Retirement. Football is merciless – knowing only today and almost never remembering yesterday. By 1988 Klaus Fichtel was some long forgotten past… Yet, he was not long forgotten past, but something more, best summarized with one simple sentence: the central-defender was born 1944, debuted in 1965-66 and retired after the 1987-88 season at the age of 44!
Born in Castrup-Rauxel, Province of Westphalia, he debuted for Schalke 04 in 1965-66 – it was interesting debut: on one hand, Fichtel was rather old debutante – 21-years old, not 17 or 18. He was just acquired by Schalke 04 from his original club Arminia (Ickern). On the other hand, his debut was more than impressive – he played in every game of the season: 34. And there was no stopping after that.
More: his talent was not just local – debuting in the season after which West Germany played at the final of 1966 World Cup, he debuted for the national team in 1967 and played a total of 23 games for it, scoring 1 goal (against Scotland in 1969). However, Fichtel played for West Germany only 4 years, 1967-71. Such was his fate…
His peak with the national team was 1970, playing at the World Cup in Mexico.
Everything looked just fine next to Helmut Schon.
Fichtel (dribbling here between Uruguyans) was solid regular – 5 matches at the finals – and one of the memorable stars of impressive team.
26-years old, Klaus Fichtel was seen as one of the modern players, changing the game – a defender capable of attacking. Young enough to shine for many years – but… his very age was his undoing. At first Fichtel was seen as natural replacement of Karl-Heinz Schnellinger and Willy Schulz, competing only with Wolfgang Weber and Bernd Patzke. But Beckenbauer moved back to play a libero and the duo Beckenbauer – Schwarzenbeck made it virtually impossible for any other player to appear in the national team. Unfortunately for Fichtel, he had mighty competition in his own generation and considered now and then by Schon, he never played for the national team after 1971. With irreplaceable regulars, Schon – especially after 1974 – was looking for younger substitutes. When Beckenbauer retired from the national team Fichtel was already over 30 too, not a natural replacement. By 1978 he was almost forgotten by the football world – he had no part of the the great success of West Germany in 1972 and 1974 and playing for Schalke 04 contributed somewhat negatively: his club’s involvement in the infamous bribing scandal in 1971 put a bit of a stigma even on players not involved like Klaus Fichtel. Ironically, this was the time of his greatest success as a club player – he won the West German Cup in 1972 with Schalke 04. His only trophy… But the wonderful squad was destroyed by the bribing scandal in the same time, so… no return to the national team and no more trophies.
In 1980 Klaus Fichtel moved from Schalke 04 to Werder (Bremen), which meant going to play in Second Division… True, just a single season – in which Fichtel played in every match, 42 games – but there was little glory to taste second-level football. Such a league did not exist when Fichtel debuted, so, to a point, he distinguished himself by playing in both professional leagues of West Germany. Two more season with Werder followed – again in the Bundesliga – and the veteran, now 40 years old, moved back to Schalke 04 in 1984.
He was no longer a regular starter, but played to the end – 11 games in his last season. When he stepped down, Fichtel had a total of 552 games in the Bundesliga and 14 goals. 42 games in the 2. Bundesliga. 23 games for the national team. Bronze medals from the 1970 World Cup. Could have been more successful – and more famous, therefore – if he was born a few years earlier, or a few years later. He was regarded as a sweeper in the time of the libero – another handicap… His loyalty to Schalke 04, where he played almost 20 years, also worked against him: the bribing scandal and the following decline of the team, put the player as well on the back burner. If there was no Beckenbauer, if Fichtel played for Bayern of Borussia Moenchengladbach… such whining is pointless at the end. Fichtel was great player with fantastic longevity – consider that in the late 1960s and up the 1990 the common wisdom was that a player turning 30 is on his last legs. Playing top league football and in West Germany at that at 44 was almost beyond imagination. After 23 years of professional football Klaus Fichtel finally called it quits.