Breitner: 'English football hasn't improved in last 4-5 years'

Bayern Munich legend Paul Breitner, who's in India to identify 10 under-16 Indian players for the 2017 FC Bayern Youth Cup speaks about English football, the rise of RB Leipzig, Pep Guardiola and more.

paul breitner

German legend Paul Breitner in New Delhi to select under-16 Indian players for the 2017 FC Bayern Youth Cup.   -  Special Arrangement

In the early 1970s, when Paul Breitner was a young footballer, the New York Times called him "the newest hero of German counter-culture." He never shied away from voicing his opinion on the political and social issues of the day. In an interview to the German newspaper Bild ahead of his 60th birthday he even explained how he had tried to avoid military service. He was the quintessential rebel.

Now, 65, the German World Cup winner’s voice is mellow. The Bayern Munich legend, who also played for Real Madrid, is in New Delhi in an ambassadorial role to identify 10 under-16 Indian players for the 2017 FC Bayern Youth Cup, organised by adidas, to be held in Munich.

His opinions though are as strong as ever.

"These are times in which a great part of the youth isn’t interested in politics and the problems of our world," he tells Sportstar when asked why today’s sportspersons are not vocal. "It has nothing to do with football. It’s the situation with the youth around the world."

It shouldn’t then be of surprise when he talks about the fall of the Berlin Wall excitedly. "It’s one of the most important days of my life. One of my daughters turned 18 on that day and we were celebrating it. It proved to be a great birthday for me. We are now reunited [as a country]. We have had very difficult years in the 10 or 15 years since then. But the problems have become fewer and fewer."

Since then, Germany has become one of the most open and welcoming countries in Europe. Its multi-ethnic national football team perhaps best embodies this as it comprises the likes of Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Jerome Boateng. Even amidst the surge of anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe, Breitner believes football will remain unaffected.

"Football has nothing to do with what’s happening in politics. They are special problems. We have to fight against these problems. But football in Germany is very unique. It’s more important than politics I would say. From around 80 million inhabitants, we have 60 million interested or playing football. So it’s like our life."

Even the rise of RB Leipzig, currently joint-top with Bayern Munich in Bundesliga, on the back of investment from Red Bull which seems to have rankled Germans in general, hasn’t affected Breitner.

"I am not afraid. It’s a business. When I was 18 years old and I signed the contract at Bayern Munich, I became a businessman. We are football players earning our money playing football. So forget tradition. I am very happy with Leipzig.”

"I am very happy that players are getting paid [in millions]. Does anyone talk the same way about an actor who earns 30, 40, 50 million dollars just for one movie?"

"Also, everybody says football here is boring because of only Bayern winning. If you really think that, you should be happy that a new team is competing well."

Breitner believes that Pep Guardiola brought "outstanding ideas" to Bayern Munich and improved the team vastly.

"He is now in Manchester City and let’s see where the team is in two or three years. In my opinion English football hasn’t improved in the last four for five years."

Even though the Guardiola style, inspired by his mentor and Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, is currently in vogue, the 65-year-old is convinced that the rest of the styles aren’t defensive. In fact he, along with Franz Beckenbauer, denied the Dutch the 1974 World Cup which everybody thought was the just reward for their Total Football.

"I never thought it was defensive. I always played football to win and we won."

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