Jean - Marie Pfaff: The Entertainer
di Shahan Petrossian
In a profession known for its cold hard realism, Belgian goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff was an anomaly as a bon vivant.
In the 1970s and 1980s, goalkeepers were sober and serious characters epitomized by his contemporaries such as Dino Zoff, Peter Shilton and Rinat Dassayev.
In contrast, Pfaff was a clown all too eager to please and entertain the fans.
However, his bubbly personality and demeanor on the field contrasted sharply with his dedication to hard work and training off of it.
The public generally loved him, yet some segments of the Press as well as his fellow professionals viewed him with suspicion and distrust.
Pfaff was born on December 4th, 1953 at Lebbeke near Antwerp. He lived in poverty with a large family consisting of twelve siblings (Six boys and Six girls, he was the 10th child).
The family lived in a caravan travelling from city to city selling rugs.
His father was killed in an automobile accident when he was eleven. At this point, he believed he could have turned into a delinquent had it not been for the support of his large family.
Football also played a part in keeping him in a positive path.
From a very young age, The Game was in his blood and especially the role of the goalkeeper. It was the sport that would take him out of a life of poverty.
He joined the youth set up of nearby club SK Beveren on June 21st, 1965 as an eleven-year old.
He was (according to himself) short and overweight. The Management would work on his diet and worked him very hard in shaping the youngster and in time he would lose the weight and have a growth spurt.
His visible talent at such a young age would enable to move up the ranks. He was even called up by Belgium’s UEFA Juniors squad while at schoolboy level.
He would abandon school at the age of 14 to be fully dedicated to succeeding as a future professional.
The eighteen-year old would get his chance to make his debut for the Beveren’s first team on April 9th, 1972 in a League match vs. Crossing Schaerbeek (1-2 loss). He would play a handful of matches in the season, but Beveren would be relegated at the end of the season.
The following season (1972/73) in the Second Division, Pfaff would be elevated as starting goalkeeper and help his team win immediate promotion by winning the Second Division title.
The following season (1973/74) would be Pfaff’s first as a starter in top flight. Beveren finished in the tenth position, but Pfaff’s performances were not going unnoticed and his stature was growing as a future heir apparent to Belgium’s Number one Christian Piot.
For the time being, National Team Manager restricted Pfaff as a substitute goalkeeper behind the untouchable Piot.
Goethals was still not convinced by the talented youngster and felt he was still lacking in certain areas (especially in the air).
At the end of that first full season on June 27th, 1974, Pfaff married Carmen Seth who would not only be his spouse, but also play a larger role in his career. She would act as his Manager and provide him the much needed support and peace of mind that a sportsman needed at home.
They would have three daughters, the first one Debby would be born on May 30th, 1975. Her sisters Kelly and Lyndsey would be born on July 26th, 1977 and October 4th, 1978 respectively.
The following season (1974/75), with Jef Jurion at the helm, the team fared worse by finishing in the 12th position. Jurion trained him with the outfield players to strengthen him.
Jurion did drop Pfaff for a number of matches. Fortunately (for Pfaff) Jurion was replaced after this poor season and replaced with Urbain Braems.
Braems would once again install Pfaff as the starter for the new season (1975/76). The appointment of Braems would be a turning point in Pfaff’s progress. Braems also worked him very hard and prepared him for the next step. Pfaff would look upon Braems as his spiritual father and would be thankful of his influence for the rest of his career.
He would manage him on three separate occasions. It was under his tutelage that Pfaff finally received his long awaited first cap.
This season (1975/76) would be the turning point for Beveren and Pfaff. The Team under Braems finished in the sixth position. After being an understudy for the nearly two years Pfaff was handed his National Team debut towards the end of the season.
The Belgians had been virtually eliminated from the Euro Quarterfinals by archrival neighbors Holland, just weeks earlier (April 25th) in a humiliating (0-5) loss.
Raymond Goethals had resigned and the new man in charge was Guy Thys.
Thys saw the need in rebuilding an ageing side and decided to inject new blood into the squad. Pfaff started in goal, instead of Christian Piot, for the return leg of this qualifier in Brussels on May 22nd, 1976.
Belgium lost once more (1-2) but Pfaff was involved in an incident that would raise eyebrows. After the Great Johann Cruyff had scored on him with a beautiful lob, Pfaff had congratulated him. His action was seen with certain cynicism from the press who were baffled by his motives. Pfaff insisted that his actions had been misinterpreted. He maintained that he wanted to congratulate him because it had been a beautiful goal and he was acting sportsmanlike. This was just one incident that perhaps confirmed his reputation as a difficult character.
