Vorsprung durch Technik’. Gifted attacking midfielder Mehmet Scholl is the player who puts the high performance in the Bayern Munich machine.
The roadworthiness of the Bayern bandwagon is dependant on a number of individuals – the reflexes and icy presence of keeper Oliver Kahn, Bixente Lizarazu’s forays from left-back, the drive and leadership of Stefan Effenberg in midfield, and the goals of Brazilian striker Giovane Elber. Yet last season and this, Scholl has proved himself even more vital to thesmooth running of the team.
Whether employed in an advanced position on the left side of midfield – the role Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld believes is his best – on the opposite flank, immediately behind the strikers, or even in the front-line, Scholl is the man Bayern look to for much of their attacking inspiration. He has certainly kept his part of the bargain in recent times.
Back in August, Bayern president Franz Beckenbauer predicted Scholl would enjoy his best-ever campaign, and how right ‘Der Kaiser’ was. The statistics – seven goals scored and six created in the Bundesliga, four goals and two assists in the Champions League up to the quarter-finals – give only some indication of Scholl’s brilliance. With his perfectly-balanced dribbling skills, improvisation, free-kick prowess and calm finishing, he is a playerin his prime and is reaping the rewards.
Nationalmannschaft coach Rudi Voller has made him a cornerstone of his side; Bayern gave him a fat new contract to keep him at the club until 2004 – when Scholl says he will retire – while German professionals voted him Player of the Year for 2000.
It has, however, taken some time for the 30-year-old to make it to the top of the bill, to fulfil his vast potential. Until a couple of years ago, the Scholl story involved too many dips in form, a seemingly endless succession of injuries and his failure to hold down a regular national team spot. Former Germany coach Berti Vogts once famously complained that Scholl was too fragile physically and tended to disappear in away games.
But even Vogts would have to admit it’s a quite different Scholl on show these days. He has conquered the chronic inconsistency, stayed injury-free and has ditched his devil-may-care attitude and penchant for courting controversy. Today’s Scholl is more mature, quieter and responsible, a temperamental sea-change underlined by his selection as a member of the national team players’ council.
Born in Germany of Turkish stock, Scholl has been a role model for an ever-growing number of players from German’s 3.8 million-strong Turkish community. German international defender Mustafa Dogan (once of Bayer Uerdingen and now at Fenerbahce), midfielder Ali Gunes (who moved from Freiburg to Fenerbahce last summer), Bochum playmaker Yildiray Basturk and Bayern forward Goktan Berkant are just four sons of gastarbeiter (guest workers) who have benefited from Scholl’s trailblazing.
Indeed, Scholl is immensely popular in Turkey. ‘My favourite German player is Mehmet Scholl and many in my country feel the same,’ says Turkishnational team star Hakan Sukur. ‘He is the sort of footballer we love, someone who is creative, who goes for goal and has lots of will-to-win.’
It is rather surprising that Scholl has never moved abroad. Over the years, he has been linked with all the top sides in Spain and Italy, but Bayern have alwaysinsisted he is off-limits. ‘Scholl is part of the furnishings and fittings here,’ says vice-president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
‘Bayern have blocked all the offers for me from overseas,’ says Scholl. ‘The leaders at the club – Beckenbauer, Rummenigge and Hoeness – are football experts and know what they have in me. They know I’m the type of player who can decide games in our favour.’
Typical Scholl. If Bayern are known as FC Hollywood, a club where egocentric outbursts, bad behaviour and personality clashes often overshadow the football, it is in no small part thanks to the likes of Scholl, Kahn, Effenberg and ex-alumni Lothar Matthaus and Mario Basler.
Scholl has never been one for bland, stereotypical football-speak. His media offerings have ranged from the humorous (‘My New Year’s wish is for Eintracht to cut their grass shorter so that we can see Horst Heldt’ and ‘I only fear war and Oliver Kahn’), the politically incorrect (‘Hang the Greens, (German ecological party), so long as there are still trees’) to the philosophical (‘Better to have some talent than none at all’).
However, he can also be brutally honest about himself. After wasting a good scoring opportunity in the defeat by England at Euro 2000, he was in no mood for lame excuses. ‘At Euro 96, Matthias Sammer took a similar chance in the game with Croatia, but against England today, Ididn’t,’ he said. ‘That is the difference between a great player and a normal one.’
There are many who would disagree with Scholl’s verdict on his own ability. His former coach at Karlsruhe, Winni Schafer, described him as a cross between Cruyff and Falcao, while ex-Bayern boss Giovanni Trapattoni is an admirer too, saying: ‘I like him a lot. He’s a good guy and an excellent player. He has great technical ability and a good feel for the game. He is an outstanding talent, but each year he manages to fall in a hole – something happens to set his career back.’
Despite the new and improved Scholl, it is a paradox that Bayern have, at times, looked ordinary this term. Their 3-0 defeat at Lyon in the second phase of the Champions League was the stuff of nightmares, and although still top of the Bundesliga after 26 rounds, shock domestic reverses against relegation candidates such as VfB Stuttgart, Energie Cottbus, Eintracht Frankfurt, Unterhaching and Hansa Rostock have left the Bavarians somewhat dazed and confused.
‘At the shops, at the bakers, everywhere you go, people are talking about Bayern’s troubles,’ says Scholl, who joined Bayern in 1992 from Karlsruhe and is their longest-serving player.
‘Criticism leaves traces on each of us. Our situation is not dramatic at the moment, but it can become so.
‘In a matter of days, we can lose all we’ve taken months to build up. We all know what we have to do. If we want to reach the goals we have set ourselves in the Bundesliga and the Champions League, we need to fight back immediately and refloat the Bayern ship.
‘To play Manchester United in the quarter-finals is an absolute dream. I hoped for it. I shall not be playing, though, to make up for our defeat by them in the Champions League Final two years ago. I’m not plotting revenge. I’m just thinking about what should be an unbelievable tie.’
– Since this profile was written, Scholl and Bayern have overcome Manchester United and Real Madrid to earn a place in the Champions League final.
Club Bayern Munich
Born October 16, 1970, in Karlsruhe
Previous clubs SV Nordwest Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe
International debut April 1995, v Wales
International caps 35 (8 goals)
Honours European Championship 1996; UEFA Cup 1996; German League 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000; German Cup 1998, 2000