Uwe Rösler only graced the Premier League with Manchester City from 1994 to 1996, but his astounding return of 64 goals in 176 games during his four years at the club was enough to cement a permanent place in its history books. He gave City supporters a reason to cheer during a tempestuous period in the club’s history, and Rösler’s legend was officially honoured in 2009 as he was admitted into the club’s Hall of Fame.
Rösler has a special place in his heart for City and maintains that the highlight of his illustrious career was beating Peter Schmeichel with a 20-yard lob in the FA Cup fifth-round tie at Old Trafford in February 1996. For that goal, and so many other mesmeric moments, Rösler will forever be remembered by Manchester City supporters. But his journey to Maine Road is just as interesting as his tenure there.
Born in Altenburg, East Germany, in 1968, Rösler’s upbringing during the collapse of a socialist regime is the complete antithesis of his two sons’, Colin and Tony. With his two sons named after two City legends, Colin Bell and Tony Book, it’s no secret where Rösler’s heart lies. At 18-years-old, his youngest son Colin is a centre-half currently on the books in City’s rapidly developing academy, hoping to represent the first team in the famous sky blue jersey that his father left such a mark in.
When his father was the same age, he had endured a frightening interrogation by Stasi secret police agents in East Germany who attempted to coerce Rösler into spying on teammates at Lokomotive Leipzig – teammates who were feared to be planning to defect to West Germany. In exchange for Rösler’s cooperation, the Stasi would allow the youngster to continue his promising career without interference.
At Leipzig, he was enrolled in a football school of excellence programme from the age of 11; football was all Rösler knew. Fortunately, after he confided in his manager at the time, the club demanded that the Stasi leave the player alone, although they still made their presence known, turning up in the stands at some of his matches.
Life as an aspiring football player behind the Iron Curtain presented a cut-throat atmosphere, where so many German athletes were left to rot on the proverbial scrapheap. Rösler was determined to succeed from a young age and, after learning his trade at FC Lokomotive Leipzig, he appeared briefly in the first team as a 19-year-old in 1987, before signing for neighbours BSG Chemie Leipzig.
It was here that Rösler grabbed his chance to prove himself as a youngster and managed to find the net six times in 27 outings, earning him a move to FC Magdeburg in the DDR-Oberliga, the top level football league in East Germany at the time. At Magdeburg, Rösler found some stability in the first team and bagged an impressive 19 goals in 47 appearances for the club.
However, when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and German reunification arrived a year later, Rösler moved to yet another new club: Dynamo Dresden. After a patchy first season, he found regular first-team football in the 1991/92 season but failed to replicate the prolific form in front of goal he had exhibited at Magdeburg.
German football was changing and the same could be said in England. The Premier League had just been formed, in 1992 and England began to attract more of the game’s best foreign talents. Rösler spent that campaign at Nürnberg before returning to Dresden after failing to find a single league goal for the Bavarian side. He had shown glimpses of his ability but injuries hampered his time in Germany. A trial in England offered a new challenge in the bustling newly-founded Premier League.
With Niall Quinn sidelined due to the injury, City desperately needed a striker to fill the Irishman’s boots but had no funds to sign a proven big-name player. Rösler had been at Middlesbrough for a couple of weeks but with no offer on the table he returned to Germany. In March 1994, Rösler arrived in Manchester on a trial under the tutelage of Brian Horton. He wasted no time getting off the mark as he secured a brace in a reserve team fixture against Burnley, which earned him a three-month loan spell to further prove his worth.
His debut arrived the following Saturday against Queens Park Rangers, and he set up David Rocastle with a neat backheel for the equaliser in a 1-1 draw. By the end of the game, City fans were already chanting his name in the terraces to the tune of the Pet Shop Boys anthem Go West, which later became ubiquitous at Maine Road.
Rösler found the net five times in City’s last 12 games of the season, which was enough to save them from relegation in the 1993/94 campaign. Rösler was renowned for his bustling style and never-say-die attitude. Unsurprisingly, he became an immediate fan favourite and earned himself a permanent contract with the club.
