Israeli Frontiersman Paves Way In West Germany


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A most symbolic sight as contemporary West German superstar GUENTER NETZER and pioneering Israeli World Cup standout SHMUEL ROSENTHAL (right) of North Rhine-Westphalian club Borussia Monchengladbach, reigning at the time as two-time defending Bundesliga champions, pause together for the cameras late in the summer of 1972.
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SHMUEL ROSENTHAL, an integral part of the 1968 Israel Olympic football team that competed in Mexico City, was physically present in West Germany but still more than a week away from making his historic debut as a professional player when murdering Palestinian terrorists stormed the Munich Olympic village on the fateful evening of September 4, 1972.

In short order, eleven Israeli Olympic athletes, coaches and referees were machine-gunned and hand-grenaded in cold blood by the ruthless killers known to history as Black September. The event, itself, lives forever in infamy most commonly referred to as the “Munich Massacre.” It is interesting to note that eleven people are the exact amount required to field a proper football team.

Not so long after this pre-meditated and unforgetable tragedy, just nine nights later, in fact, the very first Israeli football player ever signed to a contract by any European club appeared in the Startelf as part of the backline for Bundesliga club Borussia Moenchengladbach contesting the UEFA Cup first round match with FC Aberdeen at the venerable Pittodrie Stadium in Scotland.

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The full squad of BORUSSIA MOENCHENGLADBACH, masterfully trained by the not-pictured Hennes Weisweiler, take time for the annual team photograph just prior to the start of the 1972-73 football season; Olympic Games and World Cup veteran SHMUEL ROSENTHAL, the 25-year-old Israel international signed from Ligat Ha’Al outfit FC Hapoel Petah Tikva that off-season summer, is seated third from left in the front row.
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But it should be noted that Borussia Moenchengladbach, of course, were not just any professional club. Die Fohlen, in fact, were the current two-time defending Bundesliga champion and a legitimate force emerging in Europe as evidenced by the UEFA Cup won that 1972-73 season. Indeed, Borussia Moenchengladbach were just beginning a very successful stretch that saw the club capture five Bundesliga titles and two European trophies over a ten-year period.

Rosenthal started the first nine Bundesliga games of the 1972-73 schedule for Borussia Moenchengladbach, most of those in the prestigous Libero position, while scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal as Hannover 96 was defeated 3-1 at the Boekelbergstadion in late September. But die Fohlen had conceded three goals in five of their opening nine league matches and changes at the back were soon made by trainer Hennes Weisweiler. The Israel international was later used in middle of the park, however, competition for place was stiff there, too, with the likes of HERBERT WIMMER and GUENTER NETZER — both in the Startelf when West Germany shutout the Soviet Union 3-0 to win the 1972 European Cup of Nations earlier that summer — on the roster in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Things got really difficult for Rosenthal when Borussia Moenchengladbach signed the star of Denmark’s 1972 Olympic squad, the 19-year-old ALLAN SIMONSEN, from BK Velje during the annual Winterpause. Die Fohlen already had contracted the productive Denmark international winger HENNING JENSEN busy scoring 19 goals in all competitons that 1972-73 season and, at that time, Bundesliga regulations restricted clubs to the use of only two Auslaender (foreigners) per domestic match. Simonsen, of course, would develop into a future winner of the coveted Balon d’Or given annually to the European Footballer of the Year.

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Borussia Moenchengladbach midfielder GUNETER NETZER, a member of West Germany’s title-winning squads at both the 1972 European Cup of Nations and 1974 FIFA World Cup, runs win the Deutscher Fussball Bund Pokal after die Fohlen — on the strength of a goal scored by the Real Madrid-bound superstar in the 94th minute — knocked off 1.FC Koeln with the benefit of extra time in the 1973 domestic cup Final contested at the Rheinstadion in Duesseldorf.
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In all, Rosenthal played in 13 Bundesliga games for Borussia Moenchengladbach but did not feature at all following the annual winter break. Still, the 25-year-old did appear in four UEFA Cup matches as die Fohlen won a trophy in Europe for the very first time in club history. Thus, Rosenthal is also the very first professional Israeli footballer in history to have contributed to a title-winning side in a major European competiton.

Rosenthal returned to FC Hapoel Petah Tikva after his only Bundesliga season and later, in 1978, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to play in the old North American Soccer League for the Oakland Stompers alongside first choice SHEP MESSING, the United States Olympic goalkeeper at the 1972 Munich Games and member of the National (US) Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

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