Football: Exclusive interview with World Cup winner Lothar Matthaeus-‘Xavi is Barcelona’s best player’


Matthaeus (right) is welcomed by Mr St Ange

The 48-year-old, who has coached Rapid Vienna, Partizan Belgrad, Atletico Paranaense, Red Bull Salzburg, Maccabi Netanya and the Hungarian national team – and is already being linked with Maccabi Tel Aviv and the Macedonian national team – arrived here on Saturday afternoon. He was met by Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) director for tourism marketing Alain St Ange and copywriter and tourism consultant Glynn Burridge.

Renowned for his perceptive passing, positional sense and well-timed tackling, as well as his explosive shot, Matthaeus played as an attacking midfielder or defensive midfielder, although later in his career as a sweeper.

In 1990, he was named European Footballer of the Year and World Soccer Player of the Year after captaining West Germany (now Germany after the reunification of the two Germanys) to victory in the 1990 World Cup. One year later, he was also named the first ever Fifa World Player of the Year.

He has played in five World Cups – 1982 in Spain, when he was a losing finalist; 1986 in Mexico, losing finalist; 1990 in Italy, winner as captain; 1994 in the USA, quarterfinalist; and 1998 in France, quarterfinalist – more than any other outfield player, and holds the record for the most World Cup matches played (25). He also won Euro 80 and played in Euro 84, Euro 88 and Euro 2000.

Only Mexican great, goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal, has also taken part in five consecutive World Cups – between 1950 and 1966.
In 1999, Matthaeus, who has won the German Bundesliga and the German Cup with Bayern Munich, and the Italian Scudetto with Inter Milan, was again voted German Footballer of the Year. He is the most capped German player of all time, retiring with a total of 150 appearances (83 of them when the team were called West Germany) and 23 goals for the German national team.

Matthaeus is a member of the Fifa 100 – a list of 125 of the greatest living football players chosen by Pelé.
Maradona said about Matthaeus “he is the best rival I've ever had. I guess that's enough to define him” in his book Yo Soy el Diego (I am the Diego).

The only major honour to have eluded Matthaeus in all competitions in which he has played is the Uefa Champions League.
Sports Nation caught up with the midfield maestro, whose visit here is being organised by the STB.

Sports Nation: What is your first impression of Seychelles?

Lothar Matthaeus: As the plane prepared to land, I saw a green island. It immediately World Cup winner Matthaeusbrought a smile to my face. I’ve been travelling a lot lately. I’ve been to Mauritius and Maldives, but not Seychelles. This is my first time here. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Seychelles and I agree they are beautiful islands.

Sports Nation: You are now a coach and without a club…

Lothar Matthaeus: My last coaching job was in Israel (his contract with Maccabi Netanya was cancelled last month). I’m waiting for a phone call from my agent to work for a new club. Nothing’s certain for now and I need to decide the best offer.

Sports Nation: You were yourself a star player in your heyday. Who do you think is the best player in the world right now?

Lothar Matthaeus: I was in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome (Italy) to watch the Uefa Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United. Many people talked about either Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi being the best. The fact that Barcelona became the first Spanish team to win three titles – La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League – in the same season means the world’s best player must come from this team. Messi is a good player who can make the difference in a tight match.

But for me, players like (Andrés) Iniesta and Xavi (Hernandez) are more important to the team. They don’t score a lot of goals, but they create them. They are pass masters and bring the rhythm to the game. They are, for me, as important as a player who scores in every match.

Therefore, it’s difficult to choose the best player in the world. For me, the most important player in the Barcelona team is Xavi. I like the team’s playing style.

Sports Nation: Do you agree that the Manchester United/Barcelona final was one of the best?

Lothar Matthaeus: No! For me, it wasn’t a good final. Barcelona controlled the game entirely after scoring the first goal in the 10th minute. Manchester United did nothing.

There have been more interesting and dramatic finals in the competition. In 1999, Manchester United scored twice in the dying minutes to beat us (Bayern Munich) and in 2005, Liverpool trailed 3-0 at half-time and made a remarkable comeback to equalise at 3-3 in the second period before winning the cup on penalties. These are finals football fans will remember for many years. Not the Manchester United/Barcelona final.

Sports Nation: What went wrong with Bayern Munich this season that they failed to win the Bundesliga title?

Lothar Matthaeus: It’s the same for Chelsea and Real Madrid. It’s too easy when at the start of every season people think that Bayern Munich will win the Bundesliga. This is also true for Manchester United.

This season, I think that the relationship between coach Jürgen Klinsmann and the players wasn’t good. It was Klinsmann’s first job as a club coach. It’s different from being a national team coach – a job he held at the World Cup 2006. You have to speak to the players every day, motivate and work closely with them.

After Klinsmann was fired with five matches left to play, the new coach garnered 13 points. If they had performed like this earlier in the season, they would have won the Bundesliga with a 15-point difference. But I think it wasn’t a good idea to sack Klinsmann.

Bayern Munch are a special club even though they have been inconsistent recently. A number of Germany’s great players like Franz Beckenbauer, Gerhard ‘Gerd’ Müller, Meier, Klaus Augenthaler, Oliver Kahn, Mehmet Scholl, Stefan Effenberg and myself have played for the team.

Sports Nation: Who are your favourites to win the 2010 World Cup in South Africa?

Lothar Matthaeus: An African team have a good chance of winning the World Cup. There are some very good African players around. I was in Accra (Ghana) last year to watch the African Nations Cup and I saw Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana in action. If they qualify for the World Cup, they will have an equal chance as any European or South American team to make the final. Teams like Italy, Germany and Argentina cannot be counted out.

Sports Nation: Are you in favour of video in football refereeing?

Lothar Matthaeus: No. It’s going to be very complicated. Football lives with the motion – the players’ and the referees’ mistakes. If a player misses a penalty or sends a stray pass when his partner is in a good scoring position, there is a lot of discussion about it in newspapers, restaurants and changing rooms. But when you score, everything’s fine. This is football. Video will kill the game as there will be a lot of stoppages and it will also be difficult to decide when and where to stop the action.

Sports Nation: What about having two referees at the same time on the field?

Lothar Matthaeus: This could be a good idea. It will help pick out fouls and make good decisions just like in basketball.

G. G.

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