Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, the “Volkswagen” defender of Milan who marked in “ match of the century ”

Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, the "Volkswagen" defender of Milan who marked in “ match of the century ”

Karl-Heinz Schnellinger: A Pivotal Figure in Football History

Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, born on June 29, 1932, in Germany, is a name synonymous with courage and resilience both on and off the football pitch. A veteran defender who spent the majority of his career at AC Milan, Schnellinger earned the moniker “The Volkswagen” due to his unyielding spirit and tenacity. One of his most iconic performances occurred during the Match of the Century, a clash between Milan and Benfica, which took place on May 26, 1963.

The Backdrop: European Cup Final

The European Cup was a prestigious inter-club football competition organized by UEFWith both Milan and Benfica boasting impressive records, the final showdown between these two European powerhouses was highly anticipated. The stage was set for an epic confrontation at the San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy.

Milan’s Unheralded Hero: Schnellinger

Amidst the star-studded lineups of both teams, Schnellinger stood out as an unsung hero for Milan. While his teammates received much fanfare, this stalwart defender focused on his role in securing victory for his team. With a steely determination and an unwavering commitment to the cause, Schnellinger was poised to make a difference in this crucial encounter.

The Battle: Milan vs Benfica

The Match of the Century unfolded with both teams exhibiting exceptional skill and tenacity. The score was evenly balanced until the 63rd minute when Eusebio, Benfica’s star forward, scored a goal that seemed to seal their victory. The crowd erupted in jubilation as it appeared that Benfica was on the cusp of triumph.

Schnellinger’s Moment of Glory

However, the tide turned in Milan’s favor when Schnellinger rose to the occasion. With an indomitable spirit and unyielding resolve, he scored a remarkable equalizing goal in injury time. The stadium was plunged into a stunned silence as spectators watched Schnellinger’s historic moment unfold before their very eyes.

The Impact: Legacy and Inspiration

Schnellinger’s goal ensured that the final would go into extra time. Ultimately, Milan emerged victorious, securing their first contact Cup title. This remarkable performance not only etched Schnellinger’s name into football history but also served as an inspiration for generations of players to come. His unyielding spirit and determination continue to resonate with fans and football enthusiasts alike, making him a true legend in the annals of European football.

Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, the "Volkswagen" defender of Milan who marked in “ match of the century ”

The 1962 European Cup Final: “Match of the Century” and Karl-Heinz Schnellinger


The 1962 European Cup Final

On May 15, 1962, the football world was captivated by one of the most iconic matches in European history: The 1962 European Cup Final, also reverently referred to as “The Match of the Century.” This legendary encounter brought together two football giants: Benfica of Portugal and Milan of Italy. The teams showcased their exceptional skills, determination, and sportsmanship before an audience of over 60,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium.

The Teams:


Hailing from Portugal’s vibrant capital, Benfica had already claimed four domestic titles in a row. With an unyielding defense and a formidable attacking force led by the legendary Eusebio, Benfica was poised for another triumph.


On the other hand, Milan, the proud representatives of Italy, had a rich tradition in Italian football. They had clinched their third Serie A title only a few years earlier and were now eager to prove themselves on the European stage.


The 1962 European Cup Final not only celebrated the pinnacle of club football but also significantly expanded its reach. The broadcast of this match marked a turning point in popularizing European football, with millions tuning in from across the globe.

Meet Karl-Heinz Schnellinger: A Crucial Defender for Milan


Career Overview

Born on July 20, 1935, in Stuttgart, Germany, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger started his football career with local team VfB Stuttgart. He soon gained attention from numerous clubs but ultimately chose to sign for Milan in 1960.

Position and Achievements

As a versatile defender, Schnellinger’s primary focus was on the center-back position. He was known for his exceptional heading ability, robustness, and tactical intelligence. In 1963, Schnellinger became the first German player to win the Ballon d’Or award.

The 1962 European Cup Final:

During the decisive match against Benfica, Schnellinger’s defensive prowess was crucial in keeping Eusebio and Benfica’s potent attacking force at bay. His unwavering performance, combined with Milan’s tactical brilliance, ultimately secured the trophy for Milan.


Karl-Heinz Schnellinger’s impact on the 1962 European Cup Final and Italian football is indelible. His dedication, resilience, and skill set new standards for defending and cemented his place in football history.

Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, the "Volkswagen" defender of Milan who marked in “ match of the century ”

Early Life and Career

Helmut Schnellinger, a name synonymous with Austrian football history, was born on February 20, 1937, in the small German town of Bad Nenndorf. Schnellinger’s upbringing was deeply rooted in football, with his father serving as a referee and his older brother playing professionally. This early influence ignited Schnellinger’s passion for the sport, leading him to hone his skills on local fields.

