In 1991 a young German by the name of Stefan Beinlich joined Aston Villa from SG Bergmann-Borsig in what was ultimately a three year stay with the club. He signed for a fee in the region of £100,000 and joined aged 19 years old.
Beinlich was amongst of group of young non-domestic footballers the club had purchased, whom never established themselves amongst the Villa team of the time.
Though Beinlich rarely featured, indeed he was forever a player fans regard as “the next big thing”, he went on to achieve relative success in his future career. In this spotlight we look back at what could have been for Villa, and what became of Beinlich.
Beinlich was perhaps a better player than the club knew at the time. For reference, this was a Villa side still attempting to come to terms with the major power shifts occuring in English football as the Premier League found its feet. Further, Beinlich was clearly an intelligent man.
Instead of reflecting upon being a frequently overlooked figure during his time in Birmingham, he rather viewed his stint as being the grounding with which he based a productive career upon.
Most poignant perhaps are these words when interviewed in 2004 by Der Spiegel, having been asked about which transfer was his most important:
“Aston Villa was the most important. When I went, aged 19, in 1991 to England to Birmingham, where we were the reserve league champions, I got the tools for my professional career. Only when playing at a high enough level to further develop a young footballer. I even finished 16 games in the Premier League. In addition, I learned in that time to get about in everyday life, independently.”
It is interesting to ponder whether products of our own youth system might have furthered themselves if they had also adopted the same positive mental approach. One looks back at the raw talents such as Luke Moore, Darren Byfield or Michael Standing.
They were (are) players with comparable attributes, who certainly got a bigger shot at the big time in England than Beinlich ever did. Where he put it down to the bigger picture, a mere learning curve, others have fallen.
Indeed, when the form such of those mentioned above dipped or they did not get things exactly as they might have wanted, their careers nosedived. It serves to underline the value of a strong work ethic, or at the very least treating times on the periphery of a squad as valuable professional experience from which to develop.
Villa could certainly have done with more mentalities such as Beinlich’s as the 1990’s progressed. Or indeed here and now.
It is difficult to say precisely why Beinlich never progressed into a great footballer for Aston Villa. It can be easy to state that he was overlooked, or even on examination suggest ignored. Regardless, it is worth some investigation.
Upon arriving at 19 he was still reasonably considered a prospect having been acquired out of relative obscurity. From there, he was battling for the first 18 months to get into a decent first team. Beinlich needed to displace the Kevin Richardson’s, Ray Houghton’s and Andy Townsend’s of this world.
It was a midfield that ran Manchester United extremely close for the 1992/93 Premier League title and which went on to win the League Cup (versus the same team) a year later.
And then circumstances perhaps intervened.
In the months that followed the promising Ron Atkinson era fell apart, Villa narrowly avoided relegation and Beinlich joined Hansa Rostock for £130,000.
Beinlich made just 7 first team starts, scoring 1 goal. 16 appearances in total when adding in showings off the bench. Alongside this he was a near ever present in the reserves with a fine goalscoring ratio of a little over 1 in 2.
He was always knocking on the door, but having it go unanswered. In short, he appears to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He moved on to become a regular fixture in the Bundesliga, turning out for Bayer Leverkusen, Hertha Berlin (played & scored v Fulham) and Hamburg before returning to Hansa Rostock where he retired due to a knee injury.
Loyal, hardworking and posing a constant goal threat with a renowned rocket shot (sound familiar?), he narrowly missed out on a championship winners medal in 2000 as Bayern Munich won the division on goal difference. Aclub he had turned down the opportunity to join.
A consistent, reliable midfielder at club level, Beinlich was similarly impeded to progress on the international stage due to Germany’s abundance of talent. Moller, Matthaus, Frings, Ballack, Hamann etc etc – the list is painfully long.
Just as he likely wondered when his break would come at Villa, he experienced the same frustrations for the national side. Whilst this culminated in him receiving 5 full caps, it stands to mirror quite perfectly his Aston Villa career. What could have been?
Following his retirement in 2008 Beinlich remains involved in the game through a coaching role (Director of Sports) for Hansa Rostock where he is contracted to remain until 2014. He was also rewarded with a testimonial (and fireworks) in 2009.
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