One of the great maxims of football is that great players don't
necessarily make great coaches and Lothar Matthaeus seems to be doing his level
best to prove it.
It's been another ignominious week for the legendary player: after a
painstaking analysis of ''70 coaches,'' Hamburg named Matthaeus's former Bayern
underling Thorsten Fink as their new boss.
Coaching a great Bundesliga club like Hamburg has long been a dream for Matthaeus,
but Hamburg Chief Executive Carl-Edgar Jarchow laughed off
suggestions that the former German national captain had been a member of the
not-so-exclusive club of candidates for the job.
Matthaeus 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 Matthaeus as footballer is
not in doubt: as CVs go, his is pretty much unequalled. A World Cup
winner and European champion, Matthaeus was European player of the year and the
first FIFA world player of the year. No other outfield player has appeared in as
many 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 Matthaeus as a player. ''He is the best rival I
ever played against.''
So why can't Matthaeus get work in his own country?
Since being sacked by Bulgaria a month ago, ''I have received offers but
only from top clubs abroad,'' Matthaeus, 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 German 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 German player of this generation.
True, Matthaeus' managerial record is mixed at best. After cutting his
teeth in Austria 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. Matthaeus 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).
Matthaeus's next port of call was closer to home, but it also ended in
tears: Red Bull Salzburg showed him the door after a single season. After a
year in Israel with Maccabi Netanya, Matthaeus 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 he is persona non grata in his homeland.
It's not about money: Matthaeus has repeatedly said he'd accept the
going rate to prove he could succeed in the Bundesliga. It's more about trust. Matthaeus
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.
Matthaeus's TV punditry and autobiography have not won him any friends
and he retains a tendency to have fractious professional and personal relationships
(Matthaeus split from his fourth wife, a Ukrainian model 26 years his junior who
he met at the Oktoberfest, last year).
Matthaeus 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 wonderfully-talented footballers.
But Hamburg's refusal to even consider Matthaeusmight 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.