More pressure, less pleasure

S. PATRONOBISH

While tipping Spain as his favourite to win the coming FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Lothar Matthaeus, the victorious German captain at Italia 90, says one African side was sure to reach the semifinals, if not the final of the championship, in a chat with Amitabha Das Sharma.

Football has come to be driven more by money than by passion. This is unduly pressurising the players and taking some charm away from the game, feels Lothar Matthaeus, the man who was Germany’s captain when it last won the World Cup in 1990. Making his first trip to India, Matthaeus was in Kolkata along with the FIFA World Cup, which also made its maiden visit to the country following an initiative from the soft-drink giant Coca-Cola. The 48-year-old Matthaeus, who has picked up English well, dwelt on a lot of aspects of international football in a chat with Sportstar. While tipping Spain as his favourite to win the coming FIFA World Cup in South Africa, he said one African side was sure to reach the semifinals, if not the final.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: What was the feeling when you held the World Cup for the first time after 20 years?

Answer: Holding the World Cup after 20 years brought nice memories. But there was more emotion 20 years ago, believe me. Then it was the World Cup awarded to the best team in the world and I was the captain of that team. So it was a great moment of pride that cannot be expressed in words. When we won the World Cup after five weeks of tournament play, all the memories of losing the previous final (in 1986) came crowding in.

Each second appeared like an hour as we waited for the ceremony to get over. All the players wanted to have a feel of the World Cup and then the moment came when the FIFA President handed over the trophy.

How has football changed in the last 20 years?

Things have changed a lot. When we won the Cup 20 years ago the media was not like what it is now. The world has moved ahead in the sphere of electronics, especially internet (information technology), which is making a lot of difference. When we won the Cup it was more of a private function and celebrations were more localised. Now everything spreads quickly on the net all over the world and it is for everyone to see.

The game has become quicker and there is much more money than what was there 20 years ago. There is a great deal of sponsorship and the clubs and associations are making a lot of money from TV rights and increased ticket prices.

As far as the sport is concerned there is more aggressiveness and everyone’s under pressure. They don’t always enjoy the game. We also played under pressure, but now it has grown much more.

Would you also agree that the game has become more defensive from what it was during your time?

It depends on how you look at it. You can play in a 4-2-3-1 format as many teams nowadays do and still be attacking. There are two players on the wing who double up as attackers. When I look at Bayern Munich’s game and see (Arjen) Robben and (Franck) Ribery playing, they remind me of strikers. You can play an attacking game in any system. It depends on the mentality of the players. The tactics have changed a bit with the changing system, but to me a midfielder is a midfielder and a defender is a defender. Now the defence starts in the offence and the offence starts in the defence.

What are your expectations from the coming World Cup in South Africa?

I expect one African team to reach the semifinals. Eight years ago, host South Korea reached the semifinals and this time there will be a lot of home support for the African teams. Not only South Africa, but for other teams of the continent like Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria, who have good teams. These teams have a lot of players who play in top European clubs. I won’t be surprised if an African team plays the final too. I think sides like Ghana, Ivory Coast and even Cameroon have the potential to make it to the top.

You have tipped Spain to be the champion in the coming World Cup. Can you please elaborate?

I think the English and the Spanish Leagues are the best in the world at the moment and (FC) Barcelona is the best club side. It has many special players like Xavi (Hernandez), (Andres) Iniesta and (Fernando) Torres, who scored the final goal against Germany in the European Championship two years ago. The Spanish team has a good mix of skill and experience.

What do you think of Germany’s chances?

Germany is in a very dangerous group having the likes of Australia, Ghana and Serbia. Ghana, as I have said, has the potential to be in the semifinal and I know the toughness of the Serbians, having coached Partizan Belgrade for a considerable amount of time. Australia is a very motivated side and always plays a physical game making it tough for its opponents.

I wish Germany wins the title. It surely is one of the favourites. Germany has always been there in the first eight (quarterfinals) ever since we won the Cup last time. We don’t have the best players when compared with sides like Spain and Argentina, but our team is a tough one which never gives up till the final whistle.

Your coaching career has somehow not matched the excellence of your playing days. What do you think has gone wrong?

A king is sometimes not valued in his own kingdom. I have received a lot of offers from Bundesliga clubs, but none of them have been able to draw up a proper contract with a bank guarantee. I have lost a lot of money with various clubs not honouring the contracts in my previous coaching assignments in Europe. Hence, I am currently holding myself back in the absence of a proper contract.

What is your philosophy as a coach?

It is not restricted to coaching football techniques. It extends much beyond that. I always feel that money cannot be the guiding principle in any club. A club prospers if all work together as a family starting from the director till the smallest official and player. I would like to focus on the spirit of the game and teach the players to love the game rather than play for money.

Where do you think the two major world leagues — Serie A (Italy) and Bundesliga (Germany) — are losing out to the more popular ones like the English Premier League and La Liga (Spain)?

Both these leagues are under financial strain. These leagues initially reaped the benefits of having the World Cup in their respective countries. In Italy the infrastructure has worn out and there is only one club, Inter Milan, that pays well. In Germany all clubs seem to be playing safe and only Bayern Munich has been able to keep its identity among the best in the world. But in England and Spain the story is different.

Who, in your opinion, is the best coach in the world?

It is always difficult to pinpoint the best coach. Jose Mourinho is good. He does something different from other coaches. There is another big name in the business and that is Pep Guradiola. What he has done for Barcelona is fabulous. Among the national coaches Fabio Capello’s name comes first for the way he has transformed the English team. And I must also mention Joachim Lowe for the good work he has done for the German national team. Alex Ferguson of Manchester United is also someone special as he is a long-time coach of a champion team and has earned the knighthood.

Who would you pick as the five best players of the world?

There cannot be any one better than Pele. Second is Franz Beckenbaeur. The third position is a toss up between Diego Maradona and Michel Platini. Okay, let’s have Diego as third. Johan Cruyff should also be in the list of all-time greats.

What about the current footballers?

I would prefer the FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi on top. Second is (Cristiano) Ronaldo and next come the three players from Spain — Xavier (Hernandez), (Andres) Iniesta and (Fernando) Torres.