Breitner: Poland had the best team in 1974
© FIFA.com

FIFA.com: You were a very successful FIFA World Cup performer. How would you describe the FIFA World Cup experience and winning the tournament in 1974?
Paul Breitner:
In terms of my personal life, it made a great deal of difference, because the 1974 World Cup, the first tournament here in Germany, shaped the future course of my life. As a result of winning the World Cup, and especially because I scored a penalty in the Final, my life has definitely been different from how it would have been without the World Cup and if we hadn't won. I didn't take part in Argentina in 1978, so the 1982 competition in Spain was the World Cup which rounded off my career. I played for Real Madrid from 1974 to 1977, and the main reason I returned to the national squad was because the World Cup was in Spain. I'd spent three wonderful years there with my family. I also rediscovered a hunger for success - and we did at least make it as far as the Final.

Let's talk about Spain 1982 for a moment. How was that FIFA World Cup experience for you and what was it like in the Final? You went down to a relatively narrow defeat - how did it feel at the time?
In the 1982 Final, we suffered a resounding defeat; there was nothing narrow about it. We lost 3-1 to Italy, but I suppose it was on the cards. On Thursday night, we had to play France in the semi-final in Seville. It went to extra time and a penalty shoot-out, but we were determined to fly back to Madrid that night. As a result, we only arrived at our hotel at six the next morning and had our 'evening' meal on Friday at 6.30 a.m. So, the first chance we had to get a proper meal after the match was at 6.30 in the morning at the hotel. Thanks to a strike and some other problems, there had been nothing to eat or drink at the airport in Seville.

So there we were on Friday morning, eating our dinner, our supper from Thursday. We all knew we'd have no chance at all against Italy two days later unless we scored the first goal. Perhaps we'd be able to sit on our one-goal lead for the rest of the match by packing our defence. But otherwise, we knew we'd have no chance at all if the Italians scored the first goal. They'd comfortably come through their semi-final against Poland on Wednesday, they were well-rested and we were completely exhausted. So we went into the Final with realistic expectations, and then it turned out exactly the way we'd feared it would.

Like all previous World Cups, the German team started badly. That was how it was when we won the trophy in 1974, and that was how it was in 1978. It's always been that way for Germany at the World Cup. German teams always try to apply the brakes at the start of a tournament, and then improve from match to match. It's a conscious decision not to peak in the first round against teams we should normally beat anyway, but gradually to reach peak form for the second phase, the last 16, and then go as far as possible.

That's how we approached Spain in 1982. True to form, we lost 2-1 to Algeria, but then we beat Chile 4-1, and after that there was that infamous game against Austria in Gijon, although I'd prefer not to comment on that. If a game's over as a contest after 70 minutes, or both teams are happy with the result, then perhaps you're all bound to take it easy until the final whistle. But we made a basic and fundamental error: we started taking it easy just before half-time, and naturally that was a really bad mistake.

We were dogged by that error for the rest of the tournament. All the matches that followed were played under a cloud, which only really went away in Seville after we levelled things at 3-3 in extra time in our semi-final against France. It went to a penalty shoot-out and we won. We redeemed ourselves with that match, because we showed everyone what we were capable of. Our semi-final against France was probably one of the three or five best and most exciting games in the history of the World Cup, and it meant that we were rehabilitated. In terms of performance and ability, we were certainly no worse than the Italian team, but after the semis we were no longer capable of winning the Trophy.

So your defeat was mainly attributable to physical factors?
Yes, there were physical reasons. We were all too tired, all suffering from fatigue and we simply couldn't keep up with the Italians. After the Italians took the lead, we were never able to rouse ourselves again. We didn't have the strength to fight back and shift up a gear or two.

Can you remember anything particular about the Italian team? Would you single out any of the players or any area of the team? Were they a physical side?
No, they basically weren't a tough team. The Italian team weren't overly physical. You didn't see the concealed fouls that southern European teams often resorted to in decisive matches, the sort of game they were infamous for. No, they were a team that played tight football. The team was well-balanced and, like the Germany team or Bayern Munich, it was built around one player for many years, in this case Paolo Rossi.

He went from one brilliant display to another, and it probably isn't too much to say that the Italian team wouldn't have had a chance of reaching the semi-finals or even the quarter-finals without him. He made goals out of nothing just like Gerd Muller, and he was the single most important factor in the Italians' World Cup win. But it was a pretty good team in any case, a balanced team that played well, played good football. But there was nothing special about it, at least in this tournament. The only exception was Paolo Rossi.