Pfaff believed that it was another incident from which the Press falsely attached him the ‘difficult’ tag. Pfaff claimed that in his early days in the National Team he was the sole Beveren player. Most players were from the Big three clubs (Anderlecht, Standard Liege and Club Brugge). According to Pfaff, the players from those clubs did not mix with others and stayed together (played cards, etc).
As a result, one day in the training camp with the National Team, he grew tired and started going out walking and jogging in the vicinity. A reporter saw him and started asking him questions and according to Pfaff falsely deduced that there was trouble within the camp with him and others and reported it.
The next season (1976/77) Beveren struggled in the League and finished in the bottom half. At the National Team Thys kept faith with the more experienced Piot as the World Cup 1978 Qualifiers got underway.
For the (1977/78) season, Thys elevated Pfaff as the starting goalkeeper after Piot retired from the National Team.
It was a memorable season for the Team as they finished fifth in the League.
Pfaff won his first major silverware as Beveren triumphed in the Belgian League after defeating Charleroi (2-0) on May 21st, 1978.
His growing stature was underlined when at the end of the year he was elected as ‘Soulier d’Or’, Belgium’s player of the year. He became only the fourth goalkeeper to do so.
He had grown into a goalkeeper known for his excellent reflexes and his ability to launch attacks with quick throws. The main criticism about his game was mostly about the mental aspects. He was seen as too reckless and impatient which would lead to mistakes most notably in coming out of line too soon (as would be witnessed later during the 1982 World Cup vs. Hungary).
Photo From: Mirroir du Football, January 24, 1979(Jean-Marie Pfaff in with young fans during his time at Beveren)rike, May 22, 1976, UEFA Euroepan Championships, Belgium 1-Holland 2)
However, winning this award also brought out the publicity seeking aspect of his character. For starters he started wearing a necklace of the ‘Soulier d’Or. He also tried to exploit publicity of his award in his Sports Shop, to such an extent that the organizers of the trophy threatened a lawsuit on the grounds that it was ‘unlawful usage of a product’.
The following season (1978/79) would be Pfaff’s most successful yet. The man responsible for his ascension Urbain Braems had left the club after winning the Cup Title. The new man in charge at Beveren was Robert Goethals. The small unfashionable squad beat all odds and ended up as Champions of Belgium (Pfaff’s first League title).
Photo From: Onze, Issue 40, April 1979
(Jean-Marie Pfaff in action with Beveren)
Photo From: Onze, Issue 40, April 1979(Jean-Marie Pfaff with Beveren’s title winning squad, 1978/79)
In Pfaff’s first foray in a European Competition, Beveren reached the semifinals of the Cup Winners Cup before being eliminated by eventual winners Barcelona.
The sky seemed the limit for the still semi-professional Pfaff, who still worked at a Bank part-time. Beveren was appearing smaller and smaller for his ambitions.
His affairs were being managed by his wife Carmen who had to contend with a flurry of offers from the likes of Anderlecht, Ajax, Feyenoord, Schalke, Twente Enschede and AZ’67 Alkmaar among others.
Photo From: Mondial, old series, Hors-Serie, Issue 7, 1979(Jean-Marie Pfaff with Barcelona’s Hansi Krankl during the 1979 Cup Winners Cup semifinals in April 1979)
He stayed put at Beveren for the new season (1979/80) but Beveren were unable to maintain the previous seasons’ successes and struggled and finished mid-table.
They did reach the Cup Final but were deprived of any silverware after losing to Waterschei (1-2) in the Final.
Pfaff also lost his starting position at the National Team to Theo Custers as Belgium qualified for the 1980 Euros.
Into the spring of 1980, Custers was the starter and looked likely to be the starter at the Euros. However, just before the Euros, Thys opted to start with Pfaff.
Pfaff would reward him with excellent performances as the under-rated Belgians reached the Final by finishing first and undefeated in a Group with the Hosts Italy, England and Spain.
West Germany defeated Belgium (2-1) in the Final, but Pfaff and Belgium’s star was on the rise in the International Level.
Photo From: Onze, Issue 55, July 1980(Jean-Marie Pfaff, June 12, 1980, UEFA European Championships, Belgium 1-England 1)
Photo From: Mondial, New series, issue 5, August 1980(Jean-Marie Pfaff, June 18, 1980, UEFA European Championships, Italy 0-Belgium 0)
He was now firmly established as Belgium’s number one and in addition was now considered as one of the continent’s best.
