Former German tennis star Boris Becker can look back on a hugely successful career. In 1985 he announced his arrival in the sport with an unforgettable victory at his inaugural Grand Slam tournament at Wimbledon as a 17-year-old. To this day he remains the youngest ever winner of the most prestigious competition in tennis.
Over the course of his playing days, the now 45-year-old won a further five Grand Slam titles, took Olympic gold in Barcelona 1992 with his doubles partner Michael Stich, and was victorious at three ATP Tour World Championships before calling time on his career in 1999.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively to Becker about his love of football, the three FIFA Ballon d’Or candidates, poster boys of the German national team and the FIFA Coach of the Year 2012.
FIFA.com: You are known to be a huge football fan. As a former tennis star, what does the game mean to you?
Boris Becker: I think football is the most popular sport in the world and I’m saying that as a former professional tennis player. Even as a little kid I was a football fan. My love for Bayern Munich began in the early 1970s and still lives on today. On top of that I’ve been at numerous World Cups, European Cups and Champions League finals and have experienced the game close up.
You just mentioned your love of Bayern Munich. What makes the club so special?
Back then players like Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Sepp Maier and Paul Breitner didn’t just dominate in the Bundesliga, they were also pillars of the German national team. Furthermore, I was on the advisory board at Bayern Munich up until two years ago, so I have a long-standing connection with the club. But I’ve also become very fond of Chelsea. I count Frank Lampard, John Terry and especially Didier Drogba as good friends. That made it all the harder for me to watch the Champions League final.
In the last few years the German national team has improved greatly. What’s your view of coach Joachim Low’s time in charge?
Joachim Low and his assistants have been doing a fantastic job for years. But several other people also deserve credit for the national team’s recent success. Jurgen Klinsmann, Matthias Sammer and Low started the project together and created the necessary structures. I have to congratulate the German Football Association because they gave relatively young men the freedom to make decisions which are now paying off. Alongside Spain, Germany have the best national team in the world and that’s down to those men.
Of course it hasn't led to a title as yet, but what do you think Germany’s chances are at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™?
That’s a bit of a sore spot, but as a former professional sportsman I know all too well that your form on the day is decisive. On top of that you need a little bit of luck to go all the way. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case so far, but that doesn’t mean the work of the people in charge was bad. The team really needs a title in order to fulfil the good image they already have. I’m absolutely convinced that the 2014 World Cup will come at exactly the right time because our key players will go into the tournament with even greater experience and concentration.
Spain have dominated both European and world football for several years now. What can be learned from them?
I don’t think there’s much left to learn anymore. Spain had to wait a long time for their first title but now the dam has been broken. That’s because the people responsible for the team were given the necessary time. We’ve achieved a lot in the last few years. The German national team has become a wonderfully multi-cultural group, with players like Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose. That says a lot for our open-mindedness. You can see that sport has the power to change the world and that happens by introducing children to football or tennis at the right time in the right way. Your religion or skin colour play no part in that.
Two German players, Manuel Neuer and Mesut Ozil, made it into the 23-man shortlist for the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2012. How do you view their performances, both for club and country?
I know Manuel Neuer better than I do Mesut Ozil, but I’m a fan of them both. In my opinion Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world and I think he’ll keep getting better over the coming years. Keepers don’t hit their prime until their 30s anyway. In the long-run he can win World Cups, European Championships and the Champions League. It’s a little bit harder with Mesut Ozil because there are so many good players in his position. However, on a good day he can win a game on his own because he’s got the ability to play the killer pass. He’s shown that in the national team as well as for Real Madrid. That says a lot about his strengths and his superb footballing ability.
Out of Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who is your favourite to win the FIFA Ballon d’Or and why?
Definitely Andres Iniesta. He’s my number one. It’s not that difficult to play well and win titles in a team like Barcelona, but it’s in the national side where you see a player’s true class. That was the case with figures like Pele, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane. With Spain, Iniesta has shown that he is among the best players of all time and that’s why I rate him higher than Messi or Ronaldo. Even though the latter two have incredible scoring records for their clubs, they still haven’t won anything with Argentina or Portugal respectively.
And who should win the FIFA Coach of the Year award? It’s a three-horse race between Vicente del Bosque (Spain), Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid) and Pep Guardiola (formerly of Barcelona).
Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are both incredible coaches, but they didn’t win the Champions League this year. That’s why my vote would go to Vicente del Bosque as he won the European Championship with Spain and the World Cup before that.
With Jurgen Klopp, Joachim Low and Jupp Heynckes, three German coaches were among the top ten shortlisted for the honour. Who do you think is the best German coach?
They’re from three different coaching generations. Jupp Heynckes is in the autumn of his career, but still knows how to get through to his young players. That’s remarkable. Apart from that he knows how to put a team together and one which should have won the Champions League last season. Bayern are peerless in the Bundesliga this term and are still in the Champions League. I think Jurgen Klopp has been the coaching discovery of the last three years. It’s fascinating to see the way he gets his team playing and his natural charisma is terrific. But my favourite is Joachim Low, who along with his staff has put together a great team over the last six years which has become the pride of the whole nation. He’s got the most difficult job because he has 82 million additional national team coaches breathing down his neck every game. Nevertheless, he comes across as very likeable and privately he’s a person of great integrity.