Back in the 1990s, Andreas Moller was rated as one of the most gifted midfielders in the world. He was celebrated as a hero the last time Germany won a major international trophy, and ranks as one of the most successful players ever produced by his home country.
Moller won 85 full international caps and has winner’s medals from the 1990 FIFA World Cup™ and UEFA EURO 1996. At club level he appeared for Eintracht Frankfurt, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Schalke, winning a number of domestic honours and crowning the lot with the Champions League, the UEFA Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, the forerunner to today’s FIFA Club World Cup.
After hanging up his boots, he filled a number of positions in the game including the sporting director role for third-tier Kickers Offenbach. Presently, he combines TV appearances as a colour commentator with fact-finding visits to many countries around the globe, evaluating youth development programmes and elite academies. The 46-year-old spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his illustrious playing career, Germany’s chances of glory at next year’s World Cup, the FIFA Ballon d'Or and his memories of one special clash with England at Wembley, where the arch-rivals are set for their latest showdown this Tuesday.
FIFA.com: What does it take to become a champion?
Andreas Moller: The secret of achieving anything in football is ambition, hard work and desire. You also have to make sure you have the appropriate career plan. As a player you always have to be setting yourself new and more demanding targets. Continuous development as a person and a player is a vital factor. A successful footballer is always looking for new challenges.
So can you plan your way to success?
No! No plan on its own can make you a European or world champion. All you can do is try everything in your power, and you have to live and breathe your ambitions. Obviously you need a bit of luck too. You need to be playing in the right team at the right time, and you also have to steer clear of injury.
So what’s the difference between a decent professional footballer and a world-class player?
I think a number of things have to come together before you step up from the mass to the elite. The decisive factor is how you develop as a player and the challenges you set yourself. You also need a good, tight-knit and friendly environment, where the people aren’t just out to make a quick buck. A player at the highest level has to be completely and totally focused on football. You can’t have your mind cluttered with anything else.
What do you now think about your ascent into the world elite?
To take one example, every change of club meant rolling up my sleeves and starting over. I frequently had to prove myself all over again from scratch, so I never had the chance to start feeling satisfied with what I’d achieved. The ever-present danger is the temptation to rest on your laurels.
A player at the highest level has to be completely and totally focused on football. You can’t have your mind cluttered with anything else.
You were admired and feared as a midfielder because you combined outstanding technical skill with great fluidity of movement. Wouldn’t you actually have been more at home in today’s football?
[Laughs] You might be right there! But joking aside, some of Germany’s current attacking players are unbelievably good in these respects. I’m thinking particularly of Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle, Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil. I really enjoy watching these guys play - although I must say we had plenty of quality in attack when I was playing. Just think of midfielders like Uwe Bein, Thomas Hassler, Olaf Thon and Lothar Matthaus...
What was the secret of your personal success?
I think I was lucky in that I was born with pace. I benefited from an excellent youth development programme at Eintracht Frankfurt. As a youth my build was slight and I was small, so it wasn’t always easy for me. I had to train very hard and keep improving through sheer hard work just to keep myself in the frame. That really helped me become the player I eventually ended up being. Footballing ability is important but it’s not enough on its own. You have to be mentally up for it, you have to want to impose yourself and improve every day.
You were labelled a Wunderkind at a very young age and you were one of the first players in German football to be treated as a modern-day star. That probably wasn’t easy was it?
Actually it wasn’t that tough. To be honest with you I enjoyed it a lot at the time. It was unbelievably exciting back then. It was thrilling for a young man and it gave me plenty of confidence. But obviously it was also important I kept my feet on the ground. In my case it was a kind of automatic process, because my clubs and my team-mates absolutely made sure of it. And my hunger for success never did any harm - quite the opposite. I always wanted more. I was driven on every day by the thought of winning trophies and scoring goals, and I took that attitude with me into every single training session. The biggest motivating factor was winning and scoring goals.
Who was your most influential coach?
[Considers at length] Basically, there wasn’t what you’d call one special guide and mentor in my career. But the time I spent playing for Ottmar Hitzfeld at Borussia Dortmund does stand out. We won the Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup. I felt these experiences very intensely and they shaped me. Ottmar Hitzfeld knew just how to handle me. The way he dealt with all the stars in the team was perfect. Naturally, Bayern Munich later benefited hugely from the experience Ottmar Hitzfeld gained at Borussia Dortmund.