Away from the field he was showed his business acumen by a running a Sports Goods Shop in Beveren and developed a glove specially designed for wet conditions.
He also ran a goalkeeping school for the young in Beveren.
Photo From: Mondial, old series, Hors-Serie, Issue 7, 1979(Jean-Marie Pfaff in front of his Sports Shop in Beveren)
The following season (1980/81) was a difficult season for Pfaff. He started well as Belgium started their qualification for the 1982 World Cup in a tough group containing their Dutch neighbors, France and Republic of Ireland (as well as Cyprus).
Although Beveren did well that season (finishing Fourth), Pfaff would miss the majority of the second half of the season as he was serving a four months suspension (Until June 30th, 1981).
He was accused of kicking a Linesman on the way to the dressing rooms in a Belgian Cup match on February 21, 1981 vs. Lokeren (2-2). There were no witnesses but the Linesman in question (Mr. Thirion) had made a note of the incident and Pfaff was suspended.
In his absence in springtime, Belgium suffered their first loss in the qualifiers vs. France (2-3) on April 29th, 1981, with Michel Preud’homme starting in Pfaff’s place.
Pfaff would be back the following season (1981/82) as Belgium qualified for the World Cup.
It would also be his last season with Beveren (finishing Seventh with Urbain Braems back at the helm) ending an association of nearly 17 years.
The main event for that end of the season would be the World Cup in Spain.
This World Cup would display both sides of Pfaff’s personality. He would be as indispensable on the Field as he was controversial off of it.
Belgium played in the Opener vs. Defending Champions Argentina on June 13th at Barcelona. Naturally all the attention was on the new superstar of World Football Diego Maradona. But it was Pfaff who outshone the Argentine on the field as he had an impeccable match in Belgium’s upset (1-0) victory.
Photo From: Spain '82, The Winning of the World Cup, Authors Phil Soar and Richard Wdidows(June 13, 1982, World cup, Belgium 1-Argentina 0)
Photo From: EL GRAFICO Nº 3273 (1984)
(Jean-Marie Pfaff with Diego Maradona following the World Cup 1982 Opener)
He was equally remarkable in Belgium’s next match vs. El Salvador, which yielded another (1-0) win.
However, all was not well in the Belgian camp and there was an incident at the Team Hotel during the World Cup that would start the process of alienating him from the rest of the squad.
During a team get together with the Press at their Hotel ‘Huerto del Cura’, a Radio Commentator had pushed Pfaff in the swinning pool as a prank. Pfaff started panicking because apparently he couldn’t swim.
To many he had made such a big fuss and ‘pretended’ to be drowning.
Photo From: EL GRAFICO Nº 3273 (1984)(Jean-Marie Pfaff at Hotel Huerto del Cura)
In another incident he had called the Police after he had seen someone enter teammate Rene Verheyn’s room (It turned out to be Verheyn’s wife).
Their next and Final match in the Group would be the crucial one vs. Hungary on June 22nd. Belgium came away with a (1-1) tie that they needed to qualify, but it was Pfaff’s performance on and later off the field that would end his World Cup.
In the 55th minute of the match, he came out to intercept a cross, destined to Hungary’s Andras Torocsik, with such ferocity that he struck his teammate Eric Gerets and injured him in the process.
Later on, he also nearly injured Hungary’s Laszlo Fazekas in rushing out for s similar attempt.
Photo From: Mondial, New Series, Hors Serie 16, 1982(Jean-Marie Pfaff during the 1982 World Cup)
It was obvious that the previous days’ events were getting to him and affecting his game. In the meantime, an ambulance had been called to take Gerets to the hospital. The ambulance arrived after the match, however, Pfaff got in there first because of a dubious shoulder injury, so Gerets was forced to stay behind in anger with the rest of the squad. The shoulder injury turned out to be a very minor one. This behavior enraged Thys (along with the rest of the squad) and he took the decision to to drop Pfaff for the remainder of the World Cup.
Belgium lost both their matches in the second Round without Pfaff to Poland (0-3, with Custers in the net) and the Soviet Union (0-1 with Jacques Munaron in the goal).
A Belgium Federation Official Mr. Ruiter described Pfaff as an immature child who only sought publicity.
After the World Cup, Pfaff joined the mighty West German powerhouse Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga for a fee of225,000. He was eager for a bigger stage and Bayern seemed ideal. He had declared that he had already won the League title and the ‘Soulier d’Or’ in Belgium and was now ready for the bigger stage of the Bundesliga.