Are you saying they were a team with only one truly outstanding player?
Yes, and the Italian team had a sense of togetherness, a team spirit you don't usually or normally find in a southern European team. Perhaps all the players realised they couldn't win unless everyone forgot about his own thing, forgot about putting himself in the spotlight and maintaining a high profile. Many of today's Spanish, Italian and Portuguese players still have a basic problem: they often simply don't care about the result. All they want to do is show the crowd and the TV viewers how they can outplay their marker three times per square metre. What they would really like to do is take the ball, thump it on to the stands, head off to the showers, and shout: "Did you see me? I'm the greatest!"

This Italian team was completely different. They all suppressed the urge or forgot about putting themselves in the spotlight, at least for the duration of the World Cup. The result was a team that functioned, thought, worked and played almost like a German team, setting aside personal considerations in favour of success as a team.

Who would you say was your hardest direct opponent at a FIFA World Cup finals?
You know, as long as I was in shape, I never really had any problems with other players throughout my career. I count myself as one of those players who didn't bother too much about his opposite number in the next match. I just wasn't interested in what was special about the other side. When I was still very young, a coach once said to me: "You know what: the more you concentrate on your opponent, the more you think about him, the less mental power you have left to concentrate on yourself."

Forget about it, it'll only hold you back. If you're in good shape, your opponent should be worrying about you, adapting himself to you. That applies to individual players and the whole team. And if you have a bad day, you have no chance anyway, and knowing too much just reduces that tiny chance further. It only gets in your way. When I played as a defender, I sometimes had opponents who were simply better than me on the day. In the last few years of my career, from 1974 in Madrid for example, when I was a midfielder, if the other coach put a player on the field specifically to mark me, a watchdog bent on destroying my game, I sometimes wasn't able to show that I was the better player and came off second best.

I can remember one game where I've always maintained we beat a team which was fundamentally better than us. In fact, it was definitely the best team in the competition and still didn't win the World Cup. I mean Poland in 1974. We beat Poland 1-0 in the semi-finals in Frankfurt. It was a very wet day and I'm certain we wouldn't have beaten the Poles if it hadn't been for the conditions. The Polish team was just as perfectly structured as our team in 1972, which was a team with a true symbiosis between artists, technical players, fighters, sloggers, youth, old hands and experience. It was a perfectly harmonious blend that produced simply fantastic football.

In 1974, the Polish team had a similar blend, but there were two, three or four players in the squad who weren't able to cope with such appalling conditions. I always call them fair-weather footballers. This was the decisive factor in our victory against the Poles. They had a better team at that World Cup than Germany, Holland, Brazil, or anyone else for that matter. The Poles had the best team in 1974.

People are always talking about the strong Dutch team, but we hear so little about the Poles.
That's right. It's the same with the penalty I scored in the Final. People always assume that was my most important goal. I scored three goals at the 1974 World Cup and the most important was the first goal in our first match, against Chile in Berlin. I scored the opening goal, and that was the fundamental reason we made the next round, and why we grew together into a team.

Without that first goal, I would never have scored the penalty. I don't like speculating, talking about what would have happened if. But if I think about the 1974 World Cup, about the best team, I don't think about the Final. Of course, we won and the Dutch were runners-up. The Dutch think they were the best; they believe they were better than us and deserved to win because they were better. What they're forgetting, in my view, is that the best team lost in the semi-finals and that was Poland.

What was the mood like in Germany in 1974? Playing as the host nation, and with the Final in Munich being almost like a home game for you [as a Bayern player], the pressure must have been tremendous. It was Gerd Muller who said: "We didn't notice the pressure, we were shielded [from it]."
There are two ways of looking at it. First of all, when you've played for Bayern Munich, you're always under pressure, but the word pressure didn't exist for us. Pressure is just an excuse many people use to talk their way out of a situation. If you want to play for Bayern, you have to understand one thing right from the start. You have to win every single game if it's at all possible. That means you always have to do a good job, just like in any other walk of life. For me, that isn't pressure.
The same is true of the national team. I couldn't say I was under pressure to win the World Cup, because it was what I expected of myself. In addition, I must say we didn't notice much pressure in 1974. There wasn't so much hysteria, football hadn't become what it is today, with global interest, a never-ending open air concert, a 24-hour happening of the type we experience in every stadium nowadays. We've seen a gigantic spectator boom over the past few years, not because the football being played is so good but because people have different expectations now.

It's the young people most of all, they have a need for togetherness, to live the World Cup feeling, to be a part of it, to party together. It wasn't like that at all back then. The situation was more sober. We wanted to win the World Cup. Of course, we realised that this was a major event in the country. But when we were preparing for the World Cup, we were locked away at the Malente sports academy and we weren't very aware of the special atmosphere, and the mounting hysteria ahead of the World Cup.

Media saturation surely does not apply to football. People cannot get enough football, can they?
There can't be too much, you know.

People are always saying: "There's too much football on TV."
No, I said 30 years ago that I hoped the time would come when we had 24 hours of football a day. If you look at the population of Germany, there are 35 to 40 million people interested in football and at least 20 to 25 million who spend all their spare time, day in day out, talking and thinking about football. When they get home, they switch on the TV and want to see football, not political discussions, not talk shows, and not soap operas.

Like in many other countries, football is the main priority after the satisfaction of basic needs such as food, drink, family and work. It is the first, second, third, fourth and fifth most important thing, leaving everything else way behind. Recently, the media have really started to take it seriously. And if you think about the millions of unemployed in Germany, football is the best leisure pursuit you can imagine. That's the way you have to look at it.

As a way of winding down, forgetting about the world's problems?
Yes.

How did you feel about the defeat against the East Germany? Did the team feel like they'd let people down or was that not the case?
Not we didn't, no. That 1-0 defeat in Hamburg was a let down, just like any other defeat would be a let down. But it was nothing special because we, the players, didn't read any special significance into the match. Most players are not really interested in politics and in 1974 the GDR was effectively a foreign country for us, especially for those of us who didn't have friends or relatives in the GDR. As a Bavarian without any family in the GDR, I always said "I can't really relate to that" if anyone started talking about their brothers or sisters in the East. In any case, the history I was taught at grammar school stopped in 1918. It was as if there was nothing after that, people didn't want to talk about it.

Looking at it that way, you could say that my brothers and sisters were the Austrians and Swiss - I could really relate to them. As for the people in the GDR, we occasionally came across them when playing for Bayern in the East. But that was just like being in Moscow, Kiev, Prague, Budapest or anywhere else in the East for an international or a European Cup match. So, this game against the GDR was nothing special, not a duel between brothers of the type hyped up by the media, just a normal international that we happened to lose. We lost our third first-round game because we just hadn't sorted out the right team, and also because as individuals, we hadn't found the form we needed to beat the GDR at that stage. It was just that the officials, and of course the public at large, read much more into that game than the players.

So you are saying that the players were not overly affected by that result. Did you just forget it and move on to the next game, or did it have a knock-on effect on the tournament as a whole?
It certainly had quite an effect. The defeat left us in no-man's land. We were forced into the realisation we were still a long way away from being a good team, a long way away from having the right blend in our team, and a long way away from the right line-up. In the night and the day after our 1-0 defeat to the GDR, there were some crucial talks between Helmut Schon and Franz Beckenbauer, and then between Helmut Schon and some of the players. The result was a necessary and effective restructuring, and we suddenly went from a 50 per cent performance to 90 per cent against Yugoslavia in Dusseldorf.

That defeat had an immediate effect, but that had nothing to do with the fact it was the GDR, it was losing the way we did. Many of the players were deeply ashamed, because we were rubbish as a team and as individuals. It wasn't a performance worthy of a World Cup. We simply couldn't bow out of the competition on that note.
That was why we had to react immediately, to do justice to ourselves, to find the light at the end of the tunnel. If we hadn't, we wouldn't have been able to look ourselves in the face. There was a real danger Yugoslavia would boot us out of the tournament. We couldn't let that happen. So we did something we'd already learnt at Bayern in the early 70s. We stamped on the ground a couple of times and said: "OK, that's it, things have got to get better now." We didn't just do it for show, to build our confidence. We had a very quick look at ourselves until we reached the point where we said: "Right son, that was rotten - we need to change something fast." That worked for us, and that's how we grew into a team with the right fundamentals for winning the World Cup.

You scored a very fine goal against Yugoslavia. Was it your best or was one of the others better?
It was certainly the goal I enjoyed most. This is what I think nowadays about my goal against Chile: I came up against a keeper who was half-asleep and who only woke up when a shot from 30 metres was past him and in the top right-hand corner. It was a fantastic goal, but a total hit-and-hope effort. That shot took so long to reach the net. I watched the ball and kept my fingers crossed, hoping that it would go somewhere in the direction of the goal or perhaps even into the net. The keeper only dived when the ball hit the back of the net. That was an important goal, but the goal against Yugoslavia was fantastic, just fantastic.

