Branko Zebec

Branko Zebec

Branko Zebec in 1953
Personal information
Full name Branislav Zebec
Date of birth 17 May 1929
Place of birth Zagreb, Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Date of death 26 September 1988(1988-09-26) (aged 59)
Place of death Zagreb, SFR Yugoslavia
Height 1.76 m (5 ft 9 in)
Playing position Manager
(former Left Fullback, Left Winger)
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1943–1945 Građanski Zagreb
Poštar Zagreb
Lokomotiva Zagreb
Milicioner Zagreb
1945–1951 Borac Zagreb
1951–1959 Partizan Belgrade 131 (39)
1959–1961 Red Star Belgrade 29 (6)
1961–1965 Alemannia Aachen 71 (4)
National team
1951–1961 Yugoslavia 65 (17)
Teams managed
1965–1967 Dinamo Zagreb
1968–1970 Bayern Munich
1970–1972 VfB Stuttgart
1972–1973 Hajduk Split
1974–1978 Eintracht Braunschweig
1978–1980 Hamburger SV
1981–1982 Borussia Dortmund
1982–1983 Eintracht Frankfurt
1984 Dinamo Zagreb

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

Branislav "Branko" Zebec (17 May 1929 in Zagreb, Kingdom of Yugoslavia – 26 September 1988 in Zagreb, SFR Yugoslavia) was a Croatian footballer and manager. In his heyday the player from FK Partizan and Red Star Belgrade fascinated the world with his performances at the World Cups in 1954 and 1958. With Partizan he won 3 Yugoslav Cups (1952, 1954, 1957). With Red Star Belgrade he won the national championship in 1960. As coach he led Hajduk Split, Bayern Munich and Hamburger SV to success. A highly versatile player noted for his physical abilities and understanding of the game, Zebec was world class whether on the left wing or in the more defensive role of left fullback, although he was capable of playing almost every outfield position on the pitch. He was particularly well known for his pace, having been able to run 100m in 11s with football boots.

Career as player

In his youth days Zebec played for a number of teams in his hometown: Građanski (Dinamo), Poštar, Lokomotiva, Milicioner and Metalac. In 1951 he had the call from Partizan, one of the capital city teams dominating Yugoslav football. His quality and speed soon secured him a place on the left wing of the team, and almost as soon with the national team, in which he would feature 65 times, scoring 17 goals. In 1952 he won his first title, the national cup. In the same year the Summer Olympics in Helsinki provided a great international stage for him. Yugoslavia had to settle for the silver medal, because this tournament was also the birthplace of the Hungarian miracle team of the 1950s. With seven goals Zebec was to secure for himself the honour of top scorer of the event.

At the club level his successful career continued. 1954 saw Partizan finishing second in the championship and again winning the cup. Zebec secured an invitation for the 1954 FIFA World Cup in Switzerland. There Yugoslavia overcame the group stage with a win against France and a draw against Brazil thanks to a goal by Zebec. In the quarterfinals the eventual winners Germany put a stop to the campaign of the team from the Balkans.

In his club side Zebec evolved more and more to be the leading player in midfield, a position for which he was most suitable due to his intelligence. In 1955 he played in the Partizan debut in the European Cup (Partizan played as a nominated team and not as a national champion – a historic peculiarity of the first edition of this tournament). In the first round Partizan beat Sporting CP in two high scoring encounters, 5–2 and 8–5. In the second round, then the quarterfinals, the team of the era, Real Madrid, put an end to Yugoslavia's first entry into this new competition as a home 3–0 win against the Iberian glamour side was insufficient to compensate for a 0–4 defeat at the hands of Alfredo Di Stéfano and Co. in the Spanish capital. On the domestic scene, Partizan remained in the shadow of the big two of those days, Hajduk Split, and Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade). Thus, in 1956 Partizan again had to make do with being honourable runner up in the championship, as they did in 1958. In between Partizan would grab another Yugoslav cup.

By the time the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden took place Zebec had become the captain of the national side. In the group stages, draws against Scotland and Paraguay and a win against France was enough to enter the quarterfinals, but, as four years before, Germany put an end to Yugoslav ambitions.

