Germany’s most-capped player Lothar Matthaus is currently busily preparing for his role as a TV pundit at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, the former FIFA World Player of the Year outlined his plans for the future, Germany’s chances at the finals, and what he expects to see at the first FIFA World Cup finals in Africa.
FIFA.com: You recently signed up with the biggest Arabic broadcaster Al-Jazeera Sport as a commentator at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Do you see your future in the media?
Lothar Matthaus: I’ll always be involved in football, and it's true I’ve been busier with media projects than the playing side of the game recently. I’ve been travelling a lot, mainly working on international TV projects. I’d still like to get back into coaching, but I have a very specific vision. Everything would have to be right before I took up a new position. A couple of contracts have been put in front of me and just required my signature, but I was never 100 per cent convinced, and I’m not the kind of guy who takes snap decisions. I’m prepared to wait patiently.
Your former club and UEFA Champions League winners Inter Milan have a coaching vacancy right now. How good are your contacts in Milan?
It's true that I’m still in touch with Inter, although nowhere near as closely as with Bayern Munich. There’s a new board in Milan, and the folks I knew back then have moved on. By the way, I’d just like to take this opportunity to congratulate Inter on winning the Champions League. They deserved it, even if it was a case of split loyalties for me. As for the job as head coach, I’m a realist. I can’t believe my name’s come up. I’ve won a few trophies, but I just don’t have the track record.
On the eve of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, what are you expecting from the tournament?
I’m expecting a festival of football, like the one four years ago in Germany. I think we’re in for a peaceful and magnificent World Cup. The finals are taking place in a country where the people are passionate about football. I think the passion will sweep over the field of play from the stands, and vice-versa.
I expect an African team to make the semi-finals, because they definitely have what it takes.
Just like the other 31 FIFA World Cup hopefuls, Germany are in the final stages of preparation for the finals. Are Joachim Low’s players ready for the task?
That's very hard to say as an outside observer. Their preparations have hardly been optimal. The loss of Michael Ballack was a blow, as he would have been a dominant personality at the tournament. And the Bayern contingent joined up with the rest of the squad very late.
You mentioned that Germany captain Michael Ballack is out of the tournament. How much of a loss is that?
It's obviously a setback at first, but we’ve seen teams grow closer together in the past as a result of things like this. The players regroup and become even more determined. It also means a change in the hierarchy. The players who’ve been around for a while take another step up the ladder. At the end of the day, Ballack’s absence could even prove a positive.
First-choice keeper Rene Adler is also out of the finals with injury. How much of a setback is that?
I view the situation with Rene Adler a little differently. He’s not as strong a character as Ballack. It's a choker for Rene, and I’m gutted for him, but that’s football. It's a tough business. In any case, Germany don’t have a goalkeeping problem. All three keepers are on a par with Rene Adler - not to detract from the huge contribution he made towards Germany qualifying for South Africa, especially in the games against Russia.
You’ve said the three keepers are all as good as Adler, so who should keep goal in South Africa?
Before Adler’s injury, Manuel Neuer was second-choice and Tim Wiese third. Logically, Neuer should now be No1. Both Wiese and Jorg Butt have plenty of factors in their favour, as both have greater international experience. But Neuer was outstanding at the U-21 European Championship. I believe he has what it takes to provide a strong last line of defence at the World Cup.
In Ballack’s absence, Germany have appointed a new captain for the finals. Is Philipp Lahm the right choice?
I see Philipp Lahm as Michael Ballack’s natural successor. The only thing that bothers me is that he’s a full-back, so by definition he’s not in the midfield area. But otherwise, he has everything you need from a captain. He’s an excellent communicator, be it with the other players, the association, the media or anyone else in the national set-up, and that is vital at a World Cup. He’s respected by everyone, and especially his team-mates at club level. That power base will protect and support him.
The Germans finished third at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and runners-up at UEFA EURO 2008. Where will they finish in South Africa?
Expectations are high, but other countries have caught up fast. Germany lack the brilliant individuals who can settle a match on their own, and that’s been obvious for some years now. But there’s still a huge amount of respect for Germany, which is part of what makes them so dangerous. They have to make the quarter-finals at a minimum. Whether they go any further depends on a lot of factors.
Who are your favourites for the trophy?
I have European champions Spain, Confederations Cup winners Brazil, and Argentina at the top of my list. They can pick from the best players in the world. The Netherlands have great players too, but with the exception of 1974 and 1978, they’ve never really done well at the World Cup. There’s a tendency for their individuals to play to the gallery, and that affects their performance as a team.
For the first time, six African nations are at the finals. How do you think they might fare, and what of hosts South Africa and their passionate home crowds?
If you just look at the quality of the players, South Africa are the weakest team at the tournament. They have a great coach, but he can’t do much without quality players. Obviously, they have the huge advantage of playing at home, and I do hope they make it out of their group, but it will be an immense challenge. I hold out more hope for the other African teams, all of whom boast players who are at leading European clubs. I expect an African team to make the semi-finals, because they definitely have what it takes, although I wouldn’t like to identify one nation at this stage. What I am expecting is a World Cup full of surprises, with one or two pre-tournament favourites knocked out quite early on.