The MSR advent calendar: Our favorite signings that never happened: Door 21 – Ulf Kirsten
A text by Dirk Adam
If there is one player I would have liked to see join FC Bayern after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is Ulf Kirsten from Dynamo Dresden. Unfortunately, a move to the record champions never worked out or was never considered, although Kirsten was one of the best strikers in the former GDR besides Andreas Thom of BFC Dynamo.
After the opening of the inner German border, Kirsten was immediately snatched up by one particularly quick West-German football manager: Reiner Calmund. As he once told me in detail in a conversation, he went to the East immediately after the fall of the Wall, while hundreds of thousands of people from the five new states set off in the opposite direction to collect their welcome money.
Instead of welcome money, Calmund brought presents to his meeting with Kristen in Dresden. He brought toys for Kirsten’s son Benjamin to win over first him and then his father Ulf (Der Schwatte) in the process. Calmund’s brilliant idea had the desired effect. He could persuade Kirsten to move to Leverkusen and join Bayer in 1990.
What would have happened if the 1990 GDR Footballer of the Year had joined FC Bayern instead? The best striker of a fallen country, who had been under contract in Dresden since 1983, where he scored a total of 67 goals in 180 competitive games and was revered like a god? The answer is simple: FC Bayern would have had another top player in their squad.
“You had the feeling he knew no pain. On the one hand he was very sensitive, on the other hand he took no hostages on the pitch. When he was yet a young player you could already see that he would make his way in the world one day. He was indispensable at Dynamo Dresden,” ex-Dynamo coach Eduard Geyer told Miasanrot.
In the 1990/91 season, there were four strikers in the Bayern squad – Brian Laudrup, Alan McInally, Radmilo Mihajlović, and Roland Wohlfahrt – and Kirsten would have measured up to any of them. The coach at the time was Jupp Heynckes, who had taken over the Bayern team in 1987 and led them to two championships in 1989 and 1990.
Then crisis struck. After Bayern finished second behind Kaiserslautern in 1991, they lost five games in a row at the beginning of the 1991/92 season. Heynckes, whose team had to cope with the departures of Stefan Reuter, Raimond Aumann and Laudrup, was relieved of his duties on 8 October 1991.
With Kirsten up front, history might have taken a different turn because the goal-scoring Saxon immediately made a phenomenal impact at Leverkusen. In his very first Bundesliga game for the Werkself on 11 August 1990 – against Bayern, of all clubs, Kirsten scored the opening goal. The game ended in a 1-1 draw only because Stefan Effenberg converted a penalty in the 83rd minute.
In his first Bundesliga season, Kirsten scored ten more times for Leverkusen. On top of that, he also provided two assists in 32 games. Adjustment problems? None at all. Kirsten did what he did best. Scoring goals. Just like he used to do at Dresden, who sorely missed their top scorer until their forced relegation in 1995.
“Ulf always trained well even though you had to prod him a bit sometimes. Otherwise, he always gave 100% for his team. His strength was his determination. He tried to score from many situations and he was quite fast. He was also a good header of the ball, even though he didn’t have the perfect height,” said Geyer.
In total, Kirsten scored a staggering 240 goals and provided 50 assists in 448 competitive games for Leverkusen between 1990 and 2003. Calmund’s investment had paid off with interest.
When you consider such figures, it is not hard to imagine what Kirsten could have achieved at FC Bayern.
Kirsten would probably have ascended to the lofty heights of a Gerd Müller and made himself immortal. And more importantly, Kirsten could have won countless trophies, which was denied him at Leverkusen. After three GDR championships with Dynamo Dresden, he only managed to reach the Champions League final in 2001/02, achieve four German runner-up places in the Bundesliga, and win the one DFB-Pokal victory in 1993.
At FC Bayern, Kirsten would have been showered with titles and trophies. By the end of his career in 2003, the Riesa-born player would have won six German championships as well as three DFB-Pokal and one Champions League title with Bayern. This number of titles would have been roughly commensurate to the potential Kirsten had.
“After the fall of the Berlin Wall, everything went haywire at Dynamo Dresden. It was a ‘first come, first served’ situation. FC Bayern was perhaps too cautious at the time. But I’m sure Ulf Kirsten would have made his way at Bayern,” continued Geyer, whose eyes start gleaming when he talks about his former disciple, something which is rarely the case with Eisen-Ede.
His former Dresden coach also once explained that Kirsten would go in head first where others pulled back their feet. You cannot get more praise from Geyer, who coached Kirsten from 1986 to 1990 and was also his last GDR national team coach before Kirsten played for the united DFB team from 1992.
Kirsten did not have an easy time under national coach Berti Vogts. The “Bomber of the Nineties” was capped 51 times and scored 20 goals until his final international appearance in 2000. A joke compared to his potential, but Vogts did not like the Schwatten. If Kirsten had played for FC Bayern, he might have been called up more often.
“With Rudi Völler and Karl-Heinz Riedle, Ulf Kirsten had two giants in front of him in the national team. Of course I would have liked him to play more games in the DFB shirt because he was not only a great player but also a great guy,” says Geyer.
However, Kirsten was not part of the DFB squads for Germany at the victorious European Championship in 1996 and also not in 1992. As a result, he missed out on further titles. But there is a small consolation. The DFB recognized Kirsten’s 49 GDR caps, bringing his total for Germany to 100 caps, thus giving him the recognition he deserved. His 100th international match on 20 June 2000 against Portugal was his final appearance in the DFB shirt.
Calmund secured Kirsten’s move to Leverkusen in the summer of 1990 for the ridiculously low amount of DM 3.5m. The cult manager also prevented any direct contact between Kirsten and Bayern in the following years. In the 1990s, there reportedly were repeated casual enquiries on Bayern’s part, but Calli blocked everything and did not pass on any information to his player. For all Kirsten fans, the hope that he would one day play in the jersey of FC Bayern would remain an unfulfilled dream forever.
After full-blooded striker Ulf Kirsten, the player behind the next door goes about his business in a more delicate way. How a Spanish strategist could have given FC Bayern a different identity …