In Yugoslavia he achieved another second place in the championship before making a controversial switch of allegiances to local rivals Red Star, where at the end of his career, in 1960, he finally got his hands on the championship trophy. This would remain his last honour as player.

In 1963 he was old enough for a player to leave the country, in line with the political circumstances of those days. For Zebec it was then to late for the big-time clubs, so the German second division side Alemannia Aachen may not have provided a great opportunity for renewed success on the pitch, but for Zebec it was a valuable two years in which he could acquaint himself with the country in which he would celebrate his greatest successes as coach.

Career as coach

Branko Zebec got his first coaching assignment soon after he finished playing. In 1965 he became joint coach of the Yugoslav first division side Dinamo in his hometown Zagreb. He held the office together with Ivica Horvat, who later too would enjoy success in Germany. The team was to qualify for the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, the precursor of the UEFA Cup. Initially, things were not looking promising in this campaign. The aggregate result in the first round encounters with Czech side Spartak Brno was 2–2, and only the toss of a coin saw Dinamo advancing. After Dunfermline and Dinamo Piteşti were eliminated, Juventus were their opponents in the quarterfinals, but were overcome 2–2 and 3–0. In the semifinals Dinamo managed one of the great comebacks in the history of European competitions. After a 0–3 defeat in Frankfurt against Eintracht Dinamo outclassed the Germans in Zagreb 4–0.

In the finals the club had to face Leeds United then with Peter Lorimer and Billy Bremner in the team. The home leg was won 2–0, thus a nil all draw in England was sufficient. Zebec and his team won the first ever official international trophy for a team from Eastern Europe.

Bayern Munich

This was an opportunity for Zebec to grab attention beyond the Yugoslav borders and in 1968 he was hired by Bayern Munich to follow in the footstep of his compatriot "Czik" Čajkovski, himself a former Dinamo player and a team mate of Zebec in the days of the 1952 Olympics and 1954 FIFA World Cup. The team around the young Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller had won two national cups and the European Cup Winners' Cup. He curbed the offensive style of the team and reinforced the defence. In his first season Zebec won with them the German championship, the club's first in 37 years. To boot, the team also won the cup, and thus also achieved the first double in the history of the German Bundesliga. The next season began with problems. Bayern was ousted in the first round of the European Cup of Champions at the hands of AS Saint-Etienne. Already early in the season Zebec announced that he would not extend his contract at the end of the year. As Bayern experienced a spell of three matches with only one point mid-way though the second half of the season and fell back five points behind the leaders his contract was even terminated prematurely. Udo Lattek was to succeed him. In a later book Beckenbauer reported of "atmospheric disturbances" between the coach and the team.

For Zebec there now followed a stay of almost two years with VfB Stuttgart, then a team with aspirations of joining the top of the league. He led the unimpressive team, which was in his second season reinforced with German international Horst Köppel and the Austrian midfielder Hans "Buffy" Ettmayer to positions 12 and 8, respectively. This was disappointing for both, club and coach, thus, here also the last couple of months of his contract were cut short.

Zebec returned for a season to Yugoslavia, where this time he coached Hajduk Split in tandem with Tomislav Ivić, another very notable coach. The team impressed particularly in the Cup Winners' Cup where they made it all the way to the semifinals, ousting Norway's Fredrikstad F.K., Welsh side Wrexham A.F.C. and in the quarterfinals the Scottish Cup winners Hibernian F.C.. Hajduk lost in Scotland 2–4, but almost miraculously recovered at home with a 3–0 triumph. However, in the semifinals a 0–1 defeat away to Leeds United proved lethal. The 0–0 draw at home meant the end of the road for the Croatians, but reaching this semifinal remains the greatest international success for them to date. Leeds ended up missing out on winning this tournament by the tightest of margins losing the final against AC Milan 0–1.

The team finished the national league a disappointing 9th, but the defence of the Yugoslav Cup through a victory against champions Red Star Belgrade assured a memorable season eventually. The 1970s were to be Hajduks golden decade after all, but without Branko Zebec, who returned to Germany.