Since the retirement of the Great Sepp Maier a few years before (one of Pfaff’s idols in addition to Lev Yashin and Gordon Banks), they had not found a suitable replacement in Walter Junghaus (deemed too inexperienced) nor Manfred Muller (considered to old).
Pfaff appeared the International quality goalkeeper they were looking for (as well as having a sense of humor reminiscent of Maier).
Photo From: Fussball Magazin, January february 1984(Jean-Marie Pfaff with his idol Sepp Maier)
He would later reveal some of the difficulties as he arrived such as not speaking the Language and the fact that Manfred Muller and Raimond Aumann (the other goalkeepers) were visibly opposed to his arrival.
There were also some frictions within the squad. Had it not been for the support of his wife Carmen he would not have joined Bayern. She encouraged him to join Bayern, since he would not achieve glory by staying in Beveren.
To achieve his ambitions, he had to leave the friendly atmosphere of Beveren for the cold, professional and unforgiving World of Bayern.
Apparently, he had also requested the Management to make Sepp Maier the goalkeeping coach but his request was refused.
Pfaff received a rude awakening in his baptism in the Bundesliga on August 21st, 1982 vs. Werder Bremen after letting in a comical own goal.
Bremen’s Uwe Reinders took a long throw in from the left side towards the goalmouth, Pfaff only managed to touch it with the tip of his fingers and the ball went in the net. Needless to say, the Media was merciless as they questioned the sum paid for his services after such a comical goal.
Photo From: Foot Magazine, Issue 22, March 1983
(Jean-Marie Pfaff with Klaus Aughentlaer in his Bundeliga debut, August 21, 1982, Werder Bremen 1-Bayern Munich 0)
Afterwards, the Media also analyzed his every move and every decision during matches.
A lesser player might have crumbled under such pressure, but Pfaff shrugged off the incident by saying that it could have happened to anybody.
Such was Pfaff’s mental strength that he slowly earned his way back and won over the Bavarian crowd with solid displays.
The Turning point for him was in a match vs. Defending Champions SV Hamburg on October 9th. Hamburg had taken a (2-0) in Munich and appeared headed for win.
At one point during the match, Pfaff tried to motivate the crowd by running towards the South stands and with his arm movements indicated to the crowd to root for the team.
Bayern clawed their way back and tied the match (2-2) in the 89th Minute.
However, moments later Hamburg were awarded a penalty kick after Udo Horsmann had fouled Jurgen Milewski in the box. The normally dependable Manfred Kaltz was charged with the decisive kick. Pfaff rose to the occasion and saved the penalty kick and completely won over the crowd.
Many marveled with the ease with which he had adapted to the Bundesliga in such a short time. His popularity rivaled that of Bayern superstar Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
After only a few months in Munich, he was regularly receiving 400 to 600 fan letters per day.
Photo From: Foot Magazine, Issue 22, March 1983(Jean-Marie Pfaff training hard in the snow)
Photo From: Foot Magazine, Issue 22, March 1983(Jean-Marie Pfaff training hard in the snow)
From then on the Bayern faithful would chant ‘Jean-Marie, Jean-Marie’ during matches.
He was also always ready to engage and laugh with the fans and happily sign autographs. Rummenigge remarked that Pfaff would be tired of signing autographs after six months, but to the end of his tenure with Bayern, Pfaff was always there for the fans.
He was also very eager to engage with the media and was always ready for interviews. He would famously hand out his business card to journalists at a time when most players avoided such easy access to the media.
Photo From: Fussball Magazin, January february 1984(Jean-Marie Pfaff and family in Bavaria)
Many criticized his relations with media as shameless self-promotion. There was one occasion when Bayern teammate Wolfgang Grobe (who was also Pfaff’s neighbor) was being interviewed by a Football magazine. As part of their story they wanted a photograph of him in his backyard. Reportedly, Grobe had joked that they better hurry because Pfaff would be home in a couple of minutes and would also insist to be in the photograph (Pfaff later in an interview stated that Grobe had denied to him this exchange).
Another point of contention of some of his teammates were his good relations with Bayern Manager Pal Csernai (that most players were opposed to).
Despite these issues, in general everything seemed rosy for Pfaff at that point, who had also been impressed with the German discipline and work ethic in training. He was impressed with their Football mentality that included daily training of double sessions, indoor matches in winter and other Tournaments. He remarked that in Belgium he had time to work outside of Football but not in Germany, where one had to be fully dedicated to succeed.
