Before the Third Reich dissolved the Austrian national team into its own, the Austrians were dominating Europe with a certain style of football. They were a hotbed of natural talent fed by their capital’s domestic team. And at the heart of them both was Matthias Sindelar.
It’s unfortunate that our memories tend to only go back so far. That pre-war footballers can often fall by the way side in favour of new and more glamorous stars. But Sindelar is one who deserves as much recognition as both Pele and Best. Two footballing giants who it wouldn’t be too far a stretch for the Austrian to be compared to.
“In a way he had brains in his legs, and many remarkable and unexpected things occurred to them while they were running. Sindelar’s shot hit the back of the net like the perfect punch-line, the ending that made it possible to understand and appreciate the perfect composition of the story, the crowning of which it represented.”
This comment from Polgar shows the beauty and elegance in Sindelar’s game. A recognition that is only echoed by contemporary reports of the games he played for Vienna and the Austrian national side. And represented in his nickname: Mozart of football.
Also named Der Papierene – the paper man, due to his slight build – Sindelar found ease in gliding past defenders. In a time when football was much more physical, where groundskeepers weren’t the skilled professionals they are now; the pitches weren’t suited to technically gifted players or to dribbling with the ball.
That’s what makes Sindelar all the more impressive; with a goals tally reaching 26 in 43 games for Austria, it would be hard to deny that he wasn’t a lynchpin of that team.
In the years leading up to the World War II, Austria gained prominence in the freshly emerging European footballing scene. After their emergence from the Austro-Hungarian empire, they finished fourth in the 1934 World cup and runners up in the 1936 Olympics, the ‘Wunderteam’, were a force to be reckoned with.
With goals like this, it’s no wonder that Sindelar was stealing the show.
On March 12 1938, it was announced by the neighbouring Third Reich that Austria and its national side would be dissolved into Germany. The Anschluss was embodied in a game between Germany and Austria that would follow; a game representative of Hitler’s love of sporting propaganda. And in what would become synonymous with footballing greats, Sindelar refused to stick to the script.
He played somewhat nonchalantly, beating players with ease only to turn round and do it again. Then, in front of high ranking Nazi officials who had previously decided that a low score draw would be ideal, Sindelar would score two goals for the Austrian side – they would run out 2-0 winners.
When his national side was being discontinued in the face of oppressive forces, Sindelar put his raw talent to use in mocking the Nazi reign. An applaudable feat of resilience on its own, but improved by a raw talent that paved the way for the intricacies players are capable of now.
Undoubtedly showing onlookers just how beautiful the beautiful game could be.