Germany meet England at Wembley on Tuesday in the latest edition of one of the great clashes in world football. What memories are triggered by the fixture?
[Grins] I can answer this one straight away! The UEFA EURO 1996 semi-final was one of the highlights of my career. We beat England on penalties and went through to the final. I recall national coach Berti Vogts approaching me three days before the match and saying I would be captaining the team at Wembley because Jurgen Klinsmann couldn’t play and I was the most capped player in the team at the time. It was a huge honour for me, especially because it was on the sacred turf at Wembley.
What do you remember of the game?
Let me say first of all that the tournament was an incredible emotional rollercoaster ride for us, because we had to cope with so many injuries. The semi-final against England was unbelievable and incredibly tense. It went to penalties and I knew as captain I’d have to take one. As it turned out, I scored the winning penalty. But I’ve equally not forgotten my disappointment at missing the final due to a yellow card.
Football fans in Germany have also not forgotten the way you posed with your chest puffed out after you scored the winner in the shootout. More than 17 years after the event, what do you now think when you see those images?
With the benefit of hindsight I obviously wonder what on earth caused me to make a gesture like that. It certainly wasn’t something I’d thought about beforehand. It wasn’t planned that way, it was instinctive. At this very special, unbelievably emotional moment it was supposed to be an expression of pride and strength.
Would you do it again today?
It’s impossible to say. I made the gesture, and moments of high drama and healthy rivalry are all part of football. The important thing was that the gesture wasn’t personally aimed at the English. It was in no way intended as mockery or lack of respect. I’m a huge fan of English football, the country and the people there. I always enjoy going to England and I regularly watch Premier League matches.
Who’s going to win on Tuesday?
We’ve done well at Wembley in recent years. But England are in the middle of a promising rebuilding process. They’re regrouping and putting together a strong national team. They’ll push us all the way and it’ll be tough. But it’s a terrific challenge for Joachim Low’s players, because these are the kind of matches you look back on with pleasure after you finish playing.
If everything comes together next summer we have a huge chance of winning the trophy. But football is unpredictable, which is of course one of the best things about it!
With the benefit of hindsight, do you regret not playing in the Premier League?
It’s not a relevant question for me personally, because the Serie A in Italy was the best league in the world at the time. And I’m thrilled I had the chance to play in it.
What was the greatest moment of your career?
The most emotional at club level was certainly winning the Bundesliga for the first time with Borussia Dortmund in 1994/95, followed by the Champions League triumph in 1996/97. The 1990 World Cup and EURO 1996 were huge too. I was only 22 back then [at Italy 1990] and the youngest player in the squad. Even now I remember the words Franz Beckenbauer spoke to me: 'Andy, what are you still hoping to achieve? Please don’t let up now, that’s your solemn duty as of now. You still have 15 years as a pro ahead of you!' I took those words very seriously. With hindsight I’d also now say fortune favoured the brave, because I was privileged to lay hands on all the important footballing trophies the world has to offer. I’m immensely grateful to the game for that.
In 2005/06 Jurgen Klinsmann began converting the Germany national team to a more attacking and attractive style of football. By the time of the World Cup in 2010, Joachim Low’s team was winning praise all over the world. Do you enjoy watching the current team?
I enjoy it a great deal at the present time. I’m a huge fan of technically demanding football. But I also like the Brazilians. They always turn out fantastic individual players. I’m delighted we undertook this process in Germany and returned to the top table of world football.
Are there any reasons why Germany shouldn’t become world champions in Brazil next year?
There are never any guarantees! But the very fact Germany are considered contenders for the trophy again is already a big plus. It’s not always been the case, but at the moment we’re competitive with the world’s biggest footballing nations, and that’s fantastic! In my opinion the greatest danger is from within, as it were, if the players don’t summon up everything they have. However, if everything comes together next summer we have a huge chance of winning the trophy. But football is unpredictable, which is of course one of the best things about it!
Who else do you regard as favourites?
Obviously Brazil in front of their home crowds and holders Spain, the gold standard of recent years. I’d also mention Argentina and Uruguay, because the tournament is in South America and these two have always been good on their home continent. And there’s always Italy, a typical tournament team just like Germany.
And who do you think will win the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2013?
There’s no doubt Franck Ribery had a brilliant season with Bayern. Obviously, the likes of Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have caught the eye again. But Ribery could well make the breakthrough this time, because he was the player who swept the board at club level last season.