"We were willing to die on the field" – Lothar Matthäus on what it took to win Serie A during Italian football's golden age

Lothar Matthaus
(Image credit: Getty)

Today's Premier League fans like to think they're watching the beautiful game at its peak – the purest, most advanced form of football ever played. Money has certainly made the English top-flight an extremely entertaining division, yet those who witnessed Italian football during his late 80s and 90s heyday will dispute that claim. 

Some of the greatest footballers of all time were strutting their stuff on Italy's pitches during that golden era, from Diego Maradona, Roberto Baggio and George Weah to Paolo Maldini, Zinedine Zidane and Gabriel Batistuta.

Lothar Matthäus, widely considered one of the greatest midfield players ever, won a Scudetto, the UEFA Cup and the Ballon d'or during his time there as an Inter Milan player between 1988 and 1992 - not to mention a World Cup with West Germany at Italia 90. And now the imperious Bavarian confirms just how high the standard in Italy was during that era during a chat for the March edition of FourFourTwo

"It was an amazing time," Matthäus remembers of Serie A's pomp. "Italian football was probably at its peak, with some magnificent players: Diego Maradona, Ruud Gullit, Roberto Baggio, Marco van Basten… and that was just our rivals! Every weekend was a battle, and at Inter we were willing to die on the field for one another.

Matthäus played in Italy during a time in which only three foreign players could be registered for the nation's clubs at any one stage. Inter used their entire allotment on Germans, with Matthäus joined in Milan by striker Jürgen Klinsmann and defender Andreas Brehme. 

"To share that experience with my compatriots – two excellent players with huge mentalities – was a privilege," Matthäus tells FFT. "Off the pitch, our team-mates adopted us as three of their own – Italians who just happened to be from another nation.

"We all spent a lot of time together , at restaurants and at each other’s homes. We had that unity to thank for our on-pitch success. I value my Serie A and UEFA Cup medals extremely highly."

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Ed McCambridge
Staff Writer

Ed is a staff writer at FourFourTwo, working across the magazine and website. A German speaker, he’s been working as a football reporter in Berlin since 2015, predominantly covering the Bundesliga and Germany's national team. Favourite FFT features include an exclusive interview with Jude Bellingham following the youngster’s move to Borussia Dortmund in 2020, a history of the Berlin Derby since the fall of the Wall and a celebration of Kevin Keegan’s playing career.