
He was furnished with a draft notice from the army. For anti-war students in Germany post ’68 he was a hero for struggling to avoid his military service:
"At 2am, the military police rang the doorbell” he told the world. While a footballing friend fobbed off the pursers,”I dashed down to the coal cellar and hid there. This went on for a few nights. Finally there was talk they would put up 'wanted' posters for me and that I could be arrested walking the streets, so then I did go to the barracks."
He spent the next few months cleaning military toilets as his team-mates played in the Bundesliga. He was defiant. Most famously (or was it infamously?) he ordered a photographer to take a picture of him in a rocking chair beneath a poster of Mao Tse-Tung. In his hands was a Chinese communist propaganda newspaper. To sledgehammer home the symbolism a dog sat on the floor beside him. It was a boxer.
This is a man who has played for Bayern Munchen & Real Madrid, showed nerves of steel in scoring a penalty in a World Cup final for Germany on German soil, and is still only the fourth man in history to score in the Final of two World Cups.
In 285 Bundesliga games he scored 93 goals. For the mannshaft he netted 10 goals in 48 appearances. He won the European Cup. He picked up five Bundesliga Shields and two La Liga trophies. He also played in what is argued is still the best ever German performance, in their immortal game at Wembley in 72, where even the English applauded players like him and Gunter Netzer. On so many levels his football career can be described as successful.
The world knew him as “Red Paul” Breitner: a rebel with a cause.
Or so the myth runs.
King Ludwig I was a ruler of Bavaria in the 19th century. Because of Ludwig's passion for everything Hellenic, the German name for Bavaria even today is spelled Bayern.
He was described as being assertive, eccentric, egotistical, loved play-acting, and most damming, was accused of obsessing over issues intensely - before dropping them unceremoniously, as if he had never been interested in them in the first place.
A mirror image of this unconventional Sovereign is “Red Paul” Breitner, born in Bavaria soon after the Berlin Wall was built.
The symbolism was everywhere. Metaphorically as much as physically.
After beginning in his profession as a striker, he was converted to the left side. An attacking left-back who was forever on the attack.
“The most important thing is to play with many ideas”, he said revealingly.
As he progressed with Bayern, he also stated: “Almost everything revolves around money. There is no room for socialism”. After his team beat Athletico Madrid 4-0 in the 1974 European Cup Final replay, in what was one of the finest performances in Bayern’s history, Breitner maintained: “Money itself is a means to an end”.
At the start of the 1974 World Cup in Germany the team was hours away from walking out of the tournament. Disgruntled with the fact the more flamboyant Dutch team were on higher win bonuses Breitner had already packed his bags and was waiting to leave unless a phenomenal collection of Deutschmarks per head were offered for winning the trophy. He was later quoted as saying: “I was there to win, I didn’t care about anything else”.
Was it revisionism or self-protection that led him to state that sentence?
He also surprised his followers by yearning to play for Real Madrid, the team of Franco, while the Dictator was still alive and in charge of the country. A country that had been under the rule of the Nationalists since the evocative, romantic and ultimately slain Republicans, Communists & International Brigades were defeated in 1939 in the Spanish Civil War.
A third Spanish trophy followed to validate Red Paul’s transfer to Franco’s favourite club. It was known as the Generalissimo Cup. Is it surprising it was rechristened to the Copa Del Rey after Franco’s death?
When speaking of his time in the country after he left in 1976, the fact he wasn’t allowed to take his sports car with him to Madrid was when he moved there, he said, was, "actually the saddest thing for me personally".
Is life a series of events that transform you as a person, or a path that you follow according to your ideals?
In 1976, he starred in a film entitled Potato Fritz, an execrable and improbable western about Germans who stumble across gold thieves. Was the concept of theft on his mind later that year during an interview with Playboy Magazine, when he revealed he hungered for a part of the 3,000,000 DM (£500,000) Real Madrid had paid Bayern for his transfer? "The whole business of transfer fees is unlawful," he cried. "It's contrary to human rights and basic human dignity."
For those with genuinely held Marxist principles it was difficult to see a man who you previously thought was onside, speak the way he did. His actions were far more hurtful than any fouls he committed on the pitch.
He acted as if mammon was more important than principles. He behaved like the creature they hated the most: he acted like a capitalist.
