Later, in the training ground's parking lot, the usual group of kids waited for autographs, and Caligari conscientiously obliged. "You must work on your problem, Paul!" one of the pros yelled, and the young American's face fell. One could almost read his thoughts: Maybe he means I'm too slow getting back on defense, maybe I'm.... But the joker added, "You have to learn to sign a lot faster than that!"
Signing autographs is a new experience for Caligari, even though he had won virtually every domestic honor available to a young American soccer player. He was selected to represent the U.S. in the 1984 Olympics, only to be dropped from the team when the Fédération Internationale de Football Association ruled that professionals would be eligible for the Games. He played in the qualifying rounds of the last World Cup. A two-time All-America defenseman at UCLA, he captained the Bruins to the NCAA championship in 1985.
Sadly, though, even if Caligari had wanted to continue playing soccer in the States, his only option was the junky end of the sport, making his entrance through a spaceship for a Major Indoor Soccer League game in Baltimore, or perhaps being the featured attraction in a pregame laser show in Tacoma. If 1986 had not been a World Cup year, MISL might have been his fate.
But World Cup year it was, and, as a recent tradition dictates, the championship game was followed by an exhibition match between European all-stars and the Rest of the World. With the game being held in the Rose Bowl, what could be more suitable than to bring in a California kid as the token American for the last 20 minutes, especially when Europe was two goals ahead and the game seemed all but over?
Paradoxically, Caligari was lucky to come in on a losing side. Although he is a natural hard-marking defender, this day he was told to play attacking midfielder—to go forward, take chances, not worry overly about defense. Recalling that day in Pasadena, Caligari still sounds like an eager kid.
"Boy, it was a thrill to be with the elite," he says. "But don't imagine I thought I might make a fool of myself. It was a dream, all right, but I was never in such awe that I froze up. It seemed as though every time I had the ball, the first guy I saw was Diego Maradona, making space for me, giving me opportunities. He seems to have the power to give you an extraordinary number of options.
"And that is what happened when we scored our first goal. I, uh, sort of created it, attacking down the right. I dribbled by two players, beat a third—I think it was the Frenchman Manuel Amoros—and I went for the corner, intending to cross it in front of the goalmouth. But then I saw Diego suddenly materialize, so I cut it back to him. He chipped it into the penalty box, and Roberto Cabañas scored from close range. Later we had a second goal and won the game on a penalty shoot-out."
One of the game's two MVPs (Maradona was the other) was Felix Magath, a midfielder for the Hamburg club and for the West German national side who was making his final appearance as a player. Magath would soon return home to become manager of his club. "We had a little discussion in the lobby of the Sheraton Grande in Los Angeles," recalls Caligari. "Before he left he gave me his card and said, 'In Hamburg we are interested in you. Please consider it.' And he left it up to me to make contact. I was still an amateur, still trying to win another national championship with UCLA, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking of how I wanted to seek out the highest level of soccer. Last November, I called Magath, even though signing with Hamburg would mean having to serve six months playing with the amateurs."
Says Magath, "That he has talent is clear. The game in L.A. was really the beginning, although 20 minutes is not sufficient to assess a player. It is his talent plus his American attitude that matter." Magath moves into his lecturing mode: "Americans have a very professional approach to sports. U.S. athletes seem able to form a better relationship with the public and the media than ours do. They are vorbildlich, exemplary, professionals. For that reason Paul is mentally well suited to the German Soccer League."
What Caligari wasn't prepared for was his reception in West Germany. "I had traveled from Dallas for 15 hours," he says, "and I wasn't expecting any big deal. But every television network in Germany was at the airport, every national newspaper. I was on the cover of their biggest sports magazine." COLLEGE-BOY AND SONNYBOY was one headline. AMERIKANISCHER STAR was another. Mostly, though, he was referred to as Hamburg's Ami, and occasionally as Ami Paul. Because he flew from Dallas, now and then he was called a Texan, but that concerned him little as he tried out the new Mercedes the club provided him. West Germany has witnessed a recent surge of pro-American feeling among its Yuppies, who are known there as Poppers, although they are determinedly straight, antidrug and proestablishment. Caligari is not only American, clean-cut and good-looking, but he's also a college boy, which means that in a country where Universität is one of the classiest words you can hit upon, Caligari is nothing less than a Popper's dream. Magath may know a thing or two about public relations.