Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, DFB president for many years and a member of the Executive Committee of FIFA and UEFA, passed away on Monday aged 82 years.
He was a controversial figure and a man who polarized opinion. Either you loved or you hated Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, there was little room inbetween.
With his often ruthless executives, he polarised opinion as conservative minister in his homeland Baden-Wuerttemberg and as president of Bundesliga club VfB, for a total of 25 years.
He was even more disliked by many fans as president of the German Football Association. And it did not stop at “Vorfelder out” chants or catcalls.
I was with him as a SPORT1 reporter after a 2:0 victory in Lithuania when a full plastic bottle was thrown from the German stands and landed just meters from him in the first international match after the World Cup 2002 Final.
Mayer-Vorfelder twitched briefly, then he went on, as if nothing had happened. A typical characteristic of the man called MV. Because he would never shy away from confrontation, neither in politics nor in football. “Those who can’t stand the heat should get out the kitchen” was his motto.
With joy Mayer-Vorfelder threw himself into verbal duels with his numerous critics. He found himself after his election as president of the DFB in 2001, mostly in a defensive position. Especially after the embarrassing early knockout at the Euro three years later in Portugal.
Back then Theo Zwanziger was on the public and political rise – in the end they agreed for the first and only time in association history to jointly share the leadership until the home World Cup in 2006. The culmination for Mayer-Vorfelder was the showcase match for third place in his home town Stuttgart.
Zwanziger may have taken much credit for the resurgence of German football. But in retrospect Mayer-Vorfelder’s contributions to the high-altitude flight of German football have become much clearer.
In particular his introduction of the successful junior scheme after the debacle of 2004 and the installation of his former VfB companions Juergen Klinsmann and Jogi Löw and the subsequent changes in style, image and success of the national team.
My first interview with MV came after I had heavily criticised him. Today, in most cases it would be inconceivable to be granted such an interview after such an assault. But it is just one example of Mayer-Vorfelder’s comparatively open approach to criticism and readiness to face his critics.
Although we had very different opinions on many things, my respect for Mayer-Vorfelder grew, especially during his slow withdrawal from his football positions. Visibly wizened after heart surgery, he was as always tanned, with his top shirt button open and usually with a cigarette in his mouth – he was German football’s elder statesman.
My idea of a SPORT1 column entitled ‘Having a fag with MV’ we unfortunately can not implement. Pity.
Martin Volkmar is a member of the Editorial Board of leading German sports channel SPORT1 and Head of the Online Desk (www.sport1.de). He has covered, among others, two World cups, two European Championships and four Champions League finals.