When it comes to football and more specifically the World Cup, the English and Germans don't see eye to eye on too many things. Manchester United's Alex Ferguson and Paul Breitner being on the same page could thus be because the manager of the English giants is Scottish!
Here with the Bayern Munich veterans, Breitner, a World Cup and European championships winner and one of the four to have scored in the final of two World Cups (1974 and 1982), spoke to HT on Wednesday.
Q: Recently, Ferguson compared watching the last World Cup to visiting a dentist and said that since 1986, there hasn't been a finals worth watching. Do you agree?
A: He is right. Maybe, just as you don't compare cars and the technology available in the 70s and the 80s, you shouldn't compare football of then and now. But 1986 was indeed the last of the good World Cups and it was a better in the 60s, 70s and 80s then it has been in the last 10-15 years.
A: Expanding from 24 to 32 teams (France, 1998) wasn't for the better. The European championship has 16 teams and to that I would just add Brazil and Argentina for a perfect World Cup finals. By getting more teams, we have changed the World Cup into something like the Olympics where it is important to participate, not necessarily be at a good level.
Q: Does that mean club football's better?
A: I think the word 'club' has undergone a total change from my time. Then, clubs picked players from a region. In Bayern's case it would be Bavaria and Germany. The change now is a reflection of the change in European societies. So, Inter Milan win the Champions League without an Italian and often, Arsenal start without an English player. I think instead of clubs, we now have international groups of players.
Q: And do these 'international groups of players' play better than national teams? And that, in terms of quality, the European Champions League is better than the World Cup?
A: I think our Champions League is the biggest football tournament in the world. Clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, the English Big 4 (United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool) do play better than the national teams of those countries. The situation's changed. National teams don't dominate international football anymore, clubs do.
Q: Is that a good thing?
A: Well, that's how it is and, yes, I think it is good. Like I said earlier, life in the European society has changed completely and what's happening in football is a reflection of that. In 1995, you could hire only two foreign players, now, you can get them from everywhere.
Q: Staying on the topic of societal changes being reflected in football, how do you react to the current German national team having so many players whose parents were born in other countries?
A: I am really happy with this development because it is a reflection of how the German society has changed over the past 10-15 years. Our horizons have broadened. We don't think of just Bavaria or Germany anymore.
Also, now more than ever, football's become part of show business. Players have become entertainers and in a country like ours, where 40 to 50 million in a population of around 80 million are thinking of football every day, it is important that they get the best quality of entertainment available.
Q: Brazil 1970, West Germany 1974, Spain 2010 or the current Barcelona team, which would you rate as the best team ever?
A: Each team is good in its era but for me, the best-ever team for me was the West German team that won the European Championships in 1972. That team could win anyway it wanted. 'Let's make one goal', they would say, and win 1-0; 'let's make three goals or five goals' and that's how it would usually be. There were no real opponents of that team and I am fortunate to have been a part of them.
Q: As someone who has excelled at football's highest level, isn't it difficult to motivate yourself to play veterans' football?
A: It would have been if we had to play more than 10 games in a year. Now, it is a reason to stay fit and that's not a bad thing. Sometimes people expect you to reproduce the things you did at your peak. It's difficult to do that but we can still show that we haven't forgotten to play. What also motivates us is that this All Star team contributes to a foundation for differently-abled children run by Bayern.
Q: Do you still have pronounced Left leanings like you did as a player?
A: That was 40 years ago. And isn't it usual for someone to change in that time? We change from the time we are born, don't we? And I don't like people who say they haven't changed in 10-20 years. You learn as you change.