Matthias Sindelar: the Mozart of football who dared to reject Nazism

Matthias Sindelar was one of the best footballers of his time. (Getty)
Matthias Sindelar was one of the best footballers of his time. (Getty)

As the World Cup reaches the knockout stages and the world's best footballers look to write their names in the record books, Yahoo News UK looks at the story of one of European footballer's most unsung players who was found dead under suspicious circumstances

Matthias Sindelar was nicknamed the "Mozart" of football and is regarded as one of the best Austrian footballer in history and one of finest in Europe at his time.

But it was his death, generally attributed to Nazism, for which he will also be remembered.

Born in 1903, he was also known as the "Paper Man", thanks to a slender physique that complemented the agility and elegance of his game.

In a remarkable career he scored 26 goals in 43 caps for Austria and 240 goals in 312 games for Austria Wien.

He was the captain and face of the national team which dazzled both their own and fans from other countries during the 1930s.

The Austrian "Wunderteam" ("Wonder Team") won a Central European International Cup, Silver at the Olympic games in Berlin and thrashed teams like Germany, Hungary and Italy.

They had an undefeated run of 14 matches in a row and reached the semi-finals of the 1934 World Cup, where they lost to an Italy led by Luis Monti, setting the stage for what many years later came to be referred to as "Total Football".

Read more: Which countries have hosted the most World Cups?

The 1932 Austrian national team. (Getty)
The 1932 Austrian national team. (Getty)

When Austria was annexed by Germany, Austrian football came to an end and the "Wunderteam" fell apart.

All the players of that team, except one, went on to form part of the German team.

Sindelar, who was already nearing the end of his career, wanted nothing to do with it.

Before the 1938 World Cup and with the goal of consolidating the annexation by showing that the people of Germany and Austria could coexist peacefully, a friendly match was arranged between the "Mannschaft" and a team of Austrian footballers.

Matthias Sindelar and Walter Nausch being interviewed before the 1935 Austria vs match. (Getty)
Matthias Sindelar and Walter Nausch being interviewed before the 1935 Austria vs match. (Getty)

Read more: The players with the most appearances at the World Cup

According to news reports at the time, the Austrians not only played better and won 2-0, but also gave the impression that they were holding back, almost certainly following orders.

Sindelar is said to have humiliated the German defenders over and over and tried to score on numerous occasions.

When he finally did, he celebrated by dancing in front of the box where the Nazi officials were seated. The stunt didn't go down well and it was the last match he ever played.

The death of Sindelar, which occurred a few months later, caused a commotion in Vienna.

He was found dead with his wife in their bed at home and although the official report stated that his death had been due to carbon monoxide poisoning, multiple theories soon emerged.

The most common one was that he was murdered by the SS and the Gestapo, the armed wing of Nazi Germany, which reportedly had created a dossier about him.

According to this theory, the Nazis had not been at all happy with what had happened at the friendly match before the World Cup in France nor the supposedly known animosity of the Mozart of Football towards National Socialism.

There were even some who were convinced that his girlfriend, whom he had met just a few weeks before and who was still breathing when they found them, was the culprit.

Another theory, much more poetic and patriotic, was that Sindelar, a timid, introverted, bohemian type, had decided to commit suicide rather than accept and tolerate the political situation of the time.

And, in 2003, another controversial claim emerged - that a local official was bribed to record the death as an accident so that Sindelar could receive a state funeral.

"According to the Nazi rules, a person who had been murdered or who has committed suicide cannot be given a grave of honour. So we had to do something to ensure that the criminal element involved in his death was removed," Egon Ulbrich, a friend of Sindelar's, told the BBC.

Sindelar's funeral, just days before what would have been his 36th birthday, reportedly drew a crowd of 20,000 to celebrate his life.