He even indicated his desire to extend his contract beyond his initial expiration date of June 1985. He also stated that he would want to stay in West Germany beyond his football career.
Such was his popularity in this first season, that when ‘Fussball Magazin’ conducted their monthly Interview (where fans sent their questions via mail), he broke the record of the number of letters received that had been set by Pierre Littbarski.
Photo From: Fussball Magazin, Issue 2, March April 1983(Jean-Marie Pfaff answering letters posed by the readers of Fussball Magazin)
When at the end of the year 1982, ‘Kicker Sportsmagazin’ designated Harald Schumacher as ‘World Class’ but Pfaff was designated the lesser status of ‘International Quality’, insults were sent to the magazine for this oversight.
Koln goalkeeper Harald Schumacher would also become an arch nemesis in many ways. Pfaff like most had been outraged by Schumacher’s vicious foul on the Frenchman Patrick Battiston during the 1982 World Cup.
He further harbored resentment when during the League match between their respective clubs Schumacher refused to shake his hand. He would view Schumacher with disdain for the rest of his Bundesliga career.
Photo From: Fussball Magazin, January february 1984(Jean-Marie Pfaff and Harald Schumacher)
At International Level, Thys had also forgiven him and he was back in the fold as a starter. Belgium were engaged in the Euro qualifiers in a Group with Scotland, Switzerland and East Germany and seemed on their way to qualify after winning their opening two matches vs. Switzerland and Scotland. In the match vs. Scotland on December 15th, (3-2 Belgium win) he came to the rescue as he saved a penalty kick by Frankie Gray in the 78thminute.
Pfaff believed that it was after this performance that his Belgian teammates finally ‘understood’ him after four years. He remarked how teammate Ludo Coeck acknowledged him and thanked him.
Photo From: France Football, Issue 1915, December 21, 1982
(Jean-Marie Pfaff, December 15, 1982, EC Qualifier, Belgium 3-Scotland 2)
At the end of the season, Italy’s Napoli were eyeing him for a possible transfer, but Bayern set his fee at three times his initial signing fee to ward off suitors.
The following season (1983/84), Pfaff would have a new boss at Bayern as Udo Latteck was appointed to lead the squad. Pfaff would credit him for bringing back discipline to the squad.
Pfaff’s popularity with the fans grew even stronger and it was estimated that by the end of the season, he was receiving up to 3,000 fan letters per week.
Photo From: Mondial, new series, issue 49, April 1984(Jean-Marie Pfaff mobbed by Bayern Munich fans)
Photo From: Fussball Magazin, January february 1984(Jean-Marie Pfaff and young fans in Munich)
The highlight of the early parts of the season would be in the UEFA Cup, in a match vs. Greece’s PAOK, he helped Bayern qualify in a penalty kick shoot-out. He saved PAOK’s ninth! attempt and scored himself with the ensuing kick to help Bayern advance.
However, reports also surfaced that Pfaff felt he was cold shouldered by senior Bayern players such as Klaus Aughentaler and Wolfgang Dremmler.
In an article he was alleged to have criticized his teammates by describing them as arrogant and overpaid.
In another incident, Pfaff was celebrating his 30th Birthday in a Munich Restaurant in Munich with his teammates. However, the players were dismayed once they realized he had also invited reporters further underlining his reputation as a self-promoter.
The familiar atmosphere of Beveren was in contrast to the cold reality of a club like Bayern.
Photo From: Mondial, new series, issue 49, April 1984(Jean-Marie Pfaff with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge )
Photo From: Fussball Magazin, January february 1984(Jean-Marie Pfaff with a marching band)
It was only his excellent performances on the pitch that perhaps went a long way in mending his relationship with the doubters in the team.
Pfaff believed that the team gradually came to understand and respect him on and off the field.
Pfaff would win his first trophy with Bayern at the end of that season after they defeated Borussia Moenchengladbach in a penalty kick shoot-out after a (1-1) tie in the Final of West German Cup (DfB Pokal).
Photo From: Fussball Magazin, Issue 6, November December 1984(Jean-Marie Pfaff with the 1984 DfB Pokal)
During the season, Pfaff would also earn his 40th cap vs. Poland (April 17th, 1984, 1-0 win) at Warsaw, which tied him with Piot as the most capped goalkeeper for Belgium. He also captained the side that day.
Photo From: Mondial, new series, issue 49, April 1984(Jean-Marie Pfaff working hard in training)
Photo From: Foot Magazine, Issue 36, June 1984
Belgium had qualified for the Euros in the Fall; however, in the new year (1984) a scandal would rock Belgium Football that would adversely affect the National Team. The Standard-Waterschei scandal would deprive Belgium of its Captain Eric Gerets and defensive partner Walter Meeuws.