Dubbing Rösler as Der Bomber, City fans also loved to poke fun at their Manchester rivals by claiming in song that the German’s grandfather had bombed the Stretford End during the Manchester Blitz – a chant that didn’t go down too well in Rösler’s native country. Although they had struggled heavily in front of goal in 1993/94, netting just 38 times – the lowest in the Premier League – Rösler showed glimpses of his conviction inside the box, and would repay the club for their faith in him with his best return the following season.
The mullet-haired German forged an instant striking partnership with Paul Walsh who had arrived from the First Division with Portsmouth the previous season. Despite some minor injuries stunting Rösler’s form in 1994/95, he managed to bag 22 goals in all competitions, including four goals against Notts County in the FA Cup as City fans were thrilled with Rösler’s tenacity in the final third. In his first full season at the club, Rösler was the City’s top goalscorer and earned the club’s Player of the Year award.
He had a Messiah-like presence at City, where his passion and determination oozed off the pitch and drove teammates forward. His attitude, coupled with his goals, provided fans with rare moments of brilliance during a turbulent time at the club in the mid-90s. Former chairman of the club Francis Lee heralded Rösler as “the hero they had been waiting for.”
During Rösler’s four-and-a-half seasons at City, the club chewed up and spat out seven different managers. Alan Ball took the reins at the start of the 1994/95 campaign and attempted to deploy a new system attacking through the middle of the pitch, as opposed to playing to the team’s obvious strengths on the wings. The style of play did not suit Rösler and Quinn – two very similar style of player – and Rösler engaged in some highly publicized disputes with his manager and was dropped from the starting lineup.
In a Premier League fixture against Manchester United in April 1996, Ball summoned the German from the bench after they were trailing 2-1 and in need of a goal. Rösler picks up the ball on the left wing, cuts inside, shimmying in front of Steve Bruce and slams a strike beyond a hapless Peter Schmeichel. His goal celebration saw him run towards the bench shouting at Ball and pointing to his name on the back of his shirt.
City suffered relegation to the First Division at the end of that campaign but Rösler remained with the club and finished the following season as top scorer for the club with 17 goals. The 1997/98 campaign spelled more trouble for City as they dropped down to the third tier of English football, and their star forward left on a free transfer to Kaiserslautern.
When City were relegated to the third tier of English football in 1998, it was time for Rösler to say farewell to Maine Road, but he has never fully separated himself from the club where he harbours his fondest memories. He credits the support of City fans with helping him beat non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a rare form of cancer that he was diagnosed with in 2003 while he was approaching the tail end of his career at Lilleström in Norway.
In Rösler’s autobiography, Knocking Down Walls, he describes a brief moment of happiness in an extremely wearing time in his life, just like those moments he had provided for City fans during his time at Maine Road. An old friend of Rösler’s rang him from the City of Manchester Stadium as he lay in his hospital bed recovering from his latest dose of chemotherapy. He could hear the City supporters bellow out his name to that snappy Pet Shop Boys anthem yet again: “Uwe, Uwe Rösler.”
“The City fans were singing my name and I could hear it echoing around the ground. The news had obviously reached them and they clearly knew I was ill, but they were willing me to recover and beat the cancer that had been discovered just in time,” writes Rösler. “They hadn’t given up on me. It was exactly what I needed. I ended the call and smiled for the first time in a while. I had my wife, my sons, plus the support of close friends and family helping me to treat and beat this. I also had 46,000 Mancunians willing me back to health. With that kind of backing, how could I possibly fail?”
He may never have won a major title but Rösler willed his team on from the stands at Wembley in 2011 when City ended their 42-year wait for an FA Cup, and watched Sergio Agüero slam home that historical winner to clinch the Premier League title at the Etihad in 2012, rejoicing in his beloved team’s historic triumphs.
By Alan Condon @alan_condon