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1981 Ballon d’Or Winner: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge Trounces the Competition Again

After an incredible 1980 season, that was twice as good as his best season prior to his first Ballon d’Or, he’d go on to improve even further.

After 5 seasons of establishing himself, and gradually progressing, Rummenigge had hit his stride.

The 1980 season that earned him a first Ballon d’Or saw him score 26 in the league. The following year he’d go 3 better netting 29 times in the Bundesliga alone. But, arguably Rummenigge’s greatest performances would come outside of a sensational league campaign.

1981 marked the pinnacle of Rummenigge’s career, soaring to new heights both at club and international levels. Representing Bayern Munich, he played a pivotal role in the team’s domestic and European performance. He led Bayern Munich to another title and helped Bayern to a European Cup semi-final.

Sadly for the Bavarian side, they would lose to Liverpool over an incredibly tight 2-legged affair, as the English club squeezed passed on away goals.

On the international stage, however, Rummenigge’s impact was truly felt.

Scintillating Form on the International Stage

To say he was instrumental in Germany’s qualification for the 1982 FIFA World Cup is underselling his performances. 

He delivered an attacking masterclass across the qualifier and reinforcing his reputation as one of the best footballers of his generation.

West Germany was, without a doubt, the strongest side in their group, but that by no means takes away from Rummenigge’s dominance. Putting on a tour de force, he’d manage 9 goals in 9 games, West Germany winning every game to qualify for the 1982 World Cup.

It wasn’t just his goals however that made his displays en-route to the World Cup so breathtaking. Alongside his 9 goals, he’d set up 8 goals, including an unbelievable feat against Finland where he managed a hat-trick of both goals and assists.

In recognition of his exceptional year, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was awarded the prestigious Ballon d’Or in 1981.

Rummenigge’s victory was not just a personal achievement, but a testament to his dedication, consistency, and excellence throughout the year.

His on-field exploits, both at the club and international levels, along with his invaluable contributions to his teams’ successes, made him an undisputed choice for the award, no more proven by his partner in crime Paul Breitner finishing runner-up. 

Rummenigge’s incredible vision, work-rate and natural goal-scoring instinct set him apart as a complete footballer. 

A prolific goalscorer, just as revered for his vision and creativity. Sounds like a Pep Guardiola wet dream.

Ballon d’Or Top 20

1Karl-Heinz RummeniggeWest Germany Bayern MunichWest Germany106
2Paul BreitnerWest Germany Bayern MunichWest Germany64
3Bernd SchusterSpain BarcelonaWest Germany39
4Michel PlatiniFrance Saint-ÉtienneFrance36
5Oleg BlokhinSoviet Union Dinamo KyivSoviet Union14
6Dino ZoffItaly JuventusItaly13
7Ramaz ShengeliaSoviet Union Dinamo TbilisiSoviet Union10
8Alexsandr ChivadzeSoviet Union Dinamo TbilisiSoviet Union9
9Liam BradyItaly JuventusRepublic of Ireland7
 John WarkEngland Ipswich TownScotland 
11David KipianiSoviet Union Dinamo TbilisiSoviet Union6
 András TörőcsikHungary ÚjpestHungary 
 Zbigniew BoniekPoland Widzew ŁódźPoland 
 Maxime BossisFrance NantesFrance 
 Bruno PezzeyWest Germany Eintracht FrankfurtAustria 
16Horst HrubeschWest Germany Hamburger SVWest Germany5
 Ruud KrolItaly NapoliNetherlands 
 Vladimir PetrovićSocialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Red Star Belgrade Yugoslaviaa 
19Zlatko VujovicSocialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Hajduk SplitYugoslavia4
 Trevor BrookingEngland West Ham UnitedEngland


In April 1983, the British pop duo Alan & Denise recorded a tribute song about his “sexy knees” in the song “Rummenigge”. The single reached number 43 in the German charts.

His brother Michael Rummenigge was also a talented footballer. He played as a forward for Bayern Munich and rivals Borussia Dortmund spending 6 years at both clubs, between 1982 and 1994. He also earned two caps for Germany.

Despite scoring 162 in 310, Rummenigge sits outside of the all-time top 10 Bundesliga top scorers, languishing behind Hannes Löhr, Mario Gómez and Klaus Allofs in 13th.

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