Thys would be forced to select a somewhat unprepared squad for the Euros.
Many also questioned Pfaff’s mental strength for the Finals of a Tournament after his antics during the 1982 World Cup. Thys maintained confidence in his number one. Thys felt that for a short Tournament like the Euros (15 days), Pfaff is manageable; it is for longer duration Tournaments that he became difficult.
Belgium won their first match in the Euros vs. Yugoslavia (2-0) but days later at Nantes, Pfaff and his Belgian teammates were completely destroyed (0-5) by a France squad with Platini at his best.
Photo From: France Football, Issue 1993, June 19, 1984(Jean-Marie Pfaff, June 13, 1984, UEFA European Championships, Belgium 2-Yugoslavia 0)
Photo From: Onze, Hors Serie 19, 1984(Jean-Marie Pfaff unable to stop Alain Giresse from scoring France’s second goal, June 16, 1984, UEFA European Championships, France 5-Belgium 0)
Pfaff would once again come under scrutiny for criticizing his teammates after such a display, by Pfaff would insist that things had to be said.
They still had an outside chance to qualify for the semifinals, but lost to a burgeoning Danish squad (2-3).
The Euros had been a complete disaster for Belgium and Pfaff. As the new season (1984/85) rolled around Pfaff was beset by other problems.
He missed the start of the season after a hernia operation. He was also involved in a traffic accident involving two nuns (tragically one of them was killed).
At this point Pfaff was at his lowest ebb, not only physically but emotionally as well. The trauma of the accident was weighing heavily on him. Once again he would acknowledge the role of his wife Carmen who helped through this difficult period. Raimond Aumann and Jacques Munaron stepped in to cover for him at club and International Level.
He also had to contend with the rumor of Bayern signing Harald Schumacher. To which Pfaff replied that Bayern would be spending more money and have controversy every week.
The disappointed Pfaff at first asked for a transfer but Bayern’s General Manager Uli Hoeness refused his request. Pfaff trained hard and made his way back in the squad in November. He was on hand when Bayern Munich won the League title (and also reached the Final of the West German Cup). In all he played fourteen league matches that season.
The following season (1985//86) he started well and was on hand as Belgium qualified for the World Cup at the expense of neighbors Holland.
He was injured in November and had a lengthy time off and only returned to action in March.
In his absence Aumann and especially Munaron at the National Team had once again ably covered for him. His position for the World Cup was in doubt as Munaron was pushing him hard for his spot.
In the end Pfaff once again reclaimed his spot (playing 24 matches in the League) with excellent performances with Bayern and helped the West German club to a second successive Bundesliga Title (in fact as double as Bayern also triumphed in the West German Cup).
Photo From: France Football, Issue 2146, May 26, 1987(Jean-Marie Pfaff with the 1986 DfB Pokal, May 3, 1986, Bayern Munich 5-Stuttgart 2)
The World Cup in Mexico would be a memorable one for Pfaff and Belgium.
They came out from the first round without impressing much (Losing to hosts Mexico (1-2), defeating Iraq (2-1) and tying Paraguay (2-2)). Pfaff had already conceded five goals.
It was in the second Round that the Belgians came alive to be one of the surprises of the Tournament. On June 15th, 1986, they faced the much-favored Soviet Union. They fell behind twice in the match but forced a tie. The match went into extra time and the Belgians took the initiative and defeated the Soviets (4-3).
They were paired with Spain in the quarterfinals on June 22nd. Once again the match ended in a tie (1-1) in regulation time and had to go to extra time. The score remained the same after overtime and the match went into a penalty kick shoot-out. Pfaff came to the rescue by saving Eloy’s attempt (Spain’s second attempt) and help Belgium advance to the semifinals.
Photo From: Mondial, new series, issue 76, July 1986(Jean-Marie Pfaff with East German Referee Siegfied Kirschen, June 22, 1986, World Cup, Belgium 1-Spain 1)
It was said that when Belgian King Baudouin received the squad upon their return, Pfaff had jokingly asked the King whether the Queen Fabiola (of Spanish Origin) had held it against him for saving Eloy’s penalty kick.
The semifinals were against Diego Maradona and Argentina on June 25th. This time Belgium had no answer to stop Maradona at the top of his game in scoring twice for a (2-0) win. Pfaff would later express regret that the Team felt defeated before even taking the field vs. Argentina much like the attitude shown before the 1980 Euro Final vs. West Germany.
