Lothar Matthaus - immovable and tenacious

Matthaus was the far outpost of the West German defence, breaking up the opposing team's manoeuvres as they started, fighting for loose balls, conquering the vital centre of the field.

Matthaus has the distinction of having played in five FIFA World Cups (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998).   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

It was late in the Italian first-division season. Internazionale of Milan, the defending champion, had just beaten the shellshocked goalie of Atalanta for the seventh time in the match. With the outcome long decided, Milan's coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, sends a rookie out to play and yells to Lothar Matthaus to move from his habitual spot at midfield to the right wing. For Matthaus, the order is as disturbing as if he'd been asked to play in a skirt. In an instant, the 29-year-old West German forgot all the Italian he had struggled to learn during his two-year stint with Milan, and started barking at his coach in his native tongue. Never mind the score. Never mind giving him a breather. Center midfield was his position. Either he plays or he doesn't. There was nothing in between. Matthaus knew only one reason to play soccer: to win.

A fixture on the West German national team since 1985, the powerful midfielder came to Milan in 1988. And in his first year in Italy, Matthaus spearheaded Inter to its 13th first-division championship, smashing a host of league records along the way.

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"This pennant is worth at least two of the pennants I won in the German league," Matthaus said in the locker room after driving home a 20-yard smash in the second half against Napoli for the 2-1 victory.

Traditionally, West German players have been known as strong, fast athletes with a surplus of determination, players who try to subdue their adversaries with force rather than with the grace of the Latin sides.

Positive results:

The vision is only an approximation. Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Karl Heinz Rummenigge are only a few of the talented former West German national standouts who shatter the stereotype. The West German style produced some positive results.

West Germany, the World Cup champion in 1954 and 1974, made the finals of the last two World Cup tournaments, losing 3-1 to a magical Italian squad in 1982, and by 3-2 to Diego Armando Maradona's Argentine team in 1986, after having tied the score late in the second half.

 

West Germany, which finished ahead of the Netherlands, the European champion, to win its World Cup qualifying group, was one of the favourites in the finals of the 1990 tournament in Italy.

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The team had much changed since 1986, and Matthaus was emblematic of that change. At 5 feet 11 inches and a rock-solid 154 pounds, Matthaus was a natural as a defensive midfielder who played behind the forwards and wings. Immovable and tenacious, Matthaus was the far outpost of the West German defence, breaking up the opposing team's manoeuvres as they started, fighting for loose balls, conquering the vital centre of the field. Matthaus was often assigned to mark a particularly dangerous adversary. In the 1986 World Cup, he shadowed both Maradona and Michel Platini of France. A tireless runner with astonishing acceleration, Matthaus also left his post to support the West German attack. But the offence did not depend on him.

"His two years in Italy has done him nothing but good," the legendary captain Franz Beckenbauer of the 1974 champions said then about Matthaus.

"When he starts upfield with the ball at his feet, the only thing that can stop him is a machine gun. We gave Inter a very solid player. And Inter made him into a champion."