The Stupidest Resignation in DFB History: Eike Immel’s Costly Decision

Prevented world champion The stupidest resignation of a DFB star ever

By Ben Redelings September 9, 2023, 7:34 am

35 years ago, European Championship goalkeeper Eike Immel simply threw away his career in the German national team overnight. Out of disappointment at not being considered, he announced his resignation to the then national coach Franz Beckenbauer – and later regretted this very much.

“Yes, I’ll stick with it. I won’t play in the national team anymore.” The date for Eike Immel’s visit on TV couldn’t have been more stupid. Only three days earlier, the Stuttgart keeper had announced his resignation to DFB team boss Franz Beckenbauer and now he was sitting in front of an audience of millions on Thomas Gottschalk’s Saturday evening entertainment show “Wetten, dass…?”. This TV visit was actually supposed to be one of the highlights of his career – and now this.

The makers of the show had invited Eike Immel as the clear number 1 goalkeeper for the German national team, but then life got in the way for the 27-year-old. During the international match in Finland during the week, Franz Beckenbauer only put him on the bench and instead ordered the young challenger Bodo Illgner into the DFB team box. For Immel, this demotion was one sting too many in his difficult career as a goalkeeper. While still in Finland, he announced his resignation from the national team, deeply disappointed.

The next day, Immel was back on the training pitch in Stuttgart when SWR reporter Holger Obermann caught him on the pitch for an interview. The VfB goalkeeper sat down on a ball and looked tiredly into the camera. Otherwise, Immel made a surprisingly clear impression, although the events of the previous night were still written on his face: “I’m still extremely disappointed that I didn’t play yesterday. I think I played a good European Championship at the European Championships and that the discussions about number 1 in the national team were actually over. But now they’re starting all over again and I just don’t feel like it anymore.”

Private concerns as the real reason?

The game in Finland was the first after the 1988 European Championships in Germany. After the scandals surrounding Uli Stein and Toni Schumacher, Immel had fought hard for his place in the goal of the national team – but now there were signs that the young Cologne player Bodo Illgner was increasingly becoming the focus of team boss Franz Beckenbauer due to his good performances in his club was. Obviously, with a view to the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the “Kaiser” was not so sure whether Immel would be the calm and strong support in the national team’s box in the long term. There were even voices within the DFB who saw the Stuttgart keeper as a “security risk”. The financial problems of the man, who had already played his first Bundesliga game at the age of 17, were said to have gotten to Immel’s head in the summer of 1988. From today’s perspective, one can say that it is actually not unlikely that the VfB goalkeeper’s private worries were already so preoccupying at this point that they influenced his short-circuit decision.

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Even though Immel had spoken to his coach Arie Haan before his resignation, the news came as a surprise to many of his colleagues. On the return flight, Lothar tried to convince Matthäus Immel to resign. And Jürgen Klinsmann also appeared irritated the next day about the events of the previous night: “It was completely surprising that Bodo Illgner played. Eike was the clear number 1 after the European Championships. Now I have to deal with him first to find out how it all went down.”

“Of course I was offended”

But all efforts to clarify the situation and limit the damage came too late. Immel was offended and hurt his pride – and team boss Franz Beckenbauer (“Eike can call me”) also made no move to win his goalkeeper back. And then there was the young Bodo Illgner, who drew attention not only in the club but also in the DFB team through continued strong performances and confirmed his place in the team. The chapter between Eike Immel and the German national team had actually closed forever overnight.

Almost 35 years later, Eike Immel said in his biography: “In hindsight, it was clearly a mistake to resign in a knee-jerk reaction. Of course I was offended. If I hadn’t done that, I would have become world champion two years later. But that’s how it stood Illgner in goal in Italy – and I wasn’t there. When you see how confidently Oliver Kahn took it in 2006, even though for me he was clearly the stronger goalkeeper compared to Jens Lehmann, then I have to say that was mine back then “It was clearly the wrong decision.”

But Immel’s own judgment is still formulated too mildly. In retrospect, this hasty resignation is certainly the stupidest thing a DFB national team player has ever done out of free rein. But it shouldn’t be the only stupidity in Eike Immel’s career.

2023-09-09 05:34:00
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