Photo From: Mondial, new series, issue 76, July 1986(Jean-Marie Pfaff unable to stop Maradona, June 25, 1986, World Cup, Argentina 2-Belgium 0)
All that was left was the third place match vs. France on June 28th (that also went to overtime after a 2-2 tie in regulation time). The more tired Belgians were resigned and were defeated (2-4). Nevertheless, this was Belgium’s best ever showing at a World Cup in no small part thanks to Pfaff.
His performances in Mexico earned him the nickname ‘El Simpatico’.
That same year (1986) his wax figure was unveiled at Brussels’ ‘L’Historium’ Museum.
Photo From: Le Dictionnaire Des Diables Rouges
The new season (1986/87) did not start well as far as the National Team. Belgium were involved in the 1988 Euro qualifiers. On September 10th, 1986 at home, Belgium tied with the Republic of Ireland (2-2). Pfaff criticized teammate Frank van der Elst’s ability as Libero in the match. Thys promptly dropped him for Belgium’s next qualifier vs. Luxembourg on October 14, 1986. Jacques Munaron stood in for Pfaff in the (6-0) win. He regained his place afterwards for the rest of the season.
He would have a better season in the daily grind of the Bundesliga. He clinched a third straight title with Bayern Munich at the end of that season (1986/87).
In the Champions Cup, he had his best run with Bayern Munich that ultimately ended in disappointment as the much-favored Bavarians were defeated by Portugal’s Porto (1-2) in the Final.
However, in the Semifinal Round, his performance vs. Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in April 2nd, 1987, is the stuff of legends as he kept at bay the rampant Real Madrid onslaught and limited them to a single goal (1-0 Real win) and elimination (after 4-1 win at Munich). It must be remembered that in those days, overturning deficits in European matches at Bernabeu was also part of the Football folklore. He performed his heroics that day despite being bombarded with projectiles from Real fans. He would praise the French Referee Michel Vautrot for keeping control of the match. Part of the Real supporters hostility was due to the fact that the day before the match Pfaff had indicated they would break the Bernabeu curse.
Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, Issue 640 (Number 18), April 29-May 5, 1987(Jean-Marie Pfaff with Andreas Brehme, April 22, 1987, Champions Cup, Real Madrid 1-Bayern Munich 0)
Towards the end of that season, his rival Harald Schumacher at Koln released his controversial autobiography in which he accused many of his teammates of dope taking, etc.
Pfaff called the book an absolute scandal and false. He remarked that after the ‘Battiston incident’ in 1982, Schumacher had been very lucky that his teammates had defended him. Instead he had written a book denouncing them as dope takers.
At the end of that season, he re-signed for two more seasons and indicated his career was far from over and would like to continue until he was past the age 40.
For his excellent performances that year, The International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) elected Pfaff as the World Goalkeeper of the year 1987.
Photo From: France Football, Issue 2188, March 15, 1988(Jean-Marie Pfaff with the IFFHS goalkeeper of the year award)
Pfaff started his sixth and Final season with Bayern Munich for the (1987/88) season. It would be a difficult season for Pfaff for club and country.
He would play his last match for the National Team in this season. This was in Belgium’s Euro qualifier at Sofia vs. Bulgaria on September 23rd, 1987. The loss (0-2) would be detrimental for Belgium who would eventually miss out on qualification. This was Pfaff’s Final and 64th cap after more than eleven years. All of his caps had been earned under Guy Thys.
Michel Preud’homme would be installed as the new Number One. Pfaff believed that he was removed as Belgium’s starting goalkeeper due to commercial reasons. He felt the new Sponsors had forced the Management to remove him. He believed without this intervention he could have become the recordman of Belgian caps.
Photo From: Rode Duivels & Oranje Leeuwen., 100 jaar Derby der Lage Landen, Authors Ralf Willems, Matty Verkamman (1)(Jean-Marie Pfaff in his penultimate match for Belgium, September 9, 1987, Holland 0-Belgium 0)
The club season was also disappointing as Werder Bremen broke Bayern’s three-season stranglehold on the Bundesliga. This was the first season under the Management Jupp Heynckes following the departure of Udo Latteck.
The writing was on the wall that this would be his last season as he was open to receiving offers. Manchester United had approached Bayern, but the fee was set too high. This was done without Pfaff’s knowledge and dismay.
