Lothar Matthäus: Maradona, Beckenbauer and the Premier League

Question: What do a half-naked Franz Beckenbauer, Diego Maradona in full flight and the classic 1999 Champions League final all have in common? Answer: German football legend Lothar Matthäus...

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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.”