Continuing with our series on the greatest footballers of all time, here’s No. 8 on our list.
No. 8 – Lothar Matthäus
Very few players get the honor of being called legends in their own time. Hakan Sukur, Oliver Kahn and Paul Gascoigne were all greats whose names slip off the tongue quite easily in this respect. But how many count Lothar Matthaus in that league is a completely different story. Similar to the Englishman Gazza, Matthäus was a midfielder for most of his career, and has the maximum number of caps for Germany. And yet, his decisions at pivotal junctures led to such severe backlashes that they caused his laurels to lose some of their sheen in the eyes of his contemporary followers.
Born in Bavaria in 1961, Matthäus’s youth campaign started with FC Herzogenaurach. He spent a total of 8 years at the club before making a switch to a professional side in the Bundesliga. At Borussia Monchengladbach, he scored 36 goals till 1984, when he switched to Bayern Munich. There, he won the Bundesliga twice and almost took home the Champions League before Porto decided to plan a smash-and-grab. Leading 1-0, Bayern seemingly went to sleep and Porto quickly snuck in two, which were enough to topple the Germans. A similar incident occurred in the year of 1999, when, after having rejoined Bayern, Matthäus decided to take himself off in the dying minutes. Bayern had been leading for most of the game, but as it turned out, the honor of a Champions League medal eluded him even then, as United struck two swift blows to knock the Germans out once again. Matthäus never won a Champions League medal.
In 1988, Matthaus shifted to the Italian League, Seria A, to join Inter Milan. Accompanied by former Munich player Andreas Brehme, he won the Scudetto in 1989 along with the Italian Supercup. His streak continued with the UEFA Cup in 1991 and he also added the FIFA World Player of the Year to his kitty. He then did an unsurprising U-turn, and headed back to Bayern Munich, further proving that it is easy to take a German out of Germany, but impossible to take Germany out of a German.
At Munich, he won the Bundesliga four times in addition to another UEFA Cup. Having scored a total of 161 goals in over 550 appearances, he decided to venture further into the west, by signing a contract with the MLS side, Metrostars. He spent a year at the American side, but didn’t score even once. Wisely, he decided to call it a day and hang his boots up, one final time.
The biggest laurel in this part of his story is obviously the hard-fought FIFA World Cup Final victory in 1990. Having lost twice to Argentina in two earlier finals, the Germans finally came through after teammate Brehme scored the winner. Germany proved to be one of the few attacking teams in the competition and Matthäus scored 4 goals by himself. He had managed to find a spot in the squad sheet by 1986, and was a regular till 1994, when a tiff with Jurgen Klinsmann and the German coach saw him miss out on that year’s Euro championships.
An injury had sidelined him at the 1992 Euro but he may as well have counted his blessings as the Germans were bundled out right at the end by a surprisingly stronger Denmark. He was brought on in the World Cup of 1998 in France as a substitute, in the process becoming only the second player to have ever featured in five different World Cup competitions. Add to that a position in top FIFA 100, along with his 150 caps for Germany, and you have a talented, consistent and persistent performer.
From 2001 to 2011, Matthäus managed 7 footballing outfits, including the national squads of Hungary and Bulgaria. He started off with Rapid Vienna, but that stint came to a premature end in under 10 months. He then moved to Partizan Belgrade, where he started off with a title win and automatically found a place in the fans’ cheers. But in December 2003, he put his papers in, citing personal reasons. A deal with the Hungarian national squad was already in the works and he found his way to the first national side. Hungary, trying to find its glory days of the past, tasked Matthäus with qualification for the 2006 World Cup. Given the state of affairs, that wasn’t really a possibility, and Matthäus parted ways once again, but not before criticizing the national body for its attitude towards the side.
A surprise move to Atlético Paranaense followed and that was rounded off by an even more surprising resignation just 7 matches in. Matthaus wanted out and stated his need to be closer to home. Along the way came Red Bull Salzburg, from where he was asked to leave, and Maccabi Netanya, an Israeli side, where financial constraints forced the German to pack his bags.
His last outing as a coach was with the Bulgarian international team, whose miserable attempt to qualify for the Euro 2012 prevented Matthäus’s contract from being extended. He supplemented his bank account with outings as a football pundit on various shows including Eurosport, a show on Al Jazeera and as a columnist for the German publication, Sports Bild.
Perhaps the thing that best describes Matthäus’s greatness is the fact that Diego Maradona alluded to him as the “best rival he’d ever had”. Indeed, Matthäus, with his incredible bag of tricks, at the forefront of which were his lightning-quick tackling, his adept passing and his tremendous shots, was a sight to behold in his prime. His long list of accomplishments did not come by accident - Matthäus was every bit as skillful as his records suggest.
And yet, for a change, here was a German whose exploits on the field weren’t corroborated by his persona off it. His vocal tirades against the admiration he received that was supposedly disproportionate to his status as a national hero left quite a bad taste in the mouth. He also frequently complained about German clubs refusing to consider him a managerial candidate because of his attachment to Bayern.
Matthäus was a fine footballer who lost his way towards the fag end of his career and is now suffering the backlash of his own words towards his previous employers/fans. His marriage, countless remarriages and frequent outbursts didn’t go down well with the average German fan. He is, in many ways, the perfect example of what to do on the field and what to avoid off it. But ironically, these flaws are exactly what make him an even greater persona – Lothar Matthäus showed that he was just as human as the rest of us, and yet was capable of superhuman feats on the football field.
And now, here is a video clip of some of the finest goals struck by Matthäus. Have a look!
These are the other players who have made it so far:
No. 20 – David Beckham; No. 19 – Oliver Kahn; No. 18 – Jurgen Klinsmann; No. 17 – Luis Figo; No. 16 – Romario; No. 15 – Marco van Basten; No. 14 – Eusebio; No. 13 – Lionel Messi; No. 12 – Zico; No. 11 – Paolo Maldini; No. 10 – Michel Platini; No. 9 – Puskas
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: