In the 1997-98 season Oliver Bierhoff becamecapocannoniere in Serie A. An under-rated forward playing for an unfashionable team made 32 appearances and scored 27 goals, only two of which were penalties. In the days whencalcio ruled the world, “Das Boot” was scoring a goal every 105 minutes.
The German had tried to make a name for himself at Hamburger SV and Borussia Monchengladbach but could not make the grade. After a spell with Austria Salzburg he arrived in Italy with lowly Ascoli. Between 1991 and 1995 he played 117 times and scored 48 goals, which was enough to turn the head of Udinese coach Alberto Zaccheroni. Now Bierhoff could test himself against the best.
He opened his account immediately, scoring on the opening day of the season in a 1-0 win over Cagliari at the Friuli. Bierhoff went on to fire the Zebrette (Little Zebras) to a credible 10th-place finish, as he hit 17 goals for the season.
After famously winning Euro 1996 for Germany against the Czech Republic after coming on and scoring twice, his confidence was sky high. This new belief reached a crescendo in the 1997-98 season, when he went down in Udine folklore.
At 6ft 3in, Bierhoff could have been slow and encumbered. Far from it; he turned many Serie A defences in and out. He was extremely strong, mystifyingly good in the air, to the point of being ridiculous. Look at his header against Atalanta in week 16 of his-top scoring season.
He could read the game as quickly as any striker in the league at that time or since. This was shown perfectly in the third game of the season that year when he jumped on a poor back pass to slot home his second in a 2-1 win over a superb Milan side.
He was not without skill either, as shown by his 20-yard volley against Brescia in week nine of that year. It was Batistuta-esque but do we remember these strikes as much as we do from the great Argentinian? This mix attributes does not even go into the plethora of instinctive finishes in the box he scored that year.
Bierhoff is not revered as much as he should be. He scored goals that season against Milan, Napoli, Internazionale, Parma and more; he even scored four in two games against Roma. He was not a flat-track bully.
For a short time Oliver Bierhoff was the best of the best; he took on the world’s toughest defences and plundered them. He scored 143 goals in Serie A, which is one of the best totals for a foreigner in the league. He can also lay claim to having scored the most headed goals in Serie A. Never forgotten in Udine, he was certainly one of the club greats.
By Richard Hall