It’s been another ignominious week for the legendary player: after a painstaking analysis of ”70 coaches,” Hamburg announced Matthäus’ former Bayern underling Thorsten Fink as their new boss. Coaching a great club like Hamburg has long been a dream for Matthäus, but Hamburg Chief Executive Carl-Edgar Jarchow laughed off suggestions that the former German national captain had ever been a member of the not-so-exclusive club of candidates for the job.
Matthäus was livid.
“That was a disrespectful, below-the-belt statement,” he told newspaper Sport-Bild. “Mr. Jarchow does not appreciate what I did for German football. He does not know me. I do not expect others to pat me on the shoulder, but I expect fairness and respect.”
Respect for Matthäus as footballer is not in doubt: as CVs go, his is unequalled. A World Cup winner and European champion, Matthäus was European player of the year and the first FIFA world player of the year. No other outfield player has appeared in more World Cups (5). He is the most capped German of all time (150 games) and holds no fewer than 7 Bundesliga winners medals. For 16 years, he was a key man for Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.
Diego Maradona summed up Matthäus as a player.
”He is the best rival I ever played against, ” he revealed in his autobiography.
So why can’t Matthäus get a job in his own country?
Since being sacked by Bulgaria a month ago, ”I have received offers but only from top clubs abroad,” Matthäus, now 50, said this week. ”I respect the fact that German clubs don’t want me, but I don’t understand why. Even if a second division Bundesliga club wanted me, I’d be really interested.”
That sounds more like a plea from a hapless journeyman coach than a quote from the finest player of this generation.
True, Matthäus’ managerial record is mixed at best. After cutting his teeth at Rapid Vienna with little success, he spent two years at Partizan Belgrade, winning the Serbian league. Then followed an ill-fated two years as national coach of Hungary, and a bizarre 33-day spell at Atletico Paranaense, which ended with the Brazilian club posting what they said was an unpaid phone bill of more than €4 000 on the Internet. Matthäus left Atletico Paranaense in such a hurry that he didn’t even have time to pack his impressive selection of designer clothes (he faxed his resignation from Germany, never to return to Brazil).
Matthäus next port of call was closer to home, but it also ended in tears: Red Bull Salzburg showed him the door after a season. After a year in Israel with Maccabi Netanya, Matthäus had another stint as a national coach to forget (3 wins in 11 matches at Bulgaria).
But all these misadventures still don’t explain why Germany sees their former hero as persona non grata.
It’s not about money: Matthäus has repeatedly said he’d accept the going rate to prove he could succeed in the Bundesliga. It’s more about trust. Matthäus is considered too close to the German media, in particular the tabloid Sport-Bild, to be given access to the inner secrets of a club.
Matthäus’ TV punditry and autobiography have not won him any friends and he retains a tendency to have fractious professional and personal relationships (Matthäus split from his fourth wife, a Ukrainian model 26 years his junior who he met at the Oktoberfest, last year).
Matthäus seems at a loss to explain his apparent lack of credentials.
”I don’t know what people have against me in Germany,” he once mused. ”I have already shown that I can win titles abroad as a coach and can develop young players, but no-one seems to take that into account. Maybe sporting directors just don’t want me to put them in the shade.”
He revealed only one German club, Bavaria’s Nuremburg, has ever expressed firm interest. ”But the supporters were against me because of my past with Bayern. Maybe that’s a problem for other clubs too.”
It must be a curious feeling, being universally respected in countries around the world, but mistrusted in your own. It’s a fate normally reserved for politicians (think Mikhail Gorbachev), not brilliantly talented footballers.
But Hamburg’s refusal to even consider Matthäus might finally convince him that any future managerial successes will come on foreign fields and not in the country that for so long hailed him as a hero.
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The Bundesliga is back on Eurosport 2 on Friday. To kick off the weekend, Augsburg host Bremen on Friday (20:30). On Saturday it’s champions Dortmund v Cologne (15h30) and then Hamburg v Wolfsburg (1830). We round off the action on Sunday with Leverkusen v Schalke and table topping Bayern away at Hannover. Highlights of all matches at 19:30. Coverage in north and east Europe.