Lothar Matthaus is elated about an Englishman abroad. Harry Kane has just hit a hat-trick in Der Klassiker and Matthaus can barely contain himself.
‘Oh la la! I was watching the game yesterday,’ he beams, before roaring: ‘Great Harry! Great Harry.’ When a Bayern Munich behemoth like Matthaus — 410 appearances, seven Bundesliga titles — gets excited like this, something extraordinary is going on.
‘Beautiful transfer! Not only for Bayern Munich, for the Bundesliga, for Germany,’ enthuses the 62-year-old, who has lost none of his intensity and passion for the beautiful game.
‘I think English football fans will miss Harry Kane in the Premier League because he is scoring amazing! It’s a new record in Germany, in history.’
Yet there is another trailblazing Englishman. Jude Bellingham impressed Matthaus with his mental fortitude when he moved from Birmingham to Borussia Dortmund, aged just 17, three years ago.
Bayern Munich legend Lothar Matthaus has praised England star Kane (R) and Bellingham (L)
Matthaus (L) says that he is surprised by how many goals Bellingham has scored for Real
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Like Bellingham, Matthaus moved overseas. But, as with Kane, he did so in his prime, winning Serie A in 1989 with Inter Milan in his first season aged 27.
After Real Madrid paid €100million to make Bellingham their new No 5 — the shirt of Jose Antonio Camacho, Fernando Redondo and Zinedine Zidane — Bellingham has taken the pressure in his stride, scoring 13 goals in 14 games.
Few know the central midfield position better than Matthaus. Der Panzer’s career encompassed two decades, five World Cups, four European Championships and 150 international caps.
He mastered playing as a No 6, No 8, No 10 and finally as a sweeper, but Bellingham has even taken Matthaus aback.
‘I’m a little bit surprised about how many goals he’s scored,’ Matthaus says. ‘He plays a little bit different.
‘In Borussia Dortmund he was the leader — at his young age it’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders.
‘[Other teams could say:] “If we take out Bellingham, Dortmund was only 50 per cent”.
‘But in Real Madrid if they can take out Bellingham, they have another seven or eight players who have a similar quality to Bellingham, but in a different way.
Matthaus was impressed with Bellingham’s leadership qualities at Borussia Dortmund
The former Germany star has backed England, led by Bellingham and Kane, to excel
According to Matthaus, Gareth Southgate’s England are serious contenders to win Euro 2024
‘So it is maybe easier for him to play in Real Madrid than in Borussia Dortmund because the team-mates make it better.’
Bellingham, who is currently recovering from a shoulder injury, and Kane are keystones of an England side with an enviable record over the past 12 months — played 14, won 11, drawn two, lost one.
And with seven months until Euro 2024, Matthaus earmarks Gareth Southgate’s side as serious contenders to win on German soil.
‘Sure, you have incredible players in England, speed players, strong players, technically good players and you are always a team who is favourite for tournaments.
‘With Harry Kane in this condition and Bellingham in this condition — how he’s playing the last 12 months, not only for Real, he played a very good World Cup in Qatar — I think you have a team who is one of the favourites for next year.’
But to end those 58 years of hurt, England will have to succeed where they have failed miserably before.
And Matthaus has some advice for Southgate’s side — be a little bit German and learn from defeat. He speaks from experience.
In Mexico in 1986, West Germany lost the World Cup final after Matthaus was tasked with man-marking Diego Maradona in a 3-2 defeat.
Former Germany star Matthaus described Diego Maradona as his toughest ever opponent
Matthaus says Maradona was the best player of his era and stated that he ‘died too early’
After that, the pair struck a friendly rivalry born of mutual respect.
‘He is definitely the best opponent I’ve had throughout my career,’ Maradona said of Matthaus as Inter and Napoli jousted at the top of Serie A, then the greatest league in the world.
‘He was the best player in this time. He died too early,’ Matthaus says. ‘I am sorry for Argentina, because he and Messi are idols for the Argentinian people, not only football fans, they were doing so much for the country.
‘Maradona was not only a great player, he was really a great person, because I had a lot of private things with him.
‘We celebrated together and had dinners together. We respected each other and he was always for his team-mates.
‘Sure, it was always an honour for me to play against him, to play against the best of the best. This was a motivation for myself.’
In 1990, Matthaus was captain of West Germany as he led his side to World Cup glory
Four years later, and 88 days before Germany was reunified, the result was reversed as Matthaus led his country to a World Cup win after West Germany’s 1-0 victory over Maradona and Argentina in Rome.
Was this the best side he ever played in?
‘Yes, yes, not only because of the quality but because of the mentality. The respect in the team between each other was maybe the main thing that gave us a World Cup after four weeks in the tournament.
‘We had 23 players and nobody was calling against another one. It was really a good team spirit.
‘When you are so long in a tournament, you needed good team spirit from all players, not only from the first game. This is a little bit typically German.’
WHAT DID MATTHAUS SAY TO WADDLE IN 1990?
West Germany 1-1 England
(West Germany win 4-3 on penalties)
After Chris Waddle sent England’s fifth penalty into the Turin sky, and as West German team-mates mobbed goalkeeper Bodo Illgner, Matthaus consoled the crestfallen Marseille man.
‘I know how you have to feel after a game like this. Because England played very well, it was a great game, I think was the best game in this World Cup. I feel it,’ Matthaus told him. ‘And I think we are fair with each other.
‘I cannot change the result. But I give him the hug and say: “Hey, this was a great game from both sides. And we had the luck on our side, and not more”.
‘But I cannot help him after this game because you are completely down. But I think we had always a good relationship to say not only with Waddle. Gascoigne. With Platt. Lineker.
‘We know each other and had a great game. Good atmosphere in Torino. And only one team can go to the final — and I was happy we was going to the final!’
Matthaus told Chris Waddle that both teams played well and Germany had luck on their side
Matthaus won a World Cup, a European Championship, seven Bundesligas and two UEFA Cups
Kane experienced agony in Qatar but Matthaus believes he can bounce back to secure glory
Then there are the ones that got away. Matthaus won a World Cup, a European Championship and two UEFA Cups, but played in and lost two European Cup finals — the first in 1987, the second the legendary match against Manchester United in Barcelona 12 years later.
Bayern led both 1-0 and ended up losing 2-1 after late goals from Porto’s Rabah Madjer and Juary and even later strikes from United’s Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Matthaus was substituted after 80 minutes with Bayern ahead in a result that rankles to this day.
‘You see Bayern Munich in 1999, we lost the Champions League final against Man United. Two years later, we won the Champions League final and we were not always in a good position in this game. 2001 we won against Valencia in Milano.
‘Maybe it was the experience we got in 1999 against United. This makes something in our brain if this was the same.
‘World Cup 86, the same teams were playing the final Argentina against West Germany. Maybe we learnt from this game four years before to make it better in 1990.’
Who knows, if England take similar lessons from their defeats against Italy at Wembley and France in Qatar, perhaps they will appear in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium on July 14.
And if Harry Kane lifts the Henri Delaunay trophy, you get the feeling Matthaus will not mind too much…
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