Matthaus up for a challenge
As a player, Lothar Matthaus won pretty much all there was to win, including numerous domestic honours with Bayern Munich, the UEFA Cup with Inter, and the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™ as Germany captain. He was also named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1991.
After more than two decades as a pro, Matthaus hung up his boots in 2000 following a stint in New York. Holder of the German record with 150 caps for his country, he subsequently went into coaching and has had spells with Austrian sides Rapid Vienna and Red Bull Salzburg, Serbian outfit Partizan Belgrade, the Hungarian national team, and Israeli club Maccabi Netanya. Financial problems caused his contract there to be terminated in April a year early, so the 48-year-old is currently sounding the market for a new challenge.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the former midfielder, an honorary captain of Germany, quizzing him about his future plans, FIFA World Cup qualifying, and the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009.
FIFA.com: You recently spent time in Italy, where you played for Inter. Serie A must be an attractive proposition to you. Will you return there one day?
Lothar Matthaus: It’s true I was in Italy, but only to attend the Champions League final in Rome. I’ve had no offers from Italy, but the country, the league and any challenge there would obviously be highly attractive.
You’re a FIFA World Cup winner, FIFA World Player of the Year, and an experienced coach, so there’ll surely be no shortage of offers for your services. Whose touchline will you be patrolling next season?
There's a stream of contacts and queries. I do have firm offers too, but I’ve become very cautious these days. Everything has to be right, in sporting terms and with an eye on future prospects. In the past, I may have made the mistake of not probing deeply enough beforehand. I’ve always had to build things up from scratch. And there have been financial problems on top of that, so I've had to be released at short notice. But it's still amazing what we achieved in Israel or with [Rapid] Vienna.
A number of Bundesliga clubs are looking for coaches. Would you be interested in Germany, or are you looking to stay abroad?
The Bundesliga is always interesting, and I’ve been close to agreeing terms with a club before now. But I have to admit the Bundesliga and I haven’t quite hit it off in the way you might have expected, at least in view of my playing career. I'm a child of the Bundesliga and I know how to hold my own there, but I've not had the chance to prove it up to now. Maybe I've been too far removed from the day-to-day goings on in the league. Naturally, there have been openings, and I really don't know why it hasn't worked out. But I won't just be taking the first job that comes along. It would have to be right for me and the club.
You've spent a year as a coach in Israel. What have you learned, and what will you take with you for the future?
Israel is a special country. As a coach, you have to make allowances for a number of things, religious holidays for example. It's hard to make a direct comparison with anywhere else. The local mentality isn't as attuned to football as the rest of Europe. Some of the players lack discipline. It's not easy for a European coach to go there and deliver the goods, so it was a completely new experience for me.
You must have picked up a lot about the state of the game in Israel. What's the standard like, and what do you think the national team – who are currently fourth in European Group 2 – can achieve in terms of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™?
I regard Israel as underdogs in the group. The home draws with Greece and Switzerland weren't good enough for a team serious about going to the World Cup. I reckon Israel will finish third. It was a manageable group, but the other teams are a shade stronger and more consistent.
Germany currently lead European Group 4 from Russia and Finland. What do you think of your country's performances to date?
I'm assuming Jogi Low's team will qualify directly for the World Cup in South Africa. Obviously, the decisive fixture is the trip to face the Russians in Moscow this October, and I think that’s when Germany will seal their place at the finals. But Russia are strong, and Guus Hiddink is a fantastic coach. It's the kind of game you can easily lose, but at the end of the day, the Germans will make it.
The FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 in South Africa is underway at the moment. What are your expectations of the tournament, both in terms of the football and the organisation?
Naturally, the focus should be on the field of play, but it's also an important dry run for the organisers of next year's World Cup, which I personally think is great. All the continents are represented, and no-one's gone there intending to lose. Brazil and Italy are my favourites, but South Africa will want to give a good account of themselves and get the party started a year in advance of the World Cup. It'll be an interesting tournament, both on and off the field.
Looking at both tournaments, how far do you think the host nation can go, especially with the support of their home crowds?
The host nation always has an advantage. Look at what South Korea and Japan achieved in 2002 with the crowd behind them – they made the semi-finals and Round of 16 respectively. Germany were carried by the fans in 2006. It could be the same for South Africa, although they’re what you might call a second division team.
Changing tack for a moment: as a former FIFA World Player of the Year, who do you regard as the world’s best player right now?
In Rome, I saw the best team in the world, namely Barcelona. Obviously, you've got to mention Lionel Messi. But then there are the likes of Xavi [Hernandez] and [Andres] Iniesta, who hold the team together. Barca have a lot of great individuals, but they've been together so long now, they've turned into a unit. The key players are highly intelligent and recognise the decisive moments in a match. Iniesta and Xavi do just that for Barcelona.
One last question: Can you imagine your life without football?
It’s not happened up to now, and I'd rather not think about it either.