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Lothar Matthäus: Maradona, Beckenbauer and the Premier League

To help celebrate the launch of the new Bundesliga season, Matthäus headed to Singapore for a promotional tour, and FourFourTwo were lucky enough to have an extended one-on-one interview with him.

Read on to discover the story behind one of the most decorated players in football history…

Born in the southeast German town of Erlangen in Bavaria on March 21, 1961, Lothar Matthäus fell in love with football at an early age and quickly became a huge fan of club side Borussia Mönchengladbach.

His walls were covered with posters of Mönchengladbach greats like two-time German footballer of the year Gunter Netzer and World and European Cup-winner Jupp Heynckes and he dreamed of one day pulling on the shirt of the team known as ‘The Foals’.

At just 18, Matthäus realised that dream by signing his first professional contract with Mönchengladbach, and it didn’t take long for his talent to shine. Within two years, he was captaining the club.

He spent five seasons with the Foals before shifting to German giants Bayern Munich. By this stage Matthäus had already represented his nation at a World Cup, picked in the squad for Spain 1982 at just 21 years of age.

“I was the fifth tyre on the car,” Matthäus says self-deprecatingly before letting out a hearty laugh. “I was an outsider. I wasn’t with Bayern Munich or Cologne or Hamburg, the big clubs, I was playing with Borussia Mönchengladbach and none of my colleagues were with me.

“In ’82 I played only two times – the last minute against Austria and against Chile – but it was a good experience.”

The Germans would lose the 1982 final to Italy 3-1, with Matthäus watching from the sidelines, but by the time the 1986 World Cup in Mexico rolled around he was a key cog in his country’s midfield.

Scoring the lone goal in the 87th minute to overcome Morocco in the round of 16, Matthäus converted a penalty in the shootout victory over Mexico the following round before the Germans overcame France 2-0 in the semi-finals.

That set up a date with Maradona’s Argentina and we asked Matthäus what it was like facing the South American magician.

“He was the best player I ever played against,” Matthäus declares. “I played against him many times … and many times I had to attack Maradona, one-on-one.

“In the '86 final, which was the ‘Maradona World Cup’, [German coach Franz] Beckenbauer was so afraid of him in the final. He said to me ‘Lothar, you have to attack Maradona. Only you can stop him’.

“I stopped him, but we had nothing in offence. We were just playing defence. Beckenbauer would say later this was a mistake. He was too afraid of Maradona and gave up the game.

“Maradona was a fantastic player. Like Lionel Messi today. Very fast, good dribbling, personality, good free kicks and high speed in the first 25 metres with the ball, not just without the ball, which is important.”

Four years later, with Matthäus now captaining his nation, the Germans had a fierce determination to go one better and end the 1990 World Cup holding the Jules Rimet Trophy.

It began with a 4-1 thrashing of the former Yugoslavia, Matthäus scoring twice, before a 5-1 victory over the United Arab Emirates and a 1-1 draw with Colombia was enough for the Germans to top their group.

They then overcame the Netherlands, the former Czechoslovakia – Matthäus with the winning penalty – and England to make another World Cup decider against Argentina.

An 85th-minute penalty from German defender Andreas Brehme would prove enough for them to claim their third crown and first since 1974. Matthäus takes us through the celebrations that followed.

“We only slept for about one hour in the hotel room after the game,” he recalls. “We had a lot of alcohol to celebrate that night!

“I remember I was together with Andreas Brehme in our room. In the morning somebody was knocking on the door and it was Franz Beckenbauer waking us up. He was only wearing shorts. He was saying ‘hey guys, you have to get up, we have to go’. There is Franz Beckenbauer waking you up, half naked!

“After the game it was so emotional. Everybody wanted a photograph, there were all the journalists, you want to celebrate with your colleagues, everybody was patting you on the back and hugging you.

“You pick up the Cup and get your medal and it’s all crazy. You go to the dressing room and there is the Chancellor of Germany Helmut Kohl.

“We went to the airport in Rome and flew back to Frankfurt where there were six- or seven-hundred-thousand people on the street as we went to the main square in Frankfurt to celebrate with our fans. It was beautiful. Everybody had the German flag in their hand.

“It wasn’t really until we all went home that we realised what we’d been doing the last eight weeks and what we’d achieved.”

Matthäus would ultimately represent Germany in a record five World Cups and remains his country’s most capped player, with 150 appearances in a remarkable span from 1980 to 2000.

He also had incredible success at club level, boasting no less than seven Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich, a Serie A crown with Inter Milan and UEFA Cup triumphs with both. Yet it wasn’t quite all a series of champagne showers and victory podiums for the central midfielder.

