Lothar Matthaus: 'People outside Germany took note of my talent at 1986 World Cup'
Lothar Matthaus and football share a special bond. The 57-year-old is one of the two to play the FIFA World Cup a record five times in his career.
While Mexican Rafael Marquez shares this record with him, Matthaus, however, is the only one to fight for the biggest prize in world football five times, reach the final twice and lift the beautiful Cup once in 1990.
Born in 1961 in northern Bavaria, Matthäus grew up in a Germany that is non-existent today. This was the time before the economic miracle could turn the country’s fortunes upside-down for good. His father would work in a local factory and young Matthäus would pass out of school as a qualified interior decorator.
In his early days, he would play for the youth team of FC Herzogenaurach, a club closer to home and eventually make his professional debut for Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1979, and then at the 1980 Euros make his national team debut against the Netherlands.
Though he was also a part of the West Germany team that reached the 1982 World Cup final, it wasn’t until four years later in at the Mexico World Cup that Matthäus became a household name in the world of the beautiful game.
At Mexico ’86, head coach Franz Beckenbauer had just one job assigned to a young Matthäus, to stop the phenomenon called Diego Maradona. Though the young man did a fine job, stopping a rampaging Maradona was next to impossible.
“Maradona in ’86 was different than in 1990. 1986 was his World Cup; 1990 he was not playing on his highest level,” said Matthäus recalling the best days of his career during the Bundesliga Legends Tour in Mumbai.
“Moreover, that was my second World Cup. In 1982, I was like the fifth wheel of a car, I was a bench player. But at ’86, I was a part of the starting XI. Moreover, I was happy that Franz Beckenbauer (German head coach at ’86 World Cup) had the trust and belief in me.
"I was one of the youngest in the team, and he would talk a lot with me. That gave me the confidence to do well. And I think I did well to repay the trust”
But according to Matthäus, it was the exposure that the ’86 World Cup gave that made it special for the German. Post the tournament, the midfielder was approached by a number of Italian clubs like Napoli, AC Milan and Inter.
But he admitted that he didn’t think he was ready for a move of that magnitude that early in his career. “I think it was at the 1986 World Cup that people outside Germany started taking note of me and my talent.
"I got a couple of calls from Italian clubs, but I didn't move because I was not ready to move out of Germany and improve myself back then. I didn't want to push myself.”