An elegant Danubian centre-forward know to his contemporaries as “The Mozart of Football”, Matthias Sindelar was arguably the finest European player the 1930s produced. Born in Kozlov in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to a family of Moravian descent, Sindelar’s career began in Vienna in 1916 and continued upon a steep upward trajectory until his tragically premature death 1939.
The star of the Austria Vienna side of the late twenties and early thirties, Sindelar made his debut for the Austrian national team – what would later come to be recognised as Hugo Meisl’s Wunderteam – in 1926 at the age of 23. Meisl, a cautious manager in those early days, persisted with a relatively old-fashioned tactical system throughout the twenties, and it was not until 1931, when the coach adopted a more fluid style of play, that Sindelar came into his own as an international player.
A man of brittle, delicate stature, Sindelar drew praise for the way in which he used his intelligence and breathtaking passing ability to deal with the physical and rambunctious game which he had made his profession. By all accounts the gifted forward was a master craftsman, a player of thoughtful disposition who relished the strategic battles with which football presented him. Unlocking defences with precise use of the ball and effortlessly astute movement, by the time Scotland arrived in Vienna for a friendly in the May of 1931 Sindelar was already recognised as a master of the elegant footballing style which was emerging from central Europe at the time.
That game, played at the Hohe Warte Stadium in a northern suburb of the Austrian capital, was the match which first established the transcendent reputation of the great Wunderteam. A 5-0 win for Meisl’s side, Sindelar was instrumental to the fluid 2-3-5 system which Austria deployed that day, scoring one of the goals as the ‘Danubian Whirl’ tore Scotland apart. The writing of Sindelar and his magnificent team into football’s rich history had begun.
Nineteen months later, in the midwinter of 1932, Meisl’s Austria arrived in London to take on an England team that was unofficially recognised as the best in the world. The game ended in a 4-3 defeat for the Wunderteam, but they had pushed England harder than many had imagined they were capable of. Again it was Sindelar who received the most lavish praise, the English press labelling him a genius and hailing a new hero of European football.
Four years later it was England’s turn to tour the continent, Meisl and Sindelar finally securing the victory over the game’s creators for which they had long been yearning. In front of an expectant crowd at the Praterstadion (now known as the Ernst-Happel-Stadion), Sindelar tormented the English defence and was the architect as Austria took an early lead and held on to seal a famous 2-1 win. By this time the Wunderteam – and Austrian football in general – was widely recognised as the finest the game had to offer, and Sindelar was the mysterious, intellectual attacking genius at its very heart.
Just three years later, however, Sindelar was dead. Having refused to play for Nazi Germany following Anschluss in 1938, the Austrian legend passed away at the peak of his fame, found dead in his flat as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning (although the newspapers of the time attempted to claim that he had been the victim of a Nazi conspiracy). One of the great pioneers of the more tactically astute brand of football which was borne out of central Europe in the thirties, Sindelar will forever be remembered as the lynchpin of the historic Wunderteam and one of the greatest players of his generation.