Maurizio Gaudino: the irrepressible talent forgotten by a generation

Maurizio Gaudino: the irrepressible talent forgotten by a generation

In a League Cup fourth-round reply on a cold December night in 1994 at St James’ Park, a short few days before Christmas, Kevin Keegan’s upwardly-mobile Newcastle United were up against Brian Horton’s assorted collection of bright young things, skilful journeymen, and hired footballing cattle. Despite Newcastle’s recent inconsistencies, Manchester City’s win was an unexpected one. This isn’t the main peculiarity of the evening, however. It is Maurizio Gaudino who was instead the centre of attention.

Not much more than five months prior to this, Gaudino had been an unused member of Germany’s squad at the 1994 World Cup finals, watching on from the sidelines as his nation were stunned in the quarter-finals by Bulgaria in New Jersey.

Instead of embracing the traditional Bundesliga winter break, Gaudino found himself making his City debut in the bracing north-east of England. A talented fish out of water, as the ball often pinged back-and-forth over his head, in a new country with a more agricultural style of football and the foreign concept of no winter-break, it was the perfect definition of a culture shock.

A short few weeks earlier, Gaudino had been sat in the back of an Audi 100, flanked by government officials after being arrested in connection with a car theft and insurance fraud ring. Gaudino, having been a guest on a late-night chat show at RTL’s Munich studios, had been intercepted as soon as the show had ended.

Despite the dawning of the Premier League two and a half years earlier, English footballing imports were still predominantly drawn from Scandinavia. While Manchester City had recently branched out into the lower end of the German transfer market with Uwe Rösler and Steffen Karl, Gaudino was a different proposition altogether. In other less turbulent circumstances, a player as fine-tuned as Gaudino would not have been turning out for City in the League Cup in December 1994.

While Rösler went on to become a success at Maine Road, he had struggled in the wake of East German clubs being absorbed within the West German system. The goals he scored freely in the DDR-Oberliga were considerably harder to come by in the Bundesliga. In the case of Karl, he had been picked up on a loan deal from Borussia Dortmund, where he had spectacularly fallen out with the head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.

In contrast, Gaudino was a cut above. Born in Brühl in 1966, the product of Italian parents who had emigrated from Naples, there was aesthetically nothing Germanic about him. From the way he appeared, to the way he played the game, to the way he embraced life. Gaudino was, and still is, emphatically Italian in style.

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Playing his junior football with TSG Rheinau before being picked up by SV Waldhof Mannheim, a club who unexpectedly gatecrashed the Bundesliga in 1983, Gaudino’s path to greatness almost seemed pre-ordained.

An explosive debut in September 1984 away to Eintracht Braunschweig was curtailed with a red card after just 30 minutes. Gaudino, however, along with another precocious talent in the shape of Jürgen Kohler, soon became central to Klaus Schlappner’s plans. Mannheim’s eccentric head coach led his team to a near-miss on UEFA Cup qualification.

Two further seasons of Bundesliga respectability only served to attract increasing admirers. When both Gaudino and Kohler were sold in the summer of 1987, along with the prolific striker Fritz Walter, Schlappner himself departed Mannheim for pastures new, coming to within a penalty shoot-out of relegating the club he had built, while leading his new charges Darmstadt against his previous employers in the relegation playoff.

As Kohler headed to Köln, Gaudino and Walter were both picked up by VfB Stuttgart. In six fruitful seasons, Gaudino was an integral part of two very defined Stuttgart sides, firstly under the legendary Arie Haan, and later under the driven but controversial Christoph Daum.

Under Haan, Gaudino was the central pivot to a strong spine which ran through the Stuttgart team. From the West German international goalkeeper Eike Immel, onward through the commanding presence of World Cup winner-to-be Guido Buchwald, Gaudino himself was in midfield, complimented up-front by not just Walter, but also the force of nature that was Jürgen Klinsmann.

Never quite in touch with an absorbing title race, which was won by Werder Bremen, Stuttgart did, however, do enough to secure themselves UEFA Cup qualification for the 1988/89 campaign. In what was Klinsmann’s last season at the Neckarstadion, Gaudino was instrumental in taking Stuttgart all the way to the two-legged UEFA Cup final, where they went head-to-head with Diego Maradona and Napoli.

Scoring what appeared to be a crucial away goal at the San Paolo to open the scoring in the first leg, Gaudino set in motion a wonderfully open and attacking ethos to the two games. Coming away from Naples with a narrow 2-1 defeat, a stunning evening of football unfolded in Stuttgart, where the hosts came back from 3-1 down on the night to level the game at 3-3. Unfortunately leaving their potential fight back just that little bit too late, it was Maradona instead who lifted the trophy high into the night sky.

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Within a year, and with strange timing, Haan had departed the club. With eight games to go, and handily placed to strike for UEFA Cup qualification, he walked away, to be replaced by Willi Entenmann. Winning only two of their remaining eight, Stuttgart missed out on Europe. When Entenmann oversaw an uninspiring start to the 1990/91 season, he was gone before the end of November. 

Daum inherited a club in danger of sinking into a relegation battle. He proved the catalyst for a remarkable turnaround, however. Transforming Stuttgart from relegation candidates into UEFA Cup qualifiers, he then clinched the Bundesliga title itself in 1992, edging out Dortmund and Frankfurt on the final day of a titanic three-way fight for the prize.

