The World Cup Alphabet – L is for…


For anyone not German who’s been to Germany or been good friends with Germans you soon realise that the German stereotype of being emotionless, efficient robots is very unfair and ignorant to say the least. Then again that stereotype might be all down to the former German captain and World Cup legend Lothar Matthaus.


‘The Panzer’ was the ultimate poster child of Bavaria just minus the lederhosen with his grim features and terminator like way of efficiently controlling a midfield or (in later times) defence. Who wore the famous #10 for West Germany/Germany along with his beloved Bayern Munich a frustrating standout for any opponent, the ultimate prodigy for Franz Beckenbuaer.


He lacked any Latin flair, often fought with his teammates and managed to be outspoken on most issues but he more than made up for it over an amazing FIVE World Cups between 1982 and 1998.


He made his debut as a youngster in the much derided West German side that were runners up at Spain 82 before becoming the general of the West German midfield  at Mexico 86 (getting another runners up medal). At Italia 90 he starred and captained the West Germans to a much deserved third World Cup title. This was followed with an inaugural FIFA World Player of the Year crown in 1991 to confirm his greatness.


In the 1994 World Cup in the USA Matthaus was now playing as a sweeper in defence for a now unified but age-ing German side. He was set to break the record for all time appearances at a World Cup. Unfortunately he could only equal the record of 21 appearances when Germany was upset by a rampant Bulgarian side in Dallas at the Quarter Final stage.


It seemed that would be it with the now 33 year old replaced by the established golden boy and former East German Mathis Sammer. The flamed haired sweeper Sammer was showing the form to be an even better player than Matthaus. Matthaus’ tremendous ego didn’t help his cause either getting him in to spats with both new captain and current club mate Jurgen Klinsmann and new coach Berti Vogts.


He never announced his retirement from international football and continued to play a starring role for Bayern Munich after returning from Inter Milan. He was just expected to fade away with the odd bitter attack of the side in the press whenever they lost like bitter former stars tended to do.


Then the strangest thing happened. Sammer suffered what would tragically be a career-ending knee injury in the year leading up to the 1998 World Cup to be held in France. With Vogts lacking options with the experience and guile needed for such a tournament they went back to Matthaus and a thawing of hostilities occurred. He played a handful of friendlies before being selected in the squad to be called on if needed.


Matthaus sat out the first match on the bench against the USA but with the Germans 2-0 down against Yugoslavia in the next group game he was called on to rescue a side he had led to so much glory. By coming on for this match he made his 22nd and record breaking appearance in a World Cup match. He also became only the second player to play in Five World Cups (Mexican goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal was the first). He also pulled Germany from the fire and inspired them to come back for a 2-2 draw to boot in the match against Yugoslavia.


Matthaus would go on to start another three games in the tournament before the wonderful Croatian side eliminated them at the quarter final stage. Matthaus’ record stopped at 25 appearances from 1982 to 1998. A record that isn’t likely to be broken any time soon. Matthaus would go on to play until he turned 40 with 150 appearances for his country to his name (another record). He was also officially declared dead for a short time when German authorities could not get hold of him to pay one of his four ex-wives alimony when he was coaching elsewhere in Continental Europe.


You would never see Matthaus on a cereal box or Dancing with the Stars any time soon. Hell, you’d have a tough time seeing him smile. That isn’t Matthaus’ shtick though. His shtick was ruling a football pitch with an iron fist and he was damn good at that. A modern day master and prime example of everything a captain should be.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Dilettante. Traffic Nerd. Behind the Almanac World Cup 100. Keen Cat, Cardie, Socceroo/Matilda, Glory Bhoy.

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