If I had a Hammer…..

In the pre-You Tube era when a player arrived at your club you had to rely on newspaper reports and stories from overseas journalists and very rarely were they correct. So, when a player with the nickname of “The Hammer” is bought there is a mixture of scepticism and excitement. Little did we know that Jorg Albertz would go on to become a future Rangers Hall of Fame player.

When Albertz was signed for £4m in the summer of 1996 from Hamburg, Rangers already had Gascoigne, McCall, Ferguson, McInnes, Miller and Durrant that would regularly occupy the central midfield areas. Brian Laudrup was also still tormenting full backs on both flanks so it wasn’t totally obvious where Albertz would play.

Albertz was a unit. Perfectly built for Scottish football, he was a powerful runner with and without the ball without being devastatingly quick. He had one major asset that ensured Walter Smith found a place for him anywhere he could. His wand of a left foot. But, this wand could be waved with the weight of a sledge hammer! He had a great touch and weight of pass and didn’t rely on smashing the leather off the ball to score. Like Tiger Woods when he first broke onto the scene, not only could he hit the ball farther than everyone else, he also had a better touch around the greens and a short game that was the envy of almost every opponent.

Albertz benefitted from his versatility. He was a natural central midfielder, a box-to-box player. His fitness and running power allowed him to play the same role but on the left-hand side of midfield, providing balance to the artistic flair of Laudrup. He could also fit in at left back, especially in Scotland where Rangers dominated possession and full backs spent most of their time in the opposition half. This became more frequent when David Robertson left for Leeds United in 1997 and his replacement Stale Stensaas turned out to be, well, not as good shall we say.

Albertz left Rangers with a goal scoring record of better than a goal every three games, from midfield and left back! He averaged 17 goals a season. How we would love a Windass, Candeias or Pena to produce those results over a similar five year period. We forget that Albertz was more than just a penalty taker. He only had one season as the designated taker and scored most of his goals from open play with a few spectacular free kicks thrown in too.

His most memorable free kick was v Celtic in January 1997 when the hapless Stewart Kerr was unable to get a glove on Albertz’s strike despite starting on the same side that the ball finished up, such was the ferocity of the hit. Albertz’s free kicks and penalties frequently hit the back of the net when they were still rising regardless of how far out they were hit from. This gave him an advantage when taking penalties as every goalkeeper knew they had to move early if they had a chance of saving anything, all Albertz had to do was wait for them to move. The fans preferred when he just put his laces through the ball as hard as he could though, taking the goalies hand with the ball!! Albertz injured goalies on more than one occasion, including his own team-mates.

He scored countless memorable goals but there can’t be many better than in the Scottish Cup semi-final v Celtic in 1998. Albertz had already crossed for McCoist to score the opener when he went on a run from his own half on the right hand side of midfield. He was only heading in one direction, onto his left foot, and after leaving 4-5 defenders in his wake thundered a shot into the top right hand corner across a helpless Gould in the Celtic defence.

It was well reported that Albertz and Dick Advocaat didn’t get on. When the Dutchman brought in Neil McCann, Arthur Numan and Giovanni van Bronckhorst, with the emergence of Barry Ferguson, Albertz was restricted in appearances despite maintaining his performance and attitude levels at his usual high standards. Proving this by scoring almost every two games in his final season. Rangers fans were gutted to be losing such an iconic player especially when they finished without a trophy at the end of the 2000/01 season.

He returned to Hamburg for £3m with Rangers more than getting their monies worth out of him with the player now into his 30’s. He was unable to recreate his previous form and after a spell in China (even managing Player of the Year) he returned to Germany’s second tier to retire. However, he came out of retirement to play for Clyde in 2007/08 scoring a couple of trademark free kicks including a winner v St Johnstone to help Clyde avoid automatic relegation.

Albertz remains to this day a Rangers legend. Not just for how he played and the goals he scored but for his obvious love of the club. At every opportunity for charity, testimonials or “legends” games Albertz will pull on a Rangers shirt. He is also a regular at Supporter’s Club functions. The Scottish twang to his German/English accent and the stories about his part in the drinking culture at the club at the time will forever endear him to fans. As Richard Gough famously said “a team that drinks together, wins together” and that team won plenty with Albertz at the heart beating louder than a jack hammer!