The razzmatazz at this year’s FIFA awards night seems a world away from when Lothar Matthaeus became its first recipient, in 1991. “I was handed the trophy at home, spoke to a few reporters, posed for some photographs and that was it,” Matthaeus said.
Long-haul flights and the long-winded ceremony to unveil the World Cup, brought here by FIFA’s sponsors Coca-Cola, didn’t deter the 1990 World Cup winning West German captain from a two-hour session at the hotel gym. Looking relaxed in frayed jeans and a body-hugging shirt, the most capped outfield player in the World Cup finals (25 appearances) spoke about his glittering career, the 2010 finals and more.
Over to Matthaeus.
How did it feel holding the World Cup after almost 20 years?
There were more emotions when I held it the first time. I told myself I was justified in feeling proud as captain of the best team in the world. We had beaten teams like Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic, Holland and Argentina. And after three weeks of preparation and five weeks of the tournament, we were the best.
Four years ago we had finished runners-up and thoughts of being champions were farthest from our minds. After the final, each second leading to holding the trophy was like an hour. Give me the World Cup, give me the World Cup was all that went on in my mind. Some of those feelings came back today (Friday).
How has football changed in two decades?
You can’t simply enjoy the game anymore. There is a lot more pressure on players. The stadiums have become better and the pace lot quicker. And because of the internet, you are always in the public eye. In our time, we had some private space.
And though a lot of teams now play a single striker, I don’t think that necessarily means football’s become more defensive. That depends on how interpret the system you use. For instance, a lot of teams use two of the three midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 formation as wide players complementing the lone striker. But what has definitely changed is that now offence starts in the defence and defending in the offence area. Now, when you have the ball, you must play wide and when you lose it, narrow. Players are allowed a lot less space now.
What is your expectation from this World Cup?
I expect a team from Africa to make it to the semi-finals. Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria, for instance, have a lot of good players in Europe now and I won’t be surprised even if an African team enters the final.
Why do you think Spain could win this time?
Well, Barcelona have the best team in the world, don’t they? Spain also have special players like Xavi Hernandes, Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres and David Silva. And they have a bench that can step in for these special players.
Germany seem to be in an easy group. You think so?
I think Germany will find it really tough. I have coached Partizan Belgrade and I know their mentality. Meeting Australia first will be difficult because they can get physical. And I’ve already said Ghana can go beyond the group stage. But yes, Germany haven’t finished lower than the quarter-finals in the last four World Cups so they’ll always be difficult. We don’t have the best players like Spain, but we will be a tough team.
They had a good qualifying campaign and I know (Brazil coach) Dunga since his playing days in Stuttgart. Discipline is a huge part of his football philosophy. That’s why I think Ronaldinho won’t return even though he is doing well at Milan. I think Brazil are now more European than they were 10-15 years ago It’s surprising that someone who’s been one of the greatest players of the 20th century is struggling to establish himself as coach. A king is sometimes not valued in his own country. I had six-seven offers to coach in the Bundesliga but things haven’t yet worked out.
Six months after retiring, I built a young team at Rapid Vienna. I took Partizan to the Champions League finals but there was a money issue and I left. The club made money by qualifying for the Champions League (August 2003) and selling players but I thought I was denied $550,000.
When I was Hungary’s coach, I brought down the average age from 29 to 23 but then the president lost the elections and I a backer. I was the first European coach in Brazil (Atletico Paranaense, in 2006) but the arrangement with my then partner of her coming over for a fortnight every month didn’t work out. I didn’t like staying alone and so I left. It wasn’t a nice way to leave though. The last deal with Racing Club in Argentina fell through because they weren’t keen on giving a bank guarantee.
Why did Juergen Klinsmann fail at Bayern Munich after being successful with the national team in the 2006 finals?
For me, Juergen is not a coach. He got his badges through a shortened course and stayed too far away from Europe (in California) to follow European football. He was more of a motivator. He was the head of the coaching team so he got a lot of credit, but the preparatory work was all from Joachim Loew (the current national coach and Klinsmann’s assistant). This isn’t against Juergen but I think when you are playing the World Cup at home, you don’t need to motivate players anyway.
Who is the best coach in football now?
Jose Mourinho (Inter Milan) makes things happen. (Pep) Guardiola deserves credit for what he has done at Barcelona and (Fabio) Capello has really done well with England. Loew too is good. And then you have Sir Alex Ferguson who is really special. They didn’t give him the knighthood for nothing.
Your thoughts on Franz Beckenbauer as coach.
He was really close to the players and would give you a lot of confidence. And the fact that he had a great career meant he earned your respect.
Why has the Bundesliga and the Serie A lost prominence from when you were a player?
When I played in Italy, they were reaping the benefits of the World Cup in terms of infrastructure. And it was the league for the world’s best players. Now the stadiums are old and only (Massimo) Morrati pays well at Inter. Money, remember, does get you results.
Germany believes in stability and that means there are few willing to take risks. Things are very well controlled by the DFL (Deutsche Fussball Liga, who run the Bundesliga). Bayern Munich doesn’t have finance problems like English clubs and I think that is how clubs should be managed. They don’t have a place for me now, which is all right. Some day, I would like to be associated with Bayern but not as a coach, as a manager like Ferguson.
Who do you think is the best midfielder now?
There’s very little to choose between Xavi (Hernandes) and (Andres) Iniesta; they are the motor that runs Barcelona.
You think Robert Enke’s (Germany’s goalkeeper) suicide will be a wake-up call for teams?
I hope it is. When I first heard it, I though it was a joke. If you have a problem, talk about it, don’t keep it to yourself. I always tell my players, my door is always open. But that’s life.
How did you have such a long career?
I had 12 operations during my time. I played football because I enjoyed it and when that happens, money and everything else follows.
Best Five of all time-
Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini, Diego Maradona, Johan Cryuff.
Best Five now-
Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi Hernandes, Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres