Middlesbrough might not seem like the most attractive destination in the world for high-profile footballers to have lined out for some of the biggest clubs and nations on the planet, but the Teessiders have had an uncanny knack of luring Hollywood names to the Riverside Stadium. It all started in the mid-1990s with the Brazilian treble swoop of Juninho, Branco and Emerson, followed a year later by Fabrizio Ravanelli from Juventus. In the early 2000s, Boro boasted the likes of Boudewijn Zenden, Michael Reiziger and Gaizka Mendieta amongst their ranks. Even last season, their main striker was Alvaro Negredo, not on the same scale as the others mentioned here but still part of Manchester City’s title-winning side of 2013/14. One more for the list is German defender Christian Ziege, winner of European honours at club and international level.
Born in what was then a divided Berlin, Ziege flourished with amateur local clubs before being signed by Bayern Munich as a teenager in 1990. The Bavarians weren’t a huge force in German football in the decade following reunification, with just two league titles secures in Ziege’s seven years at the Olympiastadion. The defender grew into an international footballer of renown during his time in Munich, though, and was in Germany’s Euro 1996-winning squad. He also won the UEFA Cup with Bayern that year and boasted a formidable scoring record for a defensive player, netting 38 times for the club to give him a strike rate averaging one every five games – better than quite a few strikers playing in the top European leagues.
Ziege left his homeland in 1997 to sign for AC Milan, who also had compatriot Oliver Bierhoff in their ranks. The German left-back helped the San Siro giants to win the Serie A title in 1999, the summer in which he made that shock move to Middlesbrough. He only had one season at the Riverside but he became a cult hero in the north-east, netting six times in that sole campaign with the club and proving very adept at converting set pieces, free kicks in particular. Liverpool triggered Ziege’s release clause of just £5.5 million in autumn 2000 and the consensus was that the Reds were getting an experienced defender in the prime of his career.
Unfortunately, the German’s time at Anfield was hampered by persistent knee injuries. The rise of a young defender by the name of Jamie Carragher also counted against him, but Ziege did score a penalty in the League Cup final shootout win over Birmingham. He wasn’t in the matchday squads for either of Liverpool’s other two cup final triumphs in 2001, though, and with little to suggest that he’d become a first-team regular, he moved on to Tottenham that summer. He won the League Cup for a second successive season but was at the centre of controversy in March 2002 when both he and Liverpool were fined by the FA over their involvement in the club making an illegal approach to Spurs to bring the German back to Anfield.
The knee injuries which plagued Ziege at Liverpool worsened during his second and third season with Tottenham and he returned to Germany in the summer of 2004, signing for Borussia Monchengladbach. Unfortunately, it was with Liverpool’s 1977 European Cup final opponents that a stellar playing career came to a premature end, with a long-standing ankle problem determining that he played his last professional match in December 2004 just a few weeks before his 33rd birthday. A few months later, Ziege was left with little option but to hang up his boots.
Far from fading out of the game, though, he quickly set about obtaining his coaching badges and held a number of backroom positions at Monchengladbach, starting as the club’s under-17s manager and working his way up to Director of Football and assistant manager. He even had a brief stint as their interim manager in October 2008, although it proved nothing more than a stop-gap role.
Ziege’s first full-time managerial position in senior football came with German second tier club Arminia Bielefeld in 2010, although a poor start to the 2010/11 campaign saw him sacked only three months into the season. For the following three and a half years, he coached Germany’s under-18 and under-19 teams, working with the likes of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Mario Gotze and Antonio Rudiger. He returned to club management in 2014 with Unterhaching, where he stayed for a year until being relieved of his duties. Next came an 18-month stint in Spain’s third tier with Atletico Baleares. Last month, Ziege was appointed as the manager of Ratchaburi Mitr Phol in Thailand, indicating that his managerial career has been far less glamorous than his playing CV.
Liverpool got a good player in Ziege back in 2000, but his injury troubles prevented him from showing his top quality at Anfield. Still, he retired with several trophies to his name, among them that League Cup triumph in 2001, while he also did his bit for the Reds on their journey to FA Cup and UEFA Cup glory later that year. It’s a trophy return that any current Liverpool player would love to achieve.