As the Bundesliga’s stock continues to grow, we thought now would be a good time to look back and create the best first XI of players to feature in top flight German football over the years.
Make no mistake, this was no easy task. The Bundesliga has never struggled to attract the biggest names in the game so, as you can imagine, drafting the greatest first XI of all time was tough. I mean, seriously tough. But, because we felt like it, we took on the challenge anyway. So, with apologies in advance to teams that aren’t Bayern Munich, here we go.
Goalkeeper: Sepp Maier
One position into our picks and we’re already struggling. I mean, Manuel Neuer has been one of the world’s leading goalkeepers for the best part of a decade, while Oliver Kahn, scooped eight Bundesliga titles in his time. However, despite their magnificent careers, both still have a long way to go before they can be talked about in the same breath as Sepp Maier.
‘The Cat Of Anzing’, as he was lovingly dubbed, Maier spent eighteen seasons between the sticks at Bayern where he collected three European Cups and four Bundesliga titles as well as winning both the World Cup and European Championships with West Germany. Maier was also voted Germany’s goalkeeper of the century and won German Footballer of the Year three times during his own personal roaring 70’s.
Right Back: Philipp Lahm
Strong shouts for Berti Vogts on this one but even the winning coach of Euro 96 and not so winning former coach of Scotland, could prevent being stumped by the modern day Bayern legend that is Philipp Lahm. Lahm, described by Pep Guardiola as the most intelligent player he has ever coached and ‘a special person in my life’, is the proud winner of eight Bundesliga titles, wearing the captain’s armband for five of them.
The former Bayern skipper will unquestionably go down in history as one of the greatest full-backs of all time, capable of attacking and defending at ease, while at the same time possessing immaculate distribution of the ball, tactical intelligence, leadership skills, constant movement, perfectly timed tackles, high work-rate, vorsprung durch technik and above all versatility. Pretty much everything really.
Left Back: Bixente Lizarazu
Born in Biarritz, France, Lizarazu – who became a European champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2009 – is the first non-German to be selected in this all time Bundesliga XI. The French World Cup winner joined Die Roten, Bayern to you and me, for the first time in 1997 where he stayed for an initial 151 games before heading back to France for a season in 2004 only to return to Bavaria a year later.
Lizarazu was a fantastic flying left back who won five Bundesliga titles and a further five German Cups, plus, in 2001, the Champions League to boot. Blessed with lightning pace, Lizarazu was dedicated and hard working whose pin point crosses are the stuff of legend, allowing him to narrowly edge out Borussia Dortmund’s Dede and Bayern and Germany legend Paul Breitner.
Central Defence: Franz Beckenbauer
There was simply no question of Der Kaiser missing out on a place in this team. Cool, calm and composed under pressure, the elegant Beckenbauer, recipient of two Ballon d’Or awards, revolutionised the role of the sweeper during the 70’s. Today, he is perhaps the most admired German footballer in history and in the unique position of winning the World Cup as both player (Mexico 70) and coach (Italy 90).
It is hard to imagine a Bundesliga without Bayern Munich but that was exactly the case for the league at its inception in 1963 when FCB were overlooked. Beckenbauer signed for Bayern a year later, staying there for 13 years and making 439 appearances. In that time, he helped them rise from the German second tier to the established kings of Europe, winning three consecutive European Cups under his captaincy.
Centre Back: Lucio
Few, if any, defenders come close to the brilliant Brazilian World Cup winner who spent nine seasons in the Bundesliga with both Leverkusen and Bayern Munich. Lucio, who was capped by his country 105 times, many of them as captain, was also a World Cup winner and two-times Confederations Cup champion.
Back in Germany, he collected a hattrick of domestic doubles in the Bundesliga, before being surprisingly and prematurely side-lined by Louis van Gaal at FCB forcing him to relocate to Inter Milan where he won the treble in his first season.
Midfield: Lothar Matthaus
With honourable mentions going to Stefan Effenberg and Matthias Sammer, there was no way the defensive midfielder of this team wasn’t ever going to be Lothar Matthaus. Matthaus, who started out at Borussia Monchengladbach, led West Germany to World Cup glory in 1990 in Rome as well as notching up a pretty decent seven Bundesliga titles in two spells at Bayern Munich.
