One drunken night in Rudi Gutendorf’s life

Manager Rudi Gutendorf, who holds a Guinness World Record for coaching 55 teams in 32 countries across five continents, has died aged 93. His managerial career spanned half a century, including time at top-flight teams in his native Germany and 18 national sides that included Australia, China and Fiji, but it was at lowly Meidericher SV in the Bundesliga’s very first season that he he rose to fame.

Whilst the surprising news of having been accepted into the Bundesliga may have been joyous at first for Meidericher SV, it also put the club in a bit of a pickle. Money was scarce at the time, and the club from a suburb outside of Duisburg needed to find a coach to take them into the first ever Bundesliga season in 1963/64.

The board’s favorite was the 36-year-old Rudi Gutendorf, a coach who had this stage of his career had managed a few sides in the Oberliga and abroad – with modest success. The young coach was offered a contract granting him the rather modest amount of 2,000 DM per month, which meant that he barely could afford the cost of living.

To sweeten the deal the board offered him a 7,000 DM non-relegation bonus. Gutendorf agreed to the deal in an establishment in Cologne and celebrated the deal with the board members. After a few drinks Gutendorf even managed to persuade the drunken board members to include a bonus for the championship and second place in the contract, giving the board members a good laugh. Meiderich’s treasurer signed the deal in the end, after putting his signature on the tablecloth at first.

Despite the good nature of the contract negotiations Gutendorf faced some trouble from the get go when he revealed that he wanted to sign Helmut Rahn. ”Der Boss” had fallen from grace after crashing his car into a ditch whilst being drunk. Gutendorf had to vouch for the player before he was allowed to sign the 34-year-old.

The coach’s solution to Rahn’s drinking problem was hands on: He and Rahn went into business together purchasing a race horse which Rahn had to take care of. Der Boss was forced to be at the stables from the six in the morning, which meant that he couldn’t do an awful lot at night besides sleeping.

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Rahn repaid Gutendorf by scoring 7 goals in his 18 matches that season. Even better still, throwing Rahn into a mix mostly consisting of youngsters worked wonders. The former German international and the boys from Meidericher SV weren’t on anybody’s radar when the season began. HSV legend Uwe Seeler even wondered:

”Where on earth is Meiderich to be found on the map.”, whilst he and his team were travelling there.

He probably still remembers, as his team were sent back to the Hanse town with a whopping 4-0 defeat. A great Rückrunde sealed MSV’s suprising second place finish. The Zebras had first and foremost perfected the art of defending, conceding only 36 goals in their 30 matches.

Their tight defense earned Gutendorf the nickname Riegel Rudi. (A rough translation of that name would be Bolt Rudi.) The only player who was allowed to stay upfront whilst the team was defending was in fact MSV’s centre forward, who was waiting for his team to harm the opposition on a counter attack. Gutendorf had even developed a method which conveyed to his team when to go for broke:

”Every time the opposition got mad and got carried away, due to them not being able to score a goal, I jumped up on the bench and I spread my arms out. That was the signal: GO!”

At the end of the season Gutendorf reminded the board of their night out in Cologne and his second place bonus, which granted him 50,000 DM. And some people still think that there’s nothing to be gained from getting smashed…

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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