Paul Breitner is number 44 in 90min's Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time series. 


He didn't earn the nickname Der Afro for nothing. While Roberto Baggio became synonymous with a ponytail and Ronaldo Nazário's trim at the 2002 World Cup achieved infamy, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid legend Paul Breitner is known more for his look today than anything else.


Even in Breitner's heyday, it was the German's political persuasions that were often discussed before his ability on the pitch. He would be seen bringing Mao Zedong's 'Little Red Book' to training and opposition fans even shouted "Maoist!, Communist!" at him during games, not understanding that he actually took those names as compliments.


At a time of shifting politics in Germany, Breitner was the left's poster boy in football, although that did change later in his career. It was fitting too. Despite starting his career as a striker, he really started to make a name for himself at left-back. 


It was in defence where he starred for West Germany at the 1974 World Cup, which was on home soil. He was still in his early 20s. But Breitner held his own in squad than included his countries' best ever players.

Gerd Muller,Paul Breitner

Sepp Maier started in between the sticks, with Berti Vogts and Franz Beckenbauer just ahead of him in defence. West Germany's midfield included Günter Netzer and Wolfgang Overath, but it was up front where the attention was focused on Gerd Müller.


Breitner and co. actually qualified from their first World Cup group behind East Germany, but wins over Chile and Argentina - Breitner even scored in their opening match - saw West Germany move into the second group stage, where Helmut Schön's side finished top.


Breitner scored again in the second round of group stages matches, but it wasn't until the final where he scored one of the most important goals of his career.


The game started in the worst possible way for West Germany. Johan Cruyff was brought down inside the penalty area by Uli Hoeness inside the opening two minutes and Johan Neeskens scored the opener.


It was so early in the match that not a single West Germany player had even touched the ball. But they had their chance to get back into the game with a penalty of their own after Bernd Hölzenbein won a spot-kick, which Breitner stepped up for.


Der Afro was known for his ability to hit a ball. He had a traction engine in his right foot and his two goals earlier in the World Cup were both from distance. As it turns out, Breitner was pretty good from 12 yards too. 


Breitner wasn't meant to be on spot-kick duties, but goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed didn't even move as the penalty nestled into the bottom corner of the net.

WORLD CUP-1974-GER-NED

Müller completed the turnaround just before half time for West Germany and Schön's side went on to lift the World Cup for the second time in their history.


Scoring in a World Cup final was Breitner's pièce de résistance, but Der Afro didn't have time to celebrate. That summer, the Bavarian left to join Real Madrid, who had only just appointed Miljan Miljanić as their new manager.


Breitner joined his international teammate Netzer in the Spanish capital and formed a brilliant midfield partnership at Real Madrid, winning a league and cup double in 1975 before reclaiming the league title the following season.


His time at Real Madrid was successful. But it wasn't long. In 1977, Breitner returned to Germany and joined Eintracht Braunschweig. The next year, he was brought back to Bayern Munich and the World Cup winner cemented his place as a club legend.


Breitner won more Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich. He finished second only to Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the Ballon d'Or ranking too. And six years after declaring his retirement from international football in 1975, he returned to West Germany's national team just in time for the 1982 World Cup.


Der Afro wasn't the young gun in West Germany's star-studded team anymore. He was known as the 'leader of the pack' at the competition in Spain as Breitner's side reached the final once again.


Breitner scored as well, making him one of just four players to ever score in two different World Cup finals - Pelé, Vavá and Zinedine Zidane are the others - but West Germany went on to lose to a Paolo Rossi-inspired Italy.

A challenge from Hamburg’s Wolfgang Rolff saw Breitner's career cut short that following season too. Football was forced to wave goodbye to one of its all-time greats, on the pitch at least.


When Breitner returned to the game in a variety of position off it in the years to follow, it was clear he'd not changed all that much.


Der Afro. Rebel. Maverick. Icon.


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90min's 'Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time' can be found here


Number 50: Luka Modric

Number 49: John Charles

Number 48: Hugo Sanchez

Number 47: Jairzinho

Number 46: Omar Sivori

Number 45: Paolo Rossi