Photo From: Onze, Issue 136, April 1987(Jean-Marie Pfaff and family)
He believed all initial contact should go through his wife Carmen. He urged other clubs not to make the same mistake as Manchester United and contact him first.
During the season Pfaff once more fuelled controversy by requesting his club to postpone his trainings on Sundays so that he devout Catholic could attend Mass.
His Sister also passed away in the spring of 1988 to further compound on a negative season.
Bayern Management decided to give Raimond Aumann his long awaited chance as the Number One for the upcoming season.
They wanted to start a new cycle with new younger players and Pfaff was on his way out.
Now in the declining stage of his career he decided to return home and joined modest side SK Lierse for the (1988/89) season to wind down his career.
The Team finished in mid-table and at the end of the season Pfaff packed his bags once more to leave the country.
Photo From: World Soccer, December 1987
He followed the example of his nemesis Harald Schumacher and joined the Turkish League by signing for Trabzonspor for the (1989/90) season.
The fact that his former mentor Urbain Braems was the Manager there certainly helped his decision.
He tried to instill some of the traits he had learned in West Germany to help the team be more Professional and modern.
This would turn out to be his final season as a Professional. He managed to reach the Turkish Cup Final with his club but they lost in the Final to Besiktas (0-2).
Pfaff retired at the end of that season after nearly two decades as a Professional.
He organized his Farewell Match at Beerschot in 1991. It was a match-up of the Belgium squad of the 1980s vs. a World XI Selection that included the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Alain Giresse, Ruud Krol, Michel Platini, Soren Lerby and Roger Milla among others.
After his career he had stints as a Goalkeeping Coach at KFC Herentals and VfB Stuttgart. His only Head Managerial post was a solitary season at KV Osstende during the (1998/99) season that ended in disappointment. Clearly he was not made for Management.
The ever entertainer he reveled in the new interest in Reality Television and starred in a Reality Show featuring his entire family (wife, three daughters and their respective families). The show called ‘De Pfaffs’ was successful and ran for eleven seasons from 2002 to 2011 and also made celebrities out of his three daughters: Debby, Kelly and Lyndsey.
Jean-Marie Pfaff always remained amiable and loved by the public but not always with the critics, players and Management.
He always remembered his difficult childhood and knew the value of hard work after having worked in a milk factory, the Post Office and even a Bank.
He felt one should remain a friendly person even after they have achieved success.
Those who knew him believed he would help anyone in need.
His spell at Bayern had made him even more ‘Professional’ according to him. It had changed his attitude off the field in not only in matters concerning training but also Contracts, Sponsorships, etc.
Of course it was this aspect that was largely viewed with skepticism by the media who only saw him as a publicity hound. Pfaff believed he was largely misunderstood especially from the Flemish Press.
This was exemplified when he was elected as IFFHS’s World Goalkeeper of the year in 1987; he only received two votes from fellow Belgians.
He had boasted that ‘there was Eddy Merckx in Bicycling, now there is Pfaff in Football’.
While the critics found him arrogant, he felt his charisma had been vital in making Belgian goalkeepers noticeable in the International Arena and others such as Michel Preud’homme had benefited from his hard work.
He was a ferocious trainer and his work ethic could never be questioned. He was a perfectionist whose ambition guided him to heights he never could have imagined.
The indelible image that defines Pfaff was in a Bayern match that was played under pouring rain. At one point he went over to the stands and grabbed an umbrella from one of the fans and sat on a chair behind the goal.
Pfaff believed that the Public paid a lot of money and his role is to entertain yet remain Professional.
Photo From: Onze, Issue 136, April 1987
Mondial, old series, Hors-Serie, Issue 7, 1979
Mirroir du Football, January 24, 1979
Onze, Issue 40, April 1979
World Soccer, April 1981
Mondial, New Series, Hors Serie 13, 1982
EL GRAFICO Nº 3273 (1982)
Fussball Magazin, Issue 2, March April 1983
Foot Magazine, Issue 22, March 1983
Fussball Magazin, January february 1984
Mondial, new series, issue 49, April 1984
Foot Magazine, Issue 36, June 1984
Fussball Magazin, Issue 6, November December 1984
Mondial, Hors Serie 3, 1986
World Soccer, February 1986
Onze, Issue 136, April 1987
France Football, Issue 2146, May 26, 1987
France Football, Issue 2188, March 15, 1988
Onze-Mondial, Issue 93, October 1996
Rode Duivels & Oranje Leeuwen, 100 jaar Derby der Lage Landen, Authors Ralf Willems, Matty Verkamman
Le Dictionnaire Des Diables Rouges
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