One of his most famous games ended in defeat, the 1999 Champions League final, when his Bayern outfit took on Manchester United at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

In front of 90,245 fans, the Germans led from Mario Basler’s sixth-minute free kick right up until the 91st minute, when lightning would strike twice.

First Teddy Sheringham bundled in a loose ball following a David Beckham corner in the first minute of stoppage time. Then, 30 seconds after the re-start, United earned another corner and this time it was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer poking the ball home from a Sheringham header.

Matthäus, who had been substituted late in the game, could only watch in horror as the trophy slid from his grasp. It remains the only major honour to elude the now-54-year-old.

But unsurprisingly for a man with a record matched by few in the history of the sport, it’s not a moment he spends too long dwelling over.

“No, I’m happy generally with what happened in my past,” he states as FFT attempts to offer him one of those hard-to-argue smiles and nods.

“I played 21 years as a professional footballer and I won a lot. Who can say they spent 21 years as a professional player? Not many. So I have to thank God for everything, the good things and the bad, because you learn more from the bad things, bad results, injuries and operations.

“This is all part of football.”

In the lead-up to our chat, we also asked fans to pose some questions using the hashtag #AskLothar. Here is the pick of the bunch. Did your question get asked?

Kanye (@_villasssmil) asks: What was your favourite moment while playing with Bayern?

The best memories of course are the victories and the titles. I remember in particular the 1985-86 season, we were second the whole year and then on the final day we were competing with Werder Bremen. They had to lose in Stuttgart and we had to win at home against Mönchengladbach. They did lose at Stuttgart and we won at home and everybody was so emotional in the Olympic Stadium. It was sold out, 65,000 people, and after the game all the fans were coming onto the pitch and we had a big party. Nobody believed we could win the title because all season we were never in first. Only on the last game day, and it was an emotional championship.

NormanJ (@normanjalal) asks: Who is the best player in the current German national team?

For me it was Philipp Lahm, but he finished up after the last World Cup. Marco Reus from Borussia Dortmund is an excellent player. Also Manuel Neuer. He’s the best goalkeeper in the world and he has a new style. He plays like a sweeper and with him we have a guarantee to stop the other teams’ offence. Toni Kroos has made a step up and is a key player for the future and we have a lot of young talent. What we’re missing at the moment is a No.9. Germany has generally played with a No.9 like Uwe Seeler, Gert Mueller, Rudi Voeller, Karl Heinz-Rummenigge, Miroslav Klose. But we don’t have a player like that at this moment and we need to find one.

Hogni Atwood (@HogniSkoradal) asks: Who is the best player you ever played with?

The best player was Andreas Brehme. His specialty was you wouldn’t know if he would score with his right foot or with his left. He could shoot with either foot. Normally he was a left defender, which means everybody thought he was left-footed, which he was. But the penalty in the 1990 World Cup Final he shot with his right foot. He wasn’t the fastest player, but he was very smart. I played with him in the national team, at Bayern Munich and at Inter Milan and we won titles together and had a great friendship. He was the best player I played with.

BoRuSsen (@borussen_proud) asks: ‬What do you think about BVB (Borussia Dortmund) fans, are they the best in the world?  ‬

I don’t know if they are the best fans in the world, but they have the best fans in Germany. I watched the game [on Saturday night] between Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach, my old club. I can see you are a Dortmund fan with your yellow shirt (Lothar points at FFT). He is a fan of Werder Bremen with his green shirt (Lothar gestures at our photographer). I’m a fan of 1860 Munich in the second division who are blue and white (gestures toward his own shirt). No, I like Dortmund’s style and when you go to the stadium, behind one goal everyone is in yellow and it’s called the ‘Yellow Wall’. It has 28,000 people standing there. It’s amazing. They’re not coming five minutes before the game, they are there one-and-a-half hours before the game. The stadium is always sold out. It’s a religion for them, from the grandfather to the father to the son. If you are one-time yellow, you are forever yellow. It’s a special atmosphere.

Phil Ramsay (@IAmPhilRamsay) asks: Why did you never play in the Premier League?

In my time the Premier League wasn’t the same as now. When the Premier League started, I was too old for them. My friend Didi Hamman, I played with him at Bayern Munich and then he went to Liverpool and he’s still living there. He speaks with the Liverpool accent! He’s 12 or 13 years younger than me, which was the time to go to England for German players. I never had an offer from the Premier League. I had a lot of offers from some big clubs in Italy and Spain, but never from England.

Finally, we wanted to show Lothar a bit of a blast from the past – a video of a film clip made by the German team with the Village People ahead of the 1994 World Cup. We filmed his reaction and you can also see the original below.

The original film clip:

So that's it. Thank you to Lothar and everyone from the Bundesliga.

Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo