Rudi Voller: One-on-One

Legendary German striker and manager Rudi Voller answers FourFourTwo readers' questions in August 2007 – including one about the infamous spitting incident with Frank Rijkaard.

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Mention the name Rudi Voller to most football fans outside Germany and the first memory that invariably springs to mind is that infamous 'spat' with Holland's Frank Rijkaard during Italia 90. Ask any German fan, though, and they'll tell you that Aunt Käthe, as he is known back home, is about far more than unusual hair products.

Not only has the former striker scored bucketloads in the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1, but he also won the Champions League with Marseille in 1993 and the World Cup with Germany in 1990, scoring 47 goals in 90 international games. Yet arguably his greatest achievement was as coach of the national team when he led an entirely forgettable team to the 2002 World Cup Final.

Along the way, he's had more than his fair share of brushes with Team England. As a player, he helped knock the Three Lions out of the 1990 World Cup after that dramatic semi-final. As manager, he masterminded that victory during that last ever game at Wembley, which resulted in Kevin Keegan's resignation as England coach. But don't hold that against him, for he was also at the helm when David Beckham, Michael Owen & Co. pounded the Germans 5-1 in Munich a year later.

When FourFourTwo catches up with the silver-haired legend, he's on a train hurtling towards Dresden where he plans to give a bunch of school kids a free coaching session. Charm personified, there's a little twinkle in Voller's eye as he responds to each and every one of your questions. Yes, even that one about Rijkaard...

Who were your football heroes when you were growing up?
Joel Griffiths, Burnley
Every kid wants to score a lot of goals, and when I was young, Gerd Muller was the big idol. He broke all the scoring records in the late '60s and early '70s, and was a top-notch player. Me and my friends all wanted to play like him.

Gerd Muller during the World Cup in Mexico (if you couldn't guess)

You were only six years old when England beat West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final? Do you remember the game at all – or West Germany's revenge in Mexico four years later?
Alun Gordon, via email
I remember the 1966 Final, watching it on a black and white television. But I was too young to be totally caught up in the excitement about the match. Four years later, I was able to share the excitement over the dramatic events and I was very happy that we were able to turn the tables.

Just how popular was Kevin Keegan in West Germany in the late '70s?
Kevin Lloyd, Nottingham
Kevin Keegan was an absolute world-class player who also had the aura of a superstar – like David Beckham today, but on another level, of course. For us in the Bundesliga it was sensational that he came to play for Hamburg.

I was fortunate to play against him in my early years as a professional. I was playing in the Second Division for Kickers Offenbach, around 1978 or 1979, and in the round of the last 16 of the DFB-Pokal [the German Cup], we beat HSV 2-0 at home. So we beat the great HSV and Kevin Keegan on that day. For me it was a big thing; a great experience to see him on the pitch and to play against him. Unfortunately, many years later, I was the coach who was involved in his last day as England's national coach. So I was kind of accessory to the fact that Kevin resigned after we won 1-0 at Wembley.

Why on Earth is your nickname Tante Käthe (Aunt Käthe)?
John Osborne, via email
This is an invention of the German tabloids. During the Worl�d Cup in 1990, Thomas Berthold was my room-mate. We both come from the same region around Frankfurt. There you use the term 'Käthe' for old ladies with grey hair, and as my hair began to turn grey when I was very young, Berthold gave me the name and the newspapers picked it up on it. But I don't have a problem with it, because I prefer to be grey than bald!

How did it feel to come on as a substitute in the 1986 World Cup Final and score the equaliser against Argentina? You must have thought you were going to win after that. If you could play that game again, what would you do differently?
Danny Reid, via email
First of all, in 1986 we were very lucky to get to the final. Our team was not as good as the one four years later when we became world champions in Italy – so in '86 we lost to a much better team. But you're right: after the 2-2 equaliser [Germany were 2-0 down], we came very close to winning that game – but we made one big mistake: we wanted to win the match in the regular 90 minutes, because there were still 10 minutes to play after my goal. The Argentinians were groggy, close to a knockout and we wanted to take advantage of that situation, but we risked too much. I think that we would have beaten them if the match had gone into extra-time, because they were tired and we were in a better shape. Of course, the South Americans were technically way better than us and thanks to a marvellous pass by Maradona, Burruchaga scored the decisive goal and they deservedly won 3-2.

You played for Roma during a 'golden era' in Serie A. What was it like to be a part of that?
Benj Stallard, via email
It was a great time. Nowadays you have the Premier League and La Liga, and along with the Serie A they form the three big leagues in Europe. In those days you only had Italy. England was far away and Spain fell behind. All the players who wanted to achieve something, to make it big and to play in the best league of the world, came to Italy. Serie A was absolutely top-notch. Meanwhile, other leagues have caught up or in the case of the English Premier League, even got ahead.

Even now, can you believe you were sent off against Holland at Italia 90? What did you say to the referee? What did Frank Rijkaard say to you on the night? And how long did it take him to apologise?
Andy Stubbs, Liverpool
Of course it wasn't nice what Frank Rijkaard did, but the match should have continued for me. I still can't understand why the ref sent me off, and I guess he will take it to his grave. He wanted to make an example of both of us so that the situation would calm down – which did work. There was some venom before between other players, but you know, it's always problematic between Germany and Holland. Frank apologised a few months later.

Is it true that you and Rijkaard did an advert together a few years later? Didn't you still bear a grudge against him? Or was the money too good to turn down?
Scott Vaughan, Manchester
No, I can respond honestly that it wasn't the money. One or two years later, a Dutch butter company came up with the idea of a public reconciliation under the slogan 'Everything In Butter Again', which is a German proverb meaning that everything is OK again. The fee was donated by both of us to charity, otherwise I wouldn't have joined in.

What issues in football today do you feel most urgently need addressing?
Marc Hudson, Pontefract
The closeness between the fans and the professional players is a very important thing. That's why I like the 'Feel Football' campaign so much – it creates a dialogue between the two parties. A lot of p�eople are concerned about improving things in professional football, but their suggestions are not always helpful. We should think critically about the game and introduce some changes, because in the end it is the fans that go to the stadiums and sit in front of the TV. If they have good ideas, why not try to make them happen?

How much of an advantage was it for you to play the 1990 World Cup Final in the Stadio Olimpico, your home ground for Roma? Were you less nervous than your team-mates? Was the crowd behind you (and against Maradona)?
Paolo King, North London
For me it was like a dream coming true. It was my third year in Rome and I played the World Cup final in 'my' stadium. But most important was the fact that we had the total support of the people; it was almost a home game for us. It certainly helped that we had to play against Argentina, who had eliminated the host Italy in the semis. If our opponent in the final had been Italy, it would have been more complicated. So we had a lot of self-confidence, because we knew Argentina wasn't as strong as they were in Mexico '86. Our toughest opponent in that tournament had actually been England in the semi-final. This match was totally even and the English could have won it.

Why didn't you take a penalty in the shoot-out against England in 1990?
Jimmy The Kidd, via email
Because I was already substituted! I got injured in the first half, and had to leave the pitch after 30 minutes. It was a calf injury, which nearly destroyed my dream of playing the final because I wasn't able to train. But I gritted my teeth and played. Of course, I would have taken a penalty against England as I was one of the five designated shooters. But maybe it was good that I didn't, or we could have lost! [Laughs]

Have you ever played in a worse football match than the 1990 World Cup Final? Did the Argentines' behaviour detract at all from your night of glory?
Rosco Lee, Woking
The big finals, the World Cup and Champions League, are often poor quality. The 1990 Final was not a beautiful match. We did everything we could to play offensively, but Argentina knew that their only chance was to get to the penalty shootout. They almost made it to overtime, but our goal came a few minutes before the end. When you get to a World Cup final, it doesn't matter if the match is good or bad: the main thing is that you hold the trophy in your hands after the match. Plus, you don't get praised only for your performance in the final, but for your performance during the whole tournament. And we played a great tournament.

Your team-mate Jurgen Klinsmann was famous for diving (in England, at least), but it was you who won the decisive penalty in the 1990 World Cup Final. Replays suggest you fell easily. Did you?
Rob Hughes, Leicester
I usually get out of it by saying that you have referees that would have awarded it and referees that wouldn't. He awarded it, but he didn't have to. But I think he blew the whistle because there were two or three situations earlier where he decided wrongfully against us. But honestly, if he hadn't awarded the penalty, there wouldn't had been many complaints from our side.

Your last ever game amounted to a relegation play-off between your team, Leverkusen, and Kaiserslautern, the team of your pal and fellow World Cup winner Andreas Brehme. After the game, you put your arms around a crying Brehme. What did you tell him?
Alex Palmer, via email
I felt sorry for him and consoled him, but I'll be honest with you: rather him than me. That's how this business works. It was clear that one of us would be relegated following this decisive match, and of course I preferred the victory to belong to my club. Andreas Brehme is a good friend of mine, but that's football.

Did you ever have the opportunity to play in England? Would you have taken it?
Toni Johnstone, via email
These days the Premier League would be very attractive, but while I was in my prime, playing in England was never an issue because Italy was the place to be. That's why great British players like Ian Rush went there as well.

You and Klinsmann had a fantastic strike partnership – what was your secret?
Kirk Howells, Lincoln
We were totally different in every respect – privately and on the pitch. I was more of a dribbling type of striker, moving to the sides, searching for one-on-one situations. Jurgen's place was directly in front of goal, and he was also a very good header of the ball. We got along perfectly, even though we were very different as players.

Do you think you were under-rated outside Germany? After all, not many players win 90 caps, score a goal every two games, and play in six consecutive major tournaments...
Wayne Hawkins, Birmingham
Not at all. I was far too successful in both Rome and Marseille to think that.

Who was the best player you ever played against? Why?
Sara Shepherd, via email
Diego Maradona was the best by far. He may have a lot of problems these days, but for me he is the greatest player of all time.

Is it true that you only became the Germany coach because you happened to attend the famous emergency meeting in July 2000, in the course of which the president of the German FA suddenly said, "Why don't you do it, Rudi?"
Sean Gilligan, via email
That's a phrase which is often used in the press, but it's not quite true. The fact is that actually Christoph Daum should have taken the job, but at that time he was still the Bayer Leverkusen coach, where I was sports director. He couldn't take the job as national coach straightaway, because he still had a one year contract with Leverkusen. I knew Daum's methods of coaching so it was logical that I would bridge the gap. This would have been the conclusion of the German FA even if I had not been at the meeting. Of course, everything went differently than planned.

How did it feel to win the final game at the old Wembley?
Paul Gallagher, Glasgow
For me as a coach, it was nice to win the last match in that stadium with its great tradition, but it was more important in terms of Germany qualifying for the 2002 World Cup – an away victory against the hardest rival in the group was great.

For England fans, the 5-1 win in Munich was one of the greatest nights ever. What was going through your mind as you watched goal after goal go in? Were England that much better than Germany?
Frankie Foster, via e-mail
If you lose 1-5 at home, you can't have many excuses. We started very well and were 1-0 in front, then perhaps we took things too lightly. England made incredible use of their chances. They had about seven shots on goal and scored five times. For them it was something like a miracle. There were times throughout the match where we got closer, but whenever we pushed harder, they scored another one. We suffered from their ferocious counter-attacks. But it was a great performance by England, there's no doubt about it. If you consider the whole 90 minutes, the score may be a few goals too high, but that's football.

After losing 5-1 to England, how on earth did you get your team to the World Cup final? What is it about German players that makes them so successful?
Simon Fitzgerald, Norwich
Our secret, as it always is for the German team, was to be incredibly fi�t and well-organised. It was also important for us that we finished second in the group behind England. We had to have a play-off against Ukraine and those two matches definitely brought us together as a unit; we emerged stronger and went to the World Cup with a great team spirit. We did not always play marvellous football in Japan and South Korea, but we had an incredible goalkeeper in Oliver Kahn, who kept five clean sheets out of seven, and Michael Ballack, who always scored at the right time.

Would Michael Ballack make an all-time German XI?
Graeme Keates, Dublin
Yes, he is definitely worthy of it.

Had you been on home soil, do you think you would have won the 2002 World Cup?
Pete Franks, Luton
No, I don't think you could say that. We were the underdogs against Brazil, and normally it's preferable going into a match as the underdog. At 0-0, we had a few good chances and could have taken the lead and possibly gone on to have won it! But you know how it is in football: they were the team that played the best football during the whole World Cup and finally they deserved the title.

A German friend of mine told me that you attacked a TV presenter during your time as German coach. Surely not?
Jason Elliott, via email
Yes, I had a little 'discussion' with the presenter. But my issue was not really with the guy who sat with me doing the interview after the match. The problem was a live-feed to another so-called expert who made some pretty negative remarks about my team. It was my obligation to protect my team and that's why I used aggressive language in order to make put some things clear. Actually, my reaction won over the hearts of many fans.

You remained popular, even when Germany were playing badly under your management, yet Berti Vogts received criticism throughout his tenure. Why?
Ray Tomkinson, Blackpool
That's a good question which has often been asked in Germany. Berti Vogts is, technically speaking, a very good coach with great in-depth knowledge – but unfortunately, he never got the love from the fans in the way that Jurgen Klinsmann and I did. It's very sad that he never achieved this closeness with the fans during his term, because he is a wonderful coach.

They say you should never go back. Did your heart rule your head when you went back to coach Roma briefly in 2004? What kind of situation did you walk into?
Trevor O'Neill via email
Exactly. That was a big mistake of mine. I had just resigned as national coach after Euro 2004 and actually wanted to take a break from the game for six months to a year. AS Roma and Bayer Leverkusen were the only two clubs in the world I would have accepted job offers from at that time, so when I received a call from Rome it was a straight 'heart' decision. In hindsight, it was not a good idea.

Why do so few Germans come to England to play or manage? Would you take a coaching job in England?
Grace Farr, via email
The Premier League has emerged as a world-class league in the past few years. It has some of the world's best players, and English clubs pay the most on the whole. Why do we not have a German coach over there? I don't know, it might still happen. I already have a job as Leverkusen's sports director and I enjoy my work so that question isn't relevant to me.

Interview: David Lidon. From the August 2007 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe for a One-on-One interview every month, plus plenty more