Kevin Keegan and his adventure in Germany

English football players very rarely leave their country and that is mostly because the league, whether it's the old First Division or the current English Premier League, is often one of the strongest in the world. And considering the cultural elements, it makes a lot of sense, although is always interesting to see great English players trying their luck abroad and see how it works, especially if they manage to succeed.

In that regard, Kevin Keegan's case with Bundesliga side Hamburg is quite interesting to look back on. While is true that there were English players who went abroad before, there is an argument to be made that Keegan's journey in Germany made a huge precedent, which is something worth taking into account. Especially considering the context and who Keegan was back in the mid-70s.

Hamburg SV football
Hamburg SV football - the club Kevin Keegan represented in Germany

Kevin Keegan and the context

The interesting thing about Kevin Keegan and signing for Hamburg is not only the deal and the transfer themselves but also who he was and what this signing represented. In that regard, this is something a lot of people need to take into account to understand the historical value of this move.

Back in 1977, it could be argued that Kevin Keegan was the best player in the world. He had been a striker for Liverpool for the last six years, won every single trophy available, and scored double digits every single season at Anfield. He was a recent European Cup winner and, at 26 years of age, was at the peak of his powers.

So, people reading this might be asking themselves the following question: Why would such a successful player leave for Hamburg at that point in his career? This is the interesting part of this transfer. Keegan knew his worth and that would end up playing a huge in his departure from Anfield, which is something that, in hindsight, worked for him and didn't at the same time.

See, Keegan knew that he was a very important player, both from a football and commercial perspective. The summer prior to his departure, he had been negotiating a new contract with the Liverpool board and he wanted a 500,000 pounds release clause in his deal because he was aware of the interest of foreign clubs. However, this was the cause of a lot of strife with the higher-ups of the Reds.

Eventually, Spanish clubs didn't see him as an exotic enough talent, and Italian institutions were undecided, so it was Hamburg of all people who were willing to pay the 500,000 release clause. Why did Keegan agreed to a deal with a club that didn't finish above sixth place for the last two decades? Because they were willing to give him anything he wanted as a part of the deal, and the man actually wanted the challenge, according to his own words:

"Going to Germany, it was a tough one. Five or six years at Liverpool and I'd run my race there. I just fancied a challenge, and Germany was my challenge."

The adventure at Germany

By the time Keegan arrived in Germany, the excitement and expectations were through the roof. After all, this was a certified world-class player who was signing for Hamburg, which not only boosted the club's profile but also the entirety of the Bundesliga. However, the first season was mostly about adapting to the club and the culture, which proved to be a big challenge for Kevin.

Keegan was staying at a hotel on the outskirts of the city, which already left him a bit isolated, but there was also the fact of him not fitting in the dressing room at first. Since the Bundesliga at the time had a rule of just two foreigners per squad, Hamburg decided to let three-times European Cup winner Horst Blankenburg go, which didn't sit well with most players. And the change of manager to accommodate Keegan didn't help matters, either.

However, Keegan did try to fit in and struggled to get along with his teammates, especially due to the language barrier. It wasn't until a friendly match in February of 1978, where he punched a rival player and was naturally sent off, that he decided to make an effort to learn German and adapt to his teammates, which proved to be a huge success.

Yugoslavian manager Branko Zebec became the manager the following season and it was that same season, the 1978/79 one, where people saw the best of Keegan as a Hamburg player. Not only did he score 17 goals in 35 games across all competitions but he was also the leader of the team that won the Bundesliga for the first time in decades, thus cementing his role as an absolute legend of the club and the start of a massive resurgence for the institution.

Zebec and the end

All good things must come to an end and that is exactly what happened in 1980 between Kevin Keegan and Hamburg. By the time the 1979/80, there was a point where Keegan agreed to leave the club and the main reason was Zebec himself. The Yugoslavian manager had a very intense fitness regime that, according to the Englishman, was taking a huge toll on him and the rest of the players, which led to a lot of issues between them.

Eventually, Keegan signed for Southampton for a 500,000 pounds deal in the summer of 1980. While his three years at Hamburg might seem like a short stint, it was enough to leave a lasting legacy in German football and also a reminder that English footballers could also do it outside of their own country, which is something that has been proven in very few occasions over the years.
Kelvin Tingling knows most things about football and also likes to write about it. Kelvin lives in Buenos Aires and his favorite team is Boca Juniors.