One of the greats of German football, Matthaus was still picking up awards at the age of 39 as he settled into a deeper role within a strong FCB side. In his prime though, he was an unmatched box-to-box midfielder, known for his thunderous shooting ability and impeccable passing.
Midfield: Michael Ballack
Michael Ballack was the most gifted German player of his generation and was named player of the year in his homeland three times and Europe’s best midfielder once, in 2002, when he was still turning out for Bayer Leverkusen.
Ballack was an excellent passer of the ball with a predator’s eye for goal that helped him rack up four league titles and a German Cup during a glittering career which included a spell in England with Chelsea where he also collected several trophies. He ended his Bundesliga career with 117 goals in 456 games plus bagged a further 42 goals in 98 matches for his country.
Right Midfield: Arjen Robben
Another tough category this one but in the end, the little Dutchman wins the spot on the right wing. His performances for over a decade in the Red and Blue of FCB have made him an iconic figure of one of Bayern’s more recent glittering eras.
During his stay in the Bavarian capital, he has so far amassed six Bundesliga titles and almost a century of goals for the club. Blessed with breathtaking speed, Robben has, in alliance with the man below, terrorised and bullied Bundesliga defenders for years as he dribbled his way to FCB legendary status.
Left Midfield: Franck Ribery
French icon Ribery has made more appearances for Bayern than any over non-German and is considered by some to be the greatest ever foreigner to appear in Bayern colours. Ribery was a prolific scorer of goals and equally adept provider too, capable of cutting inside or driving down the line with savage skill.
Ribery overtook the likes of Maier and Lahm in his final season at Bayern by winning a record-breaking ninth Bundesliga title which should go nicely with his haul of six DFB Cup triumphs and a Champions League collected during his time in Bavaria. In 2019, he left Munich after 12 years, 273 appearances and 86 goals, and signed for Fiorentina on a free transfer.
Striker: Gerd Muller
The most obvious member of our fictional front three is Gerd Muller, or Der Bomber as he was affectionately known. Muller would surely be everyone’s pick as the best striker that Germany has ever produced. Always in the right place at the right time, Muller epitomised what a natural goal scorer looked like. He was a brilliant poacher who could and would find the back of the net from wherever he found himself.
Like Beckenbauer, he helped transform FCB from second flight outlet to international mega club and over 15 years established himself as the Bundesliga’s all-time top scorer with 365 goals, almost 100 more than anyone else. Müller once even plundered a Bundesliga record of 40 goals in a single season during his Bayern Munich days, something that has never been equaled. That said, if anyone looks like coming close to such a feat it, it might just be…..
Striker: Robert Lewandowski
One player hot on the heels of Der Bomber is the Polish goal scoring sensation, Robert Lewandowski. After moving to Borussia Dortmund at the age of 21, Lewandowski soon found his feet and by his second season of tutelage under Jurgen Klopp, he had established himself as a goal scorer of note leading Dortmund to a domestic double.
Soon after, Bayern Munich would come calling where Lewandowski quickly blossomed into one of, if not the best, out and out number nines in the world, firing his new club to multiple back to back league titles.
Striker: Kevin Keegan
Mighty Mouse, as his adoring Hamburg fans anointed him, only spent three years in the Bundesliga, but from 1977 to 1980 was possibly the best player in the world at that time. Englishman Keegan arrived fresh from winning the European Cup with Liverpool in 1977 and took no time at all in settling in. Well, sort of.
In truth, Keegan was hardly welcomed at first but, despite a frosty first six months, which included an eight game ban, Keegan was soon loving his life in Hamburg. There, he won the Ballon d’Or in 1978 and 1979 and even helped Die Rothosen reach the European Cup final in 1980 where they lost out to Nottingham Forest. In 1980, Keegan returned to England and Southampton but is fondly remembered in Germany as a highly self-motivated individual and one of the best players to grace England as well as the Bundesliga.