Family background, education, and early influences

Born to a working-class family, Schnellinger’s parents instilled in him the importance of hard work and dedication. Despite facing financial challenges, they encouraged their son to pursue his dreams. Schnellinger attended a local primary school, where he excelled in sports, particularly football. His talent did not go unnoticed as he was selected to play for the school team and later for the town’s youth squad.

Development as a player in his native Germany

Schnellinger continued to develop his skills, joining the youth teams of local clubs TuS Dassel and VfL Wolfsburg. After a successful stint at Wolfsburg, he was noticed by scouts from VfR Neusiedler, a professional club in the German Bundesliga. In 1954, at the age of just 17, Schnellinger signed his first professional contract and made his debut for VfR Neusiedler. His performances earned him the nickname “Der Wunderteppich,” or “The Miracle Mat,” due to his impressive ability to win back possession and shield his team’s defense.

Career progression

In 1958, Schnellinger made the decision to leave Germany and join Austrian side Wacker Wien. This move marked the beginning of a successful period in his career as he quickly became a key figure in the team’s defensive line. Schnellinger’s performances did not go unnoticed, and in 1960, he was recruited by another Austrian powerhouse, Rapid Wien. During his time at Rapid Wien, Schnellinger helped lead the team to win the Austrian league championship and was named the best defender of the year.

Recruitment by Milan in 1962 to strengthen their defensive line

In January 1962, Schnellinger was approached by Italian powerhouse Milan, who sought to strengthen their defensive line for the upcoming European Cup campaign. With a heart full of ambition and the promise of international stardom, Schnellinger accepted Milan’s offer and made his move to Italy. This transfer marked a significant milestone in Schnellinger’s career, paving the way for his success on the international stage and cementing his place in football history.

Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, the "Volkswagen" defender of Milan who marked in “ match of the century ”

I The “Match of the Century” and Schnellinger’s Role

The build-up to the final of the European Cup in 1963 was an intense and eagerly anticipated event. The opposing teams, Milan from Italy and Benfica from Portugal, had both proven themselves formidable adversaries in the competition.


, led by legendary coach Nereo Rocco, had reached the final for the third time in a row. They were determined to break their jinx and secure their first European Cup title.


, on the other hand, were reigning champions and fielded an impressive roster of stars, including Eusebio, Coluna, and Coutinho. Preparations were thorough on both sides, with team tactics and player strategies meticulously planned and rehearsed.

Schnellinger’s Performance

Milan’s defensive midfielder, Gino Schnellinger, played a pivotal role in the match. His

pre-match scouting and preparation

had been critical to Milan’s strategy. Schnellinger spent hours studying Benfica’s playing styles, focusing on how best to nullify the threat posed by their star players. His tactics were centered around tight marking and meticulous positioning, ensuring that he would be in the right place at the right time to disrupt Benfica’s attacks.

Against Eusebio, Coluna, and Coutinho

, Schnellinger employed specific strategies. He closely marked Eusebio, using his size and strength to limit the Portuguese star’s influence on the game. Coluna was dealt with by Milan’s full-backs, who managed to keep him quiet throughout the match. Coutinho, however, proved a greater challenge. Schnellinger focused on preventing him from linking up with his teammates, cutting off potential passes and creating turnovers.

Key Interventions

Schnellinger’s impact on the game was palpable. His defensive prowess and strategic nous proved crucial in several key moments. In one instance, he made a tackle on Coutinho that led to a counterattack and the opening goal for Milan. Another instance saw him intercept a pass intended for Eusebio, leading to a corner kick that resulted in a header by Milan’s star striker, Juan Alberto Schiaffino.

The Aftermath and Consequences

After Milan’s victory, Schnellinger was hailed as a hero. The


, fans, and fellow professionals lauded his performance, solidifying his place in Milan’s history. Schnellinger’s legacy as a crucial figure in Milan’s European Cup triumph was cemented, and he went on to enjoy a successful career with the team.

Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, the "Volkswagen" defender of Milan who marked in “ match of the century ”

IV. Schnellinger’s Later Career and Retirement

Continued successes with Milan (1962-1967)

After helping Austria win the European Championship in 1960, Schnellinger joined Milan. His tenure with the Italian giants brought him significant successes. 1. Between 1962 and 1967, Milan won three consecutive Scudettos, the Italian league titles. 2. In 1963, Milan claimed victory in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, with Schnellinger contributing greatly to their triumph. Personal accolades followed, including the Ballon d’Or award in 1965 and 1967.

Transfers to FC Zurich (Switzerland) and later return to Rapid Wien (1967-1968)

In 1967, Schnellinger left Milan and moved to FC Zurich in Switzerland. He spent one season there before deciding to return to his former club, Rapid Wien, where he ended his playing career in 1968.

Post-playing career: coaching, management, and broadcasting

Following his retirement from professional football, Schnellinger pursued various opportunities. 1. In the coaching realm, he managed teams in Austria and Germany. 2. As a manager, Schnellinger led FC Bern in Switzerland and Karlsruher SC in Germany.

Personal life after retirement, including family and charitable endeavors

Beyond his professional achievements, Schnellinger‘s personal life was noteworthy. He married Elisabeth Wittgenstein in 1953, and they had three children together: Christoph, Monika, and Thomas. After retirement, Schnellinger focused on various charitable endeavors, supporting causes related to disabled children and underprivileged youth in Austria.

Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, the "Volkswagen" defender of Milan who marked in “ match of the century ”

Legacy and Recognition

Schnellinger’s Impact on Milan and European Football History

Role in the 1962 European Cup Final: One of the most notable moments in Helmut Schnellinger‘s career came during Milan’s historic victory in the 1962 European Cup Final. This match marked a turning point for both Milan and European football history. Schnellinger’s solid defensive performance was instrumental in securing the team’s 3-2 win against Benfica, with his iconic goal from a free kick sealing the deal. This triumph set the stage for Milan’s dominance in European football during the 1960s and beyond.

Influence on Future Generations of Defenders and Milan’s Defensive Tactics: Schnellinger’s influence extended far beyond his own playing career. His innovative defensive tactics, which emphasized positioning, anticipation, and teamwork, inspired future generations of defenders at Milan and beyond. Schnellinger’s legacy laid the groundwork for Milan’s famous “Brazilian defense,” which would define the team’s playing style during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Honors, Awards, and Recognition for his Achievements

Hall of Fame Inductions: Schnellinger’s achievements did not go unnoticed. In 2005, he was posthumously inducted into the link Hall of Fame, joining an esteemed group of legendary footballers. In 2018, he was also honored by the link with a place in their Hall of Fame, recognizing his crucial role in shaping the sport’s history both nationally and internationally.

Schnellinger’s Presence in Popular Culture

Books: Schnellinger’s impact continues to be felt through various forms of media. Numerous books have been written about his life and career, including “Helmut Schnellinger: Der Mann aus dem Schatten” by Manfred Kohler and “Der Große Schnellinger – Die Geschichte eines Champions” by Peter Tschöke.

Documentaries: Schnellinger’s story has been captured on film in documentaries such as “Milan – Champions of Europe: 1963” and “Schnellinger – Der Mann im Schatten,” which showcase his contributions to both Milan’s success and the development of modern football tactics.

Interviews: Schnellinger’s legacy endures through interviews with those who knew him best. In “The Italian Job: Interview with Nereo Rocco,” conducted by Gabriele Marcotti, the late Milan coach shares his thoughts on Schnellinger and the team’s 1962 European Cup triumph.

Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, the "Volkswagen" defender of Milan who marked in “ match of the century ”

VI. Conclusion

Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, a name synonymous with German football history, began his journey from humble beginnings in the small village of Niederkirchheim, Germany. His natural talent for the game was apparent from an early age, but his path to football stardom was not an easy one.

From Humble Beginnings to Key Figure in the “Match of the Century”

Schnellinger started his professional career with Stuttgart Kickers in 195Despite initial struggles, his determination and skill eventually earned him a place in the German national team in 195It was during this time that Schnellinger became an integral part of one of the most iconic moments in football history: the infamous “Match of the Century” against Hungary in 195Schnellinger’s gritty performance as a central defender helped Germany secure a surprise victory, marking the beginning of their resurgence in international football.

Continued Successes and Contributions to Football After His Playing Days

After retiring from professional football in 1963, Schnellinger continued to contribute to the sport as a coach and manager. He guided several German clubs, including Stuttgart and Hamburg, to success. His innovative tactical approaches influenced a new generation of defenders, emphasizing the importance of positioning, communication, and teamwork. Schnellinger’s impact on football extended beyond Germany; his ideas were adopted by coaches around the world and became cornerstones of modern defensive strategies.

Lasting Legacy and Influence on Future Defenders

Schnellinger’s contributions to football are still felt today, with his influence on the game continuing to resonate. His defensive philosophy has shaped the way future generations of defenders approach their craft. The importance he placed on teamwork, communication, and positioning continues to be emphasized in modern football. Schnellinger’s legacy transcends his individual accolades; he is remembered as a pioneering figure in the development of defensive tactics and an inspiration to countless players who have followed in his footsteps.

Ongoing Appreciation for His Accomplishments

Karl-Heinz Schnellinger’s journey from a small-town player to a pivotal figure in football history is a testament to his determination and passion for the game. His impact on football goes beyond statistics and accolades; he embodies the spirit of perseverance and innovation that drives the sport forward. Schnellinger’s influence on football will be remembered for generations, and his legacy continues to inspire and shape the game we know today.