How did you feel during the Final, after the Netherlands took an early lead at your home ground in front of a home crowd? That must have been a terrible shock.
Yes, but a home crowd in a World Cup Final? That's a bit of an exaggeration and the atmosphere was not like that at all. Taking a look at the stands, you could see that orange really was the predominant colour. Many, many tickets seem to have found their way to the Netherlands somehow or other, even then. You can't really talk about home advantage in a World Cup Final. OK, it was certainly important, that penalty after only a minute. Johann Neeskens put the Dutch 1-0. That was certainly an important point for us in winning the match. After they'd scored, all the Dutch did was try to make us look ridiculous. It's still the same today.

The Dutch are capable of getting a good result against almost any team. But if they play in Germany and perhaps score a goal, they stop playing to win. They just let us run and run and only want to show the whole world how well they can play and how badly we're playing. That was what cost the Dutch that World Cup. They should have taken advantage of the situation and the fact that we were down, finished even. After all, we had gone out ready to try everything, to do our best, and then something like that happens. It was a kick in the teeth. All we wanted to do was get out of there.

The Dutch should have followed up. Seeing his opponent on the ropes, a boxer has to carry on attacking and finish him off. But the Dutch didn't seem to understand, didn't seem capable of understanding what an advantage they had over us. Instead, they gave us a five-minute breather, a spell when we got to grips with the new situation, got over our disappointment, our grief and our anger. They didn't notice we were gradually working our way back into the game, starting to outrun them and outfight them.

You could say that our two goals in the first half, my penalty after 25 minutes and Gerd Muller's goal just before half-time, were a logical consequence of the Dutch team's carelessness and arrogance. We noticed they were letting us back into the game, and that suddenly we were in with a real chance. We were in a position to take advantage of the opportunity. It was only at half-time that the Dutch started to realise what had gone wrong and tried to react. But football has laws of its own, and their opportunity had passed. It's an exaggeration but you might say that we could still be playing today and the Dutch still wouldn't have scored a second goal.

How did you experience the penalty situation? You took the ball, put it down on the spot. There were rumours that you just grabbed the ball and shot. What is your version of events?
Before our first match in the tournament, we had talked about who would take a penalty if one was awarded. Nobody wanted to. Gerd Muller had missed a few in the Bundesliga. There was just nobody who said: "OK, I'll do it."

Wolfgang Overath?
No, nobody, no-one wanted anything to do with it. At the training camp in Malente, we talked about penalties and then again before the first match with Chile, but no one volunteered. I wasn't really involved in the discussions, but I couldn't understand what was the matter with them, they were all crossing their fingers and hoping we didn't get a penalty so that they didn't have to face the situation. I said: "If I could, I'd take five penalties every match. I want to win the World Cup." It happened again before the Final. Uli Hoeness had converted a penalty against Sweden, but he missed one against Poland in the semi-final, and we were in the same position again.

The kick-off was at 4 in the afternoon and we had a team meeting at 11 in the morning. Once again, Helmut Schon asked us: "Well, gentlemen, what are we going to do if we're given a penalty?" And no-one came forward, no-one at all. I watched the situation and something must have clicked inside me and just said "Do it!", without my understanding what had happened. The meeting ended with Helmut Schon saying we could talk about it again in the changing-room. I couldn't believe it was happening. We couldn't sort out who was going to take the penalty kicks only five or ten minutes before kick-off at the World Cup Final. So Helmut Schon asked the question again, and he still found no takers.

In the end, he said: "OK, if we're awarded a penalty, we'll have to decide on the spot." Often enough, the coach and team captain decide on a penalty-taker in advance. But you can't nominate one individual in an important match, in a World Cup Final, you can't just give someone the responsibility. He would just go to pieces. He needn't even start his run-up, he'll never find the net. I've been over the situation time and again, and I've put it down as something I can't possibly understand. It must have been like this. At the moment when the ref blew his whistle, what I'd been thinking for weeks came to the surface: "OK, if you're in good form, then you've got to take the responsibility."

I felt in good form so I went over, fetched the ball and placed it on the spot. I didn't notice anything going on around me. From very early on, I learnt to concentrate absolutely in critical moments, using autogenic training. I'd also made an important observation - someone who approaches a situation like that intending to become a hero, is destined to become the biggest loser.

So I put the ball on the spot without any conscious thought. Later, Wolfgang Overath told me he had come up to me and asked: "Hey Paul, are you going to shoot?" I must have said: "Get out of the way, I'm going to bury it." I started my run-up, and I saw the keeper making a sidestep, offering me the right-hand side from my perspective. I thought he would dive to the right when the time came. That movement would leave the left-hand side completely open, because he would have shifted his weight and I'd only have to slot the ball home.

