- Interview with first ever FIFA World Player of the Year
- Who are his favourites for The Best Awards?
- "Lewandowski - it would be a miracle if it’s not him"
Dynamism, impressive physique and an insatiable will to win: as a player, Lothar Matthaus embodied everything that used to be regarded as ‘the German traits’ in football. He also hoisted aloft the coveted FIFA World Cup™ Trophy in Rome in 1990 for the now four-time world champions in what was his personal “summer fairytale”.
Almost 30 years ago, on 8 December 1991, Matthaus, now 59, won the inaugural FIFA World Player of the Year award. The captain of Germany’s triumphant 1990 team spoke to us about The Best FIFA Football Awards 2020™, his favourites to win it and the current Germany side.
FIFA.com: Lothar, the shortlist for The Best will be announced soon. Who are your favourites for it?
Lothar Matthaus: For me it can only be Robert Lewandowski. It’s clearer than it’s been in recent years. He won every title, scored lots of decisive goals and was top of the scoring charts. He’s got everything you need to give a player this award. Nobody comes close to him, neither in Germany nor in Europe.
It would be a miracle if it’s not him. He’s now got qualities that set him apart even more than before. He works for the team and has become a real winner, someone who leads from the front and also tracks back defensively. He’s never been as good as he is now. He lives in a professional way, prepares himself meticulously and is never injured. That’s why it’s remarkable that he plays almost every game, and does so at the highest level.
And what about the coaches?
German coaches have a really good reputation at the moment. It hasn’t always been like that. You’ve seen that we’ve got some outstanding coaches. Joachim Low won the World Cup six years ago. German football is more respected now than it was five or six years ago. I’m pleased that German coaches are so successful. Hansi Flick at Bayern Munich, Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and Thomas Tuchel in Paris have all been successful. But I’m more for Bayern in this case. It’s not that I’m seeing things through Bayern-tinted glasses, it’s just that Flick is someone who made the impossible possible. He overcame what was a difficult situation straight away in his first season in charge. He brought a sense of calm and success, and integrated young players.
It’s not always only about the titles you win, but also about the way you deal with the team. The dominance Bayern have shown both domestically and in Europe, their attacking style of play with lots of goals and new records, really is very impressive. Taking nothing away from the achievements of the other coaches, one was just a bit more successful. And that was Flick.
Is Manuel Neuer the man to beat among the goalkeepers, having won everything there was to win this year like Flick and Lewandowski?
After Lewandowski, I think Neuer should even be in the podium places for The Best Award. Manuel has played fantastically well. He absolutely deserves to be crowned as the world’s best goalkeeper.
Who do you think should join Lewandowski and Neuer on the podium?
Ronaldo or Messi, I’d say. The former won silverware with Juventus, after all. He’s still scoring goals in Italy and is Portugal’s most-capped player. That said, he wasn’t as dominant as he has been in previous years. I’m more of a Messi fan in terms of his playing style, and Messi’s also kept on scoring. Both are still top-class players. [Mohamed] Salah would also be a candidate, he won the Premier League. Neymar and Kylian Mbappe at Paris Saint-Germain as well, although I don’t see the French league as being as strong.
What memories and emotions do you have from your coronation as World Player of the Year in 1991?
When I think back to that award I’m still filled with a great deal of pride. It means I belong to a very elite bracket of the best footballers of all time. I’m in a group with the biggest and best players ever to have played the game. That’s why I’m very happy and grateful that I received it.
It was a great year for me and the award wasn’t just recognition for me personally; credit belongs to the whole Germany team. But it’s obviously nice when you can receive an (individual) award. The time around the 1990 World Cup was actually the best time of my whole career. The best players went up against each other in Italy, there were a lot of global stars playing there. Facing that rivalry and those challenges every weekend obviously made you stronger as an individual too.
Erling Haaland is following in Lewandowski’s footsteps at Borussia Dortmund and, at the age of 20, has already broken a number of records. Is he already better than Lewandowski?
If I compare him to a 20-year-old Lewandowski then yes, Haaland is already further along than he was. At approximately that age, Lewandowski was only just about to leave the Polish second division to go to Dortmund, whereas Haaland’s already playing in the Champions League and is at the top of the scoring chart alongside Lewandowski.
He’s scored 12 goals in ten games. He’s a phenomenon. He’s already got everything, and at such a young age. He’s already a leader. He’s quick, robust and makes the right runs. He’s got the passion. He’s got everything a top-class striker needs. If he keeps on like this and can avoid injuries he’ll be among the best players in Europe one day, if he isn’t already. At some point he’ll follow in the footsteps of Ronaldo or Lewandowski. He’s already got a lot of attributes that others didn’t have at 20.
To conclude, let’s talk about the Germany national team. They, and Joachim Low in particular, have faced criticism after the 6-0 defeat to Spain…
The important thing is for him to feel at peace with himself. If you notice that you can no longer connect with the team and that the atmosphere is against you, then it’s something that affects the team. I have the impression that he doesn’t carry himself with the same authority and sense of ease. He’s quick to snap and to take offence. He doesn’t give the same kind of friendly answers that he used to. And I can understand that because it’s always easier when you’re enjoying success.
When things aren’t working out as well then you retreat a bit. Now he needs to ask himself if he’s still the right man for the job. After all, not everything he’s doing is bad. There have been two defeats in the last 16 games. Spain and France don’t have better results than that. But the overall impression isn’t like it was before.
Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels were told they would no longer be involved, but calls for their return are getting ever louder. Do you think they could make a comeback?
The best chance all three of them have of returning is if they’re playing well. I believe Low made a mistake in this regard. He could have said that the players were disappointing at the 2018 World Cup and that they weren’t in good form for their clubs after that either, which is why they weren’t included. But he shouldn’t have closed the door on them, that was maybe a bit too hasty.
He could have said that others and younger players would get a chance first. He saw the potential in the players who won the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. But you could tell that they still need a bit of guidance. You need experienced players in order to be successful. In the match against Spain you could see that Toni Kroos or Ilkay Gundogan can’t lead the team when things get tough.