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He played for Dresdner SC, winning the German football championship in 1943 and 1944 as well as the cup in 1941 and 1942. He appeared 16 times for his country between 1937 and 1941, scoring 17 goals. After World War II he began his career in football management in his native state of Saxony, then part of Soviet-occupied East Germany. He was in charge of coaching selections from Saxony and the Soviet occupation zone before political interference to the sport made him flee to Western Germany in 1950. Having played in Hamburg for FC St. Pauli even during his Friedrichstadt spell, he now was appointed player-coach with Hertha BSC Berlin where he had several former team-mates in his squad but left before the end of the season. Schön became a licensed coach in Cologne before managing Wiesbaden. Between 1952 and 1956, he was in charge of the then-independent Saarland side, who met West Germany in qualification for the 1954 World Cup. When the Saarland was permitted to join West Germany in 1956, Schön joined the West German national side as assistant to Sepp Herberger, whom he succeeded as manager in November 1964.
Under Schön's leadership, the German team were Football World Cup runners-up in 1966, third in the World Cup of 1970, European champions in 1972, World Cup winners in 1974 and European Championship runners-up in 1976. He holds World Cup records for both coaching the most matches (25) and the most wins (16), and was the first coach to win both a World Cup and a European Championship. He shares with England's Walter Winterbottom the distinction of managing the same national team at four consecutive World Cup tournaments.
Schön gave notice that he would retire after the 1978 World Cup, to be replaced by his assistant Jupp Derwall. He was unable to go out on a high note as his team were knocked out of the competition by Austria, who had already been eliminated. During his 14-year tenure as national coach, his record was 87 victories, 30 draws and 22 defeats in 139 matches.