Afterwards there was a lot of talk about me being clinical and having nerves of steel. But it wasn't like that: I wasn't clinical and didn't have nerves of steel. It was completely deliberate. It was a situation, a moment when I needed absolute concentration. You can't think about what you're doing, the positive and negative consequences either way. If you did, you'd just run up and trip over your own feet from sheer terror.

That's what we saw with Johan Neeskens. He looked as if he'd slice his shot, he was all over the place. He wasn't prepared for that penalty kick in the first minute. He didn't strike the ball cleanly at all. In my case, it was a moment I knew I could deal with. It was just like a film and I was only really back in the game when the ball was in the net and the Dutch were about to kick off again.

You once talked about seeing it on the TV for the first time and thinking, "What have I done"?
The Final was on Sunday afternoon, and it was about 8 o'clock on Monday morning when my wife and I got home from various celebrations. I was lying on the sofa in the living-room trying to sober up and switched on the TV. At 10am they were showing the Final on Austrian TV. So I had one eye on the match, and then suddenly the ref gave us that penalty.

I watched myself walking out of the picture, coming back from the left just afterwards with the ball, and walking up to the penalty spot. In a fraction of a second, I came out in a cold sweat and felt sick. I was finished. I switched off the TV, went out into the woods and walked for maybe half an hour or three quarters of an hour. "I just can't believe it," I said to my wife. That was the moment when I finally realised what I'd actually done. At that moment, all those thoughts about what might have happened, what madness it had been, started buzzing through my head.

You mentioned that you felt the Dutch would not have scored another goal even if the match had gone on for days. At what point did you feel you had finally clinched the match?
After I'd scored from that penalty and the referee had blown his whistle again for the restart, the whole team sensed the turbo-like effect of equalising. I wasn't the only one convinced we were going to win after that.

So it wasn't after you went 2-1 up?
No, it was the equaliser.

At any rate, after 90 minutes or so were up, the referee blew to end the game. How does it feel when you hear that final whistle and think: "We've won the FIFA World Cup! The whole world is looking at us, we've done something extraordinary!"
There are certain situations involving joy and grief no outsider can really share. Well, I can try to describe what I felt at that very moment. I'm not a man who believes that happiness is a drawn-out experience. I concentrate on moments of happiness, although it was a moment which took its time coming. From the beginning of the second half, I'd been looking at the clock every two or three minutes, but it wasn't ticking on as I'd expected. The last 15, 20 minutes were maddening. If I looked at the clock twice, I still saw the same minute.

And then there was the moment when the ref blew his final whistle. I can't describe it, even for my wife or family. I know that no one can understand what it was like. When I'm giving someone my condolences, I can perhaps feel 70, 80 per cent at most of what they must be feeling, and it's the same with a moment of absolute joy. It was a tremendous moment. I had an indescribable feeling of joy, genuine joy. I was so satisfied. I must have thought: "All that training when you were young, training every day for five long years, whatever the weather. This is your reward." I had rewarded myself for all that effort.

What did you feel at the moment when you held the trophy for the first time?
The great moment of joy had already passed, the moment when the referee blew the final whistle. You fall into the arms of the man nearest to you, two or three of you dance for joy, those are the moments that matter. Then you cool down, and you just don't really take in the official Trophy ceremony. Holding the cup in your hands is nothing like the feeling when you hear the final whistle.

Does this bring back any memories...
(Holding the Trophy) I have two trophies from the DFB at home, two smaller replicas. I never played for certificates, medals or even this trophy, but just for myself, for the feeling of winning, of playing well, of giving people value for their money, doing justice to this partnership with the fans and spectators, and doing my job well. You really don't need a cup to give you the feeling you're a world champion. It's an external symbol that some people need. There are many people it's important for, but it isn't so important for me personally, as a player. I must say I just don't know what I was feeling when I held it for the first time. The final whistle was even better.

What about the Trophy itself? Is it what you'd expect of a Trophy?
I've been a member of football clubs for almost 50 years, and I've never seen a really beautiful trophy.

And what about this cup?
Well, it's impressive, and I don't want to say anything against it, but it's a symbol. The figure is intended as a world champion, holding that sphere, he's the best in his field. It's a symbol, no more and no less. And symbols - flags, pendants or whatever - don't need to be beautiful. Their significance isn't what they look like but what people associate with them.