"I still remember Peter Shilton not diving towards the corner until the previous penalties from Riedle, Matthaus and Brehme had already gone in, so I said to myself: ‘Come on son, just hit the target, nothing too precise, nothing too risky’, and that’s what I did. He went the right way, but he was too late."
Who is this former Germany international, animatedly reliving the penalty shoot-out in the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™ semi-finals against England and their keeper Peter Shilton? Step forward midfield maestro Olaf Thon, exclusively reviewing his remarkable career with FIFA.com.
Born on 1 May 1966, Thon went on to appear at the 1986, 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups, winning the game’s greatest prize in 1990 and finishing as a runner-up in 1986. He spent his Bundesliga career with Schalke 04, and the nation’s most successful club, Bayern Munich. The 42-year-old scored 82 goals in 443 German top flight appearances, and his honours tally at club level includes three league titles (1989, 1990, 1994), two German cup triumphs (2001, 2002) and the UEFA Cup (1997).
"I had lots of highlights during my career," Thon recalls. "My first Bundesliga title with Bayern, and winning the UEFA Cup, when I got to hoist the trophy as captain – that was certainly something very special."
Asked to name his best-ever performance, Thon chooses a German cup encounter between Schalke and Bayern in May 1984, when the then 18-year-old hopeful scored a hat-trick for the Gelsenkirchen side. "It ended 6-6 after extra time, and we lost the replay 3-2. But it’s still the mother of all matches in the history of the German Cup."
Nicknamed the Professor, Thon always lived and breathed football. He continues to do so even seven years after hanging up his boots, confessing he can hardly bear to watch certain scenes and incidents. "Nowadays, if it comes to a penalty shoot-out, in the cup, the EURO or the World Cup, I really don’t enjoy watching, because I’m suffering with the taker. Someone has to lose, and you see devastated players, great footballers who fail from the spot."
Failure is not a word often associated with Olaf Thon, but he too suffered his fair share of setbacks and bitter disappointment. Defeat in the EURO 1988 semi-finals to the Netherlands and missing out on the Bundesliga title with ‘champions for four minutes’ Schalke in 2001 were the worst moments, "but to achieve anything worthwhile you also have to pick yourself up from defeat.”
Olaf Thon remains immersed in the world of football. He sat on the Schalke supervisory board from June 2005 to June 2008, before taking a position in the club’s marketing section. "My goal was to stay at my club Schalke for as long as possible."
Will Thon step up to a coaching role in the future? "I’m calmness personified. I’m qualified as a Fussballlehrer [the German FA’s highest coaching qualification], but I’ve put coaching to one side for the time being." The former Germany star has no intention of treading the same path as Argentina coach Diego Maradona. "I think you need to start at the bottom and work your way up. I’ve personally set myself ambitious goals as a coach, so I would start by gaining experience at the lower levels, and look to make the great leap forward later on."
Thon believes the current German national team can also make a great leap forward, driven on by captain Michael Ballack. "I don’t think any leader other than Michael Ballack will emerge before 2010. It’s important he avoids injury, extends his stay at Chelsea, and continues to be pushed there. He’s the guiding influence on the team, and Germany can only win the World Cup with that kind of leadership."
Facts and Figures
Clubs: Schalke (1983-88 and 1994-2002), Bayern Munich (1988-94)
National team: 52 caps (3 goals)
FIFA World Cup winner: 1990
FIFA World Cup runner-up: 1986
UEFA Cup winner: 1997
Bundesliga winner: 1989, 1990, 1994
German Cup winner: 2001, 2002