With Eintracht Frankfurt off to the best ever start to a Bundesliga season from a promoted side and continuing to fly high it inevitably elicits memories of the last time the club was in the headlines and on everyone’s tongue for the right reasons. The early 1990’s featured one of Eintracht Frankfurt’s greatest ever sides. Recent Bundesliga fans might know them as a perennial relegation candidate but not too long ago they were one of the top sides in the country and featured some outstanding individual players, playing the exciting brand of football people have become familiar with this season. Their opponents meanwhile provided their own headlines, one of the great underdog stories in recent Bundesliga history. Their narratives culminated in one of the greatest matches in league history.
Eintracht Frankfurt 4
1. FC. Kaiserslautern 3
Place: Frankfurt, Waldstadion
Time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Date: 2 March 1991
Before this game 23 year old Andreas Möller, extremely talented but accompanied by a sometimes questionable reputation, was criticized by some of his teammates who found it hard to get along with him (veterans Uli Stein and Uwe Bein most notably) and the Eintracht fans were not too pleased with Möller either as a tabloid printed details about an alleged secret contract he had signed with Juventus. The fact that Möller earned three times as much as his teammates did not help matters much either. After this game though they all had to pay homage to their no. 10, as he scored three goals in a thrilling and dramatic top-class game. The following year Möller would indeed join Juventus and leave his native Frankfurt for the second time in just five years but in that moment in time he made an impression that would last a lifetime and symbolized one of the most entertaining but tragic teams in German football history.
Their opponents meanwhile had been languishing in mid-table in the preceding years and despite winning the Cup the year before eventually finished a meager 12th. Two years before that they almost got relegated but the 1990/91 season would turn into one of the greatest moments in club history as the Red Devils came seemingly out of nowhere to snatch the title from favorites Bayern München and Werder Bremen and this game. Most didn’t expect Kaiserslautern to be serious contenders at the start of the season. They were eliminated in the second round of the Cup and ousted out of the Cup Winner’s Cup by Sampdoria in the first round. It took a while for the team to really be taken seriously and despite the loss, the game against Frankfurt proved the crucial turning point in that remarkable story.
Trouble might have been brewing off the field and in the locker room between Möller and his teammates but on the field things started brilliantly. Möller scored his first goal in just the third minute after Uwe Bein, in usual fashion, played a most delicate pass to his unloved midfield partner. Hotic soon equalized but after 27 minutes Möller scored a clever freekick and a minute later it was Möller again, scoring what was arguably the best of the bunch. Möller characteristically sprinted across the entire half of the pitch with the ball seemingly glued to his feet, then dumbfounding two Kaiserslautern defenders with a few stepovers before outdribbling keeper Gerry Ehrmann and pushing the ball over the line. There was an arrogant self confidence about Möller’s game but that also allowed him to score brilliant goals like that.
Eintracht weren’t out of the woods yet though. Kaiserslautern got back into the game with the help of a questionable penalty (Binz was accused of handling the ball but he didn’t). Six minutes after the break Möller passed the ball to Uwe Bein this time who scored from just outside the box with a well-tempered shot. For two players reported to be feuding off the pitch they showed incredible poise and chemistry on this day. Eintracht had again shown that they were capable of some of the best attacking football around, combining both individual quality of the highest order with outstanding team play but as became characteristic of that Eintracht side, moments of magic were sometimes also accompanied by moments of complacency. In other words, Eintracht were sometimes their own worst enemy.
Despite Eintracht now leading 4-2 though, Kaiserslautern had clearly been the better team, team being the operative word. It was impressive to see how Kaiserslautern’s two strikers Stefan Kuntz (who later in the season replaced injured sweeper Kadlec in many games) and poacher Bruno Labbadia (who vaguely resembled Gerd Müller) were fooling their markers Uwe Bindewald and the seasoned veteran Karl-Heinz “Charly” Körbel time and again, how Uwe Scherr and Markus Kranz stimulated their team’s play from the flanks, how Demir Hotic like a dervish was to be found all over the pitch and how the subs Rainer Ernst and especially Bjarne Goldbaek pressured Eintracht’s defense in the last 20 minutes. It was all the more impressive since Kaiserslautern actually fielded a depleted side that missed Thomas Dooley, Guido Hoffmann and Thomas Richter but especially since they played with only ten men all of the second half.
What came next?
After Kadlec had scored the 3-4 (Kuntz was fouled by Klein), ten ‘Lauterer dominated eleven Frankfurters but despite not managing to get the desired and highly deserved draw, this game proved to be a very vital one for the remainder of Kaiserslautern’s 1990-91 Bundesliga campaign due to immense boost of confidence in their abilities. Two weeks later Kaiserslautern beat league leaders Bayern 2-1 at the Betzenberg and this game was pivotal as they headed the table from then on with Bayern trailing them. During the next 13 games Kaiserslautern remained unbeaten (eight wins), then they spectacularly lost their last home game of the season 2-3 to Mönchengladbach, but the Betzenberg spirit was still alive even in this game, as they were down 0-3 eight minutes before time and still almost managed to equalize in the dying minutes. Bayern meanwhile won 1-0 at Nürnberg, now trailing them by two points before the final game. More on the dramatic finale to this season later.
The erratic side that would characterize this Frankfurt team showed the following week despite their impressive win against Kaiserslautern when they lost 1-0 to relegation candidates Fortuna Düsseldorf. In fact, they won only one of their next six matches. True to their nature, they finished the season with some impressive wins (3-0 at Dortmund, 5-1 against Hertha Berlin and 4-0 against Stuttgart) but still only managed to finish fourth.
In the end Frankfurt never reached their potential despite forming a squad that in all honesty should have ended up with silverware at one point in the early 1990’s. Goalkeeper Uli Stein was nearing the twilight of an illustrious career but played at a remarkable level and became one of the most popular players in Eintracht history during his spell with the club. On his day, their libero Manfred Binz was up there with the best in the country while Uwe Bein was one of the best passers around. In front of them was the little prodigy, Andi Möller, who could accelerate faster with the ball than any player in the league. To finish it all of was the athletic and unstoppable Anthony Yeboah whose instinct for goal was matched by sublime technique. Then Vice-president and Eintracht legend Bernd Hölzebein said the team was in fact so good that they didn’t even need a coach to train them.
As it were, the following season would be the one to truly cement their legacy, both as a remarkably exciting team but also as one of the great underachievers in German football history. In the 1991/92 season, Eintracht led the league for 19 matchdays before a string of bad results resulted in a disastrous collapse in the second half of the season. They managed to pull themselves together by season’s end but a loss to 19th placed Hansa Rostock on the last matchday with a minute to go meant that Stuttgart walked away with the title. A quite remarkable but appropriate conclusion fitting a team seemingly destined to come up short but such was the tragedy of this side. We’ll also have more on this dramatic season in the near future.
Stein – Binz, Körbel, Bindewald – Studer, Falkenmayer – Gründel, Möller, Bein – Yeboah, Kruse
Trainer: Jörg Berger
1. FC. Kaiserslautern
Ehrmann – Stumpf, Kadlec, Stadler – Kranz, Schupp, Scherr – Hotic, Haber – Labbadia, Kuntz
Trainer: Karl-Heinz Feldkamp
1-0 Möller 3
1-1 Hotic 7
2-1 Möller 27
3-1 Möller 28
3-2 Kuntz 32 pen
4-2 Bein 51
4-3 Kadlec 73 pen
Red: Stadler 44
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