Although he may not be familiar to many football fans today, in Germany, Karl-Heinz Korbel is a household name. At Eintracht Frankfurt, where he spent his entire playing career, his status is uplifted to that of a hero.
That arguably has much to do with the fact that unlike most bright young things in Germany, he resisted the urge to move to Bayern Munich.
Korbel was an impeccable defender, considered on a par with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer. Uli Hoeness repeatedly tried to get him to sign for the Bavarian giants throughout his playing days but he always declined, happy with his lot at Die Adler (The Eagles), with whom he soared to the 1980 UEFA Cup.
At 61, Korbel remains entrenched at Eintracht, where he now casts his eye over the new generation as academy director. With Eintracht enjoying the UAE sunshine during the Bundesliga’s winter break, Korbel and his fellow coaches held a training session with budding Emirates Islamic Bank National School League footballers this week.
The club came to the UAE during the Bundesliga’s winter break last year. Could Eintracht Frankfurt have more of a presence in the Emirates in the future?
This is the second time now and this time is obviously an advantage because the first time it was new for me and the other coaches. Now the second time, we already know what we are getting into and we can prepare better.
Apart from that it’s perfect for us here because we have perfect conditions. We enjoy the set-up and our partnerships with Daman and now Sport360. I hope we can develop this further so we can have an even bigger impact on the players, to develop them.
You hold the record for most Bundesliga appearances with 602. How did you manage to have such a long career?
Of course you need a little bit of luck, but it’s also about having a healthy lifestyle, taking responsibility for yourself and your body. Family is important too, to support and strengthen you. The 602 Bundesliga games in addition to a few more cup matches. It adds up to quite a tally.
Why did you play your whole career at Eintracht?
Basically, it just happened. I did have some opportunities to leave. During my career there were some opportunities but I was always convinced to stay. Bayern Munich wanted me at some point. I played with Uli Hoeness and he always tried to get me to come to Bayern, but I refused because I always felt like I would be leaving Eintracht hanging. People always managed to convince me to stay and at some point it was so far down the line that I couldn’t leave anymore. I had been playing for Eintracht for so long and I didn’t want to go. At a certain point there was no way I could leave.
What are the highlights of your playing career?
I won the German Cup (DFB-Pokal) four times and one UEFA Cup, which were highlights of course. But the matches against Bayern Munich were always highlights because I always won against them, and nowadays we don’t win. So, for me, playing against the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and winning.
During your playing days, who was your toughest opponent?
My favourite opponent was Gerd Muller. Everyone in the entire world was scared of Muller but somehow I played against him 20 or 30 times but I always managed to play really well against him. I was one of the few who wasn’t actually scared of him and somehow played well against him.
Who was the best player you played with?
Bruno Pezzey and Cha Bum-kun. Pezzey for the way he played. We played both as defenders and we just played well together. We were taller and he was perhaps even better than Beckenbauer. Cha was a striker and he was almost perfect. He could shoot with his left and his right, he was a good header of the ball and was quick, he was almost the perfect striker.
Who is your favourite player now?
Thomas Muller from Bayern Munich. He is just perfect. He always scores but is somehow unconventional.
Eintracht enjoyed success during your time there, winning silverware, but they have struggled in recent years. Do you think they can they be successful again?
I realise it’s very difficult but on the other hand I’m optimistic. Eintracht Frankfurt is one of the few big, traditional clubs with a huge history in the Bundesliga and a huge fanbase. It is very, very difficult because there are always a few teams playing well.
A few seasons ago we managed to get into the Europa League, surprisingly, but then you also lose a few of your best players. A few of ours went to Bayern and other clubs: Sebastian Jung, Sebastian Rode, Pirmin Schwegler, Kevin Trapp went to Paris Saint-Germain although we got a good sum.
It will be a challenge to keep together the squad once you get some success. Maybe you can build on that to be successful in the long term, but we know it’s possible to get in the Europa League, to cause a surprise then maybe build on that, and also build on our young players.
We have a few good ones in our squad, like Marc Stendera for example. We need to build on the youth and get them into the first team squad.
To add to that, at every match we are almost sell out with almost 50,000 fans in the stadium every home match. The environment, everything works, we just have to build on that and make something out of it.
Bayern have dominated German football, especially in recent years. Can anyone challenge their current dominance, like Bayer Leverkusen or Borussia Dortmund?
I think that in the next few years it will be difficult if not impossible for other teams to somehow catch up with Bayern because they are in a different league, a different world with the other top teams in Europe, with their financial resources and the set-up. Within the Bundesliga I don’t see any team getting close to them in the next few years.
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