Return to Germany: Eintracht Braunschweig

Eintracht Braunschweig, in 1967 still champions of Germany, were relegated in 1973 – the year they pioneered advertising on jerseys – but returned to the Bundesliga inside a year. The club, which then had a liquor manufacturer on a spending spree as main sponsor, engaged Zebec in search of better times. Zebec hired two fellow Yugoslavs, the entertaining right winger Danilo Popivoda and midfielder Aleksandar Ristić. Coupled with national team goalkeeper Bernd Franke and other notable players this side played refreshing quality football and often featured right on top of the table. Inside three years Eintracht worked itself up from 9th to 3rd, then just missing out on the championship by one point. In his fourth and last year with the club the 1974 FIFA World Cup winner Paul Breitner joined the team coming from Real Madrid. Even thus reinforced, the team could not maintain the trend and finished a disappointing 13th. By then Zebec's efforts had been successful enough to attract interest elsewhere.

Hamburger SV and after

The European Cup Winners' Cup winner from 1977 was ambitious and longed for its first championship since 1960 but ended up only 11th in the 76/77 season. Zebec was the right man for the job. In his first season he formed a competitive unit around wing back Manfred Kaltz, striker Horst Hrubesch. Most important was that he facilitated the integration of "Mighty Mouse" Kevin Keegan who failed to convince in his first season. By the end of Zebec's first year at the helm Hamburg were champions and Keegan their most prolific striker.

A year later the team progressed all the way into the European Cup final to face Nottingham Forest. A lacklustre Hamburg lost 0–1. Zebec and his coaching methods were widely blamed. Zebec, besides being a strict disciplinarian, believed that when a team plays successfully it can take more training. As it was, the players complained about the harsh training at that late stage of the season, and critics said that it was the reason why Hamburg inside four days of the final also lost a decisive match which consigned them to runners-up in the league.

At the beginning of his third season with Hamburg another problem came to the fore. Branko Zebec had a serious drinking problem and was caught out even on the coaching bench. A funnier consequence was that when he came into the cabin and told his players "0–2, lost! Does not matter, we have to win the next match!" It was only halftime. By December the problem and its consequences which were now frequently recognizable, e.g. when he was dozing on the bench, needed a resolution, and thus by December the contract was terminated. Aleksandar Ristić became his successor for half a year, before Ernst Happel took Hamburg to renewed glory.

By 1981/82 Zebec got himself a new appointment – then with Borussia Dortmund, incidentally here following in the footsteps of Udo Lattek. He led them to place 6th, their best result in 12 years, leading them even into the UEFA Cup. But his personal issues were still increasing and stretched the abilities of the club to deal with him. By the end of the season Borussia saw the need to let him go.

By the beginning of the 82/83 season Branko Zebec had no job. However, this made him available when Eintracht Frankfurt, the club in Germany with the highest attrition rate for coaches, was in need for a replacement of former Austrian national coach Helmut Senekowitsch. Zebec ended the season with Eintracht as 10th, but he himself fell victim to the traditional shortlivedness of coaching jobs by 17 October of the following season.

He had one more ephemeral engagement with his hometown club Dinamo Zagreb before his career ended.

In 1988 he died from alcohol-related illness, aged only 59. He remains one of the most successful coaches in the history of the German Bundesliga.

Career overview

Career as Player
Period Club Titles
1951–1959 Partizan Belgrade 1952 – Yugoslav Cup
1954 – Yugoslav Cup
1957 – Yugoslav Cup
1959–1961 Red Star Belgrade 1960 – Yugoslav Championship
1961–1965 Alemannia Aachen
Career as Coach
Period Club Titles
1965–1967 NK Dinamo Zagreb 1967 – Inter-Cities Fairs Cup
1968–1970 FC Bayern Munich 1969 – German Cup
1969 – German Championship
1970–1972 VfB Stuttgart
1972–1973 Hajduk Split 1973 – Yugoslav Cup
1974–1978 Eintracht Braunschweig
1978–1980 Hamburger SV 1979 – German Championship
1981–1982 Borussia Dortmund
1982–1983 Eintracht Frankfurt
1984 Dinamo Zagreb


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