Gaudino was in imperious form throughout, scoring on a regular basis and proving the chief creator for others. Notoriously unenthusiastic in training, he saved his best for match-days, equally frustrating and delighting those who inherited his services. Blessed with great vision, fine close control and as adept on his left foot as he was on his right, it was his form during Stuttgart’s title-winning campaign which initially made Berti Vogts sit up and take notice with regards to the national team.

One last season with Stuttgart came in 1992/93, and while his own individual form held, collectively there was only disappointment. The title was yielded to Werder Bremen as they failed to even claim a UEFA Cup berth, while in the newly-rebranded Champions League, a stunning oversight by Daum and his coaching staff saw them field a fourth foreign player away to Leeds United at Elland Road, at a time when the limit was set at three per game.

Despite Stuttgart edging through their first-round encounter, UEFA ordered a winner-takes-all playoff at the Camp Nou in Barcelona. Gaudino, the man withdrawn at Elland Road to make way for the erroneously-deployed Jovica Simanić, found himself sat on the bench, from where he could only watch on, frustrated, as Stuttgart slipped to a 2-1 defeat to Howard Wilkinson’s side.

The summer of 1993 brought a fresh challenge for Gaudino, as Frankfurt swooped for his services. Under Klaus Toppmöller, and teaming up with the free-spirited Jay-Jay Okocha and Tony Yeboah, Gaudino helped play Frankfurt to a serious bid for the title.

Going toe-to-toe with Bayern Munich deep into the campaign, Frankfurt contrived to win just two of their final eight games, eventually drifting out to a fifth-place finish. The wheels fell off spectacularly in April when the squad turned against the coach, forcing the club to dispense with the man who until two weeks earlier had taken them to within a point of the leaders.

Away from the internal politics, Gaudino’s form finally won him international recognition in September 1993, when he took to the field for Germany against Tunisia, as Vogts began to hone his squad for USA 94. Further games came against Brazil, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Canada prior to the finals, and Gaudino did enough to book his place in the squad.

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Despite watching the tournament unfold from the bench, Gaudino still had ambitions aplenty as he began the 1994/95 season. Now under the legendary Jupp Heynckes, in theory anything seemed possible at Frankfurt, but rancour and recriminations were quick to bubble to the surface. With Heynckes seemingly taking exception to the work rate of his flair players, Gaudino wasn’t positioned on the right side of his coach when the news broke of his rumoured involvement in stolen cars.

Sat in the back of that Audi 100, flanked by government officials, it was publicly speculated whether Gaudino would abscond. With a pregnant wife and a lucrative contract with Frankfurt to consider, he cut a relaxed figure, as he insisted upon his innocence.

Conversely, exiting the country hastily to take up the loan deal on offer to him at Manchester City didn’t speak of a man who felt he had nothing to hide. Gaudino would eventually receive a two-year probationary sentence for what was perceived to be his part in a shadowy system, where high-performance cars were obtained for a foreign market and sold on while the insurance was claimed domestically.

A lover of fast cars and the fine life, Gaudino was never exonerated, but he did move on. He enjoyed his short time in the Premier League. He was amazed by the propensity for recovery that his British team-mates had – how a player could be out on the town until 4am, only to put in a full training session a few hours later at full-tilt.

Endearing himself to the Maine Road faithful, Gaudino offered fleeting glimpses of the quality he possessed. Without being surrounded by others who could match his talent, his love affair with City could only be a brief one. He was essentially a decade or so too early as far as the Premier League was concerned.

After initially failing to significantly rebuild bridges at Frankfurt, he was again farmed out on loan during the following season, this time to Mexico, with Club América. The 1996/97 season was spent back at Frankfurt, however, as having befallen relegation to the 2. Bundesliga, in their desperation for quality players to assist in their bid for a swift return to the top division, Frankfurt had had to shelve their disdain of their wayward son. Individually outstanding, those around him couldn’t rise to the occasion.

A season in Switzerland with Basel came next, before a return to the Bundesliga with Bochum in 1998/99, for what would be an unsuccessful bid to avoid relegation. Gaudino went on to enjoy a three-year spell in Turkey with Antalyaspor, with whom he surprisingly reached the Turkish Cup final in 2000, playing out a wild encounter with Galatasaray which ended in an entertaining 5-3 defeat.

Gaudino played the last meaningful football of his career back where it started at Mannheim, a club he went on to manage for a short spell in 2004/05. Now the Director of Football at SSV Reutlingen 05, and branching out into restaurant ownership with his daughter, Gaudino continues to surface within the public footballing eye in Germany. His son, Gianluca, having played for Bayern Munich and St. Gallen, is now on the books of Chievo. His opinion is often sought after by media outlets on all manner of football topics.

Gaudino achieved much in his career, but he was arguably approaching his peak when things turned awry somewhat. More domestic honours, maybe even a starring role at Euro 96, escaped him, however. All too often referred to in terms of stolen cars or being flattened by Boris Johnson, there was much more to Gaudino than being poked at as a figure of bemusement. He was a wonderfully gifted footballer and one who was denied the kind of positive spotlight his talents deserved.

By Steven Scragg @Scraggy_74

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