“If somebody came to me with a contract to cut my beard off [the beard that he grew to affirm his left-wing beliefs], I thought about it and I did it. The beard is not something that's very important for me - I just have it because my wife likes it”. Proving the maxim of never explain, never apologise is sometimes far better than trying to justify a morally bankrupt, ethically invidious position.
In 1977 he was sponsored by a tobacco company. He drove a Maserati in Munich. He said he would market his backside if necessary. Ahead of the 1982 World Cup he accepted a 150,000 DM fee to shave off his beard for a cosmetics company and use their fragrance. "Nobody knows me," he said, "Nobody is in a position to judge”.
Breitner returned home in the summer of 1977 to unheralded Eintracht Braunschweig. The reason he went to them was that they were owned by the Jagermeister tycoon Gunter Mast, as he was the only man in Germany who wanted to finance Red Paul’s exorbitant signing on fee.
The left-back from tiny Kolbermoor in Bavaria, spent the whole of the following season bickering with the press, teammates and fans alike. He complained about Braunschweig’s “amateurish attitude”, and witheringly grumbled about the “small-time” mentality of the club by equating it to: "a village shop where everyone just gibbers about horse apples".
By the end of his career it was clear Breitner was Red Paul no more. Like King Ludwig I he was only ever play-acting and had now simply grown bored of his posturing and discarded the idea.
He preferred instead to concentrate on being a rebellen instead. It was just as lucrative as pretending to be a genuine left-winger. As opposed to a brave, imaginative left back.
"A rebel is someone who doesn't just accept everything" he roared. When Beckenbauer managed Germany, Breitner called him "the gravedigger of football". He has raged against everything from the poor showing of the German national team to the obscene amounts of money in the Premier League. While there may truth in what he says, the unintended irony of some of his pronouncements are not lost on many of his older ex-devotees.
He even holds the record for the shortest appointment as manager to the German national team of 17 hours, the offer being withdrawn when it was realised he had far too many opponents in the corridors of power. Being opposed by the establishment should be a badge of honour and is certainly not necessarily a bad thing.
But “Red Paul” didn’t have many supporters amongst Communists, Marxist, Socialists and Maoists either by then - thanks to his perfidious nature and equivocal moral and political stances, not to mention his pugnacious and life-long infatuation with money. It is the only consistency in his story.
Yet even old firebrands become part of the establishment eventually. Bayern Munchen welcomed him back into the fold as an advisor to the board. The student uprisings of 1968 have long since been forgotten by the mainstream they threatened 40 years ago. The Americans lost in Vietnam, The Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union collapsed, Socialism is undergoing a crisis of confidence again; Chairman Mao is long dead. And Red Paul Breitner is rich.
Was Brietner unaufrichtig (insincere) or echte (genuine) in his left-wing beliefs?
Pragmatism does indeed appear to trump everything.
The man said: “There was a revolution in the minds of the students and I felt like part of them”.
“And so I was interested in the ideas of Mao and Che Guevara - but I wasn't a Maoist or a communist. I had to be interested as a young man, to learn, to make mistakes, and to do better things. But I'm so happy I did it. When will you say "no" or "why" if you don't say it as a young man? Now at 63, I have much more responsibility than I did then”.
The man was nearing the end of his monologue: “I'm just a guy who will always admit his past mistakes”, but, he concluded, “also assumes the freedom to change his mind."
Perhaps the last line should go to another iconic 70s German name that still resonates today. This time one that has kept its principles in the face of commercialism: Kraftwerk.
With a dedicated and loyal army of fans young and old, they are loved, admired and respected for their originality and refusal to compromise on their beliefs, musical or otherwise. Their legacy is assured, their body of work free from suspicious questioning.
In the mesmerising Spiegelsaal, from their stunning Trans-Europa-Express Album, released the same year “Red Paul” took money for advertising cigarettes, one of the final devastating techno-couplets run:
Er schuf die Person die er sein wollte/ Und wechselte in eine neue Persönlichkeit
It translates as:
He created the person he wanted to be/ And moved into a new personality
Postscript: Advertised on a celebrity speaker’s website the ex-Maoist Paul Breitner is today described as: “A highly sought-after media personality, a columnist and commentator for the most prestigious sports events around the globe… He offers audiences exciting insights into the world of sport and shows how motivation and determination help to achieve ambitious targets: Want to know more? Give us a call or send us an e-mail to find out exactly what he could bring to your event”.
Follow Layth on Twitter @laythy29.