The World Game pays tribute to the Socceroos stars of yesteryear who left their mark on football down under. Tough defender Manfred Schaefer took no prisoners on the field of play yet he says he regards Pele as one of his best friends even though the Brazilian legend used to call him 'Mr Bastard'.
Socceroos FIFA World Cup defender Manfred Schaefer never took too kindly to being called uncomplimentary names … unless they came from the great Pele, that is.
Schaefer, who was a member of the St George team that won the NSW State League in 1972, played in the qualifying campaigns for the 1970 and 1974 World Cups.
He was renowned for his physical and uncompromising style that made him a feared man on the field.
He would been called all sorts of things during his bruising battles in the penalty area but when someone of Pele’s stature called him a "bastard" he took it as a compliment and treated it as a feather in his cap.
It happened when Brazilian club Santos played against the Australian national team at the Sydney Sportsground in June 1972. The result was a 2-2 draw,
Schaefer and Ray Richards were given the task of marking Pele, who was at the peak of his popularity after helping Brazil win the World Cup in Mexico only two years earlier amid widespread acclaim.
When the Brazilian legend was fouled by Richards, Schaefer went over to pick him up. To which the great man said: "I know your name, you’re Mr Bastard".
Schaefer and Pele struck an acquaintance of sorts after that and the Germany-born defender still regards him as a friend.
"When I ran into him again in West Germany during the 1974 World Cup he greeted me with another 'Mr Bastard'. We had a cup of coffee and a chat. Later on in 2003 I even appeared with him on a television show for former World Cup players. It was good, really nice. I see him as my best mate, believe it or not."
Schaefer, who will be 75 next week, is one of the greatest defenders to wear the green and gold and it came as no surprise that he was named in the inaugural Hall of Fame of Australian football.
He shared some of his career recollections with The World Game.
How are you spending your retirement?
"I still live in Cabramatta (in Sydney’s west) and I try to look after myself but my wife Hanna does that for me. We have a good life together."
You are not involved in the game any more. Do you miss it?
"I do watch it when I get a chance but it is no big deal to me any more. Our daughter Kim is quite involved in the game and sometimes we go and watch."
You have played in two World Cup campaigns. What went wrong in 1969 and how did the Socceroos get it right in 1973?
"I was heavily involved in both attempts. It was very hard because we had to play and win both times. It was as simple as that.
"We lost narrowly to Israel on the road to Mexico. I think I missed only one match in the race for 1970 and to be honest the campaign for 1974 was easier because even though we travelled more we had the experience and we knew what we had to do.
"For me it was a glorious return home when we played in the country of my birth West Germany in 1974. I played football there but when I came to Australia in 1954 I discovered that they played Aussie rules, rugby league and rugby union but I was not that way inclined. I wish I came here when I was younger."
Surely, playing in your ‘home’ country in 1974 must have been the highlight of your career.
"Of course. When I was picked for the World Cup a television station from Germany got in touch and asked me if I could still speak German. I suddenly got all this attention and said to myself 'God, this sounds good'. But you also had to look after yourself and I always had the support of my wife. There was never complaints such as 'you're not going away again, are you?' and things like that.
"I made my debut as a centre-half in the friendship tournament in Vietnam in 1967 which we won and I did not stop running until we got to the dressing room. I never lost my spot after that until I retired after 1974."
You must have some ‘interesting’ memoirs of your time as a Socceroos player.
"I have a few and I’ll tell you a very serious story. I had been way from Germany for 20-odd years and in 1974 we were playing some trial matches in Switzerland prior to the World Cup.
"I asked the coach Rale Rasic if I could go to neighbouring Germany for a few days to see my relatives. I was prepared to pay for the trip but he said ‘no, you’ve got to play, that’s it’. It was disappointing and it did not make sense to me because he had other players who could have come in.
"On the funny side, when I turned 70 I had a big party and at the end Rale thanked me for my contribution to the team but he said he could not understand how I did not score a goal for the Socceroos.
"I quickly replied and told him he was losing his marbles because I had scored twice, once on the field of play in a trial match and on the other occasion we had a daughter. Everybody burst into laughter."
Do your have any regrets from your Socceroos career?
"No, not one regret. I had a brilliant time, thanks largely for the support I received from my wife."
You were ‘stranded’ on 49 full internationals. Are you dismayed you never got your half century?
"I quit playing after the 1974 World Cup. In any case I got injured and had to go to hospital so it was not to be."
The game in Australia was at its peak in the mid-1970s but it did not kick on and even went into decline. What happened?
"Hard to tell. What I can say is that some of the Socceroos players got carried away and thought they were much better than they actually were.
"The players coming through wanted to go overseas straight away."
You were a tough, uncompromising and honest defender. Do you get annoyed with the theatrics of some modern players?
"Yeah. They overdo it. I put everything into my game and I can tell you some players would never like to come anywhere near me, even at training. That’s the way I played."
Who are the best footballers you have played with and against?
"Pele was definitely the finest player I came across while I will cherish the friendship and camaraderie of Johnny Warren, who was a real gentleman."
MANFRED SCHAEFER FACTFILE
1963-1975 St George
1967-1974 Australia (49 matches)
1972: NSW State League (St George)