It is not not often that a footballer who has played in the Champions League, let alone win Europe's premier club competition, lands in India. So, it was a pleasant surprise to come face to face with former Champions Cup winning Hamburg centre-back Holger Hieronymus.
Here in his capacity as the CEO of the DFL (Deutsche Futball Liga) to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the All India Football Federation, Hieronymus spoke to HT about the current state of European football, the future of the game in India - and on that magical night in Athens in 1983.
Excerpts from an interview:
How confident were Hamburg going into the Champions Cup final of 1983?
No one had given us a chance in hell. We were up against a star-studded Juventus side featuring six of Italy's World Cup-winning squad of 1982, along with Michel Platini. However, our manager told us to believe in ourselves and just go for it. We did just that for 90 minutes and, in the end, Felix Magath's goal in the first half proved enough.
What was your first feeling at the final whistle?
Honestly? Forget the final whistle, it took me three full days to realise that we had actually been crowned champions of Europe. It was much tougher to win the competition as compared to now, so it made the win all the more special.
Why do you say it is easier to win the tournament now?
See, back then only the league winners were allowed to compete in the Champions Cup. Now, with the format of the competition having changed, there are more teams in the fray. The first four clubs from England and Spain are in the running. This makes lifting the Champions League - as it is known now - much easier.
What is your take on the problems plaguing Indian football?
I was horrified when I learnt that football matches have been cancelled in India because the ground had been rented out for marriage parties. Indian football needs an identity. Everyone here keeps saying that the youth don't have homegrown footballing heroes to look up to. But you tell me where will the heroes come from? From what I gather, there are no youth academies anywhere in the country. This is one area we (AIFF and DFL) are looking to improve through the MoU.
After this MoU, do you think we can see a German club team coming to India?
Why not? The Bayern Munich youth team has already come here and quite enjoyed the experience. I can't see any reason why we can't have more such visits. We might even have exchange programmes between German and Indian clubs in the near future…. Both AIFF and DFL have to keep working together, and there will be results. Fingers crossed.
What is the major difference between players of your time and now?
Back then, the players were dedicated to the club's cause. Players now are akin to soldiers who go to any army they can.
Finally, who is your pick for this season’s Champions League?
Though I would love Bayern to win, Barca and Chelsea look the safest bets. Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United can also do well.