Lothar Matthäus is number 27 in 90min’s Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time series
The complete footballer and an inspirational leader, Lothar Matthäus was one of the game’s greatest ever central midfielders.
After conquering Germany with Bayern Munich in the mid-1980s, Matthäus set sail for Serie A to form part of the German revolution at Inter under Giovanni Trapattoni – a move that saw him thrive in Europe’s ultimate proving ground.
His ability to play several midfield roles was what made ‘der panzer’ so special and he had the knack of simply making those around perform at a higher level.
So from domestic triumph to World Cup greatness, here are some of the finest moments from Matthäus’ illustrious 21-year career.
Maiden Bundesliga Crown, 1984/85
Following his development as a dynamic box-to-box midfielder at Borussia Monchengladbach, Matthäus made the switch to Bayern in 1984.
A refined passer, powerful tackler and partial to a thunderb**tard or two; Matthäus excelled in Bavaria from the get-go – with his 16 goals in his debut campaign guiding Bayern to the Bundesliga title, the first trophy of his career.
Matthäus swiftly established himself as a leader in Udo Lattek’s imperious side, with double-figure goal tallies in 1985/86 and 1986/87, as he helped Bayern to three consecutive Meisterschales. He would then go on to lead his side out in the 1987 European Cup final against Porto in Vienna – albeit in agonising defeat.
Nevertheless, his title victory in 1984/85 after a barren spell at Die Fohlen kickstarted an impressive haul of 15 major honours at a domestic level.
Immediate Scudetto Success, 1988/89
Despite the sky-high expectations, very few foreseen the immediate impact Matthäus would have at San Siro.
With the influx of foreign playmakers spearheading their respective sides to Serie A glory in the 1980s, Inter now had theirs in Matthäus – who joined the club alongside West German teammate Andreas Brehme.
Playing in a more advanced role, compared to his time in the Bundesliga, the injection of Matthäus’ world-class talent galvanised the Nerazzurri squad, transforming them on the pitch. His nine goals in his debut season guided Inter to their first Scudetto in eight years, finishing an impressive 11 points clear of second-place Napoli.
Italia ’90 Triumph
Confidence was high within the West German camp heading into Italia ’90, despite falling at the final hurdle in both 1982 and 1986.
With German icon Franz Beckenbauer at the helm, Matthäus skippered his country for the second time at a major tournament – leading an efficient core of individuals who, like Matthäus, were plying their trade in Serie A at the time. To nobody’s surprise, West Germany breezed through the group stages – with the captain scoring on three occasions, including a brace in a stellar individual performance against Yugoslavia.
Matthäus’ penalty was then enough the see his side overcome Czechoslovakia 1-0 in the quarter-finals before he repeated his spot-kick reliability in an unforgettable penalty shootout victory against England in the semi-final.
A gargantuan display by der panzer ensued on football’s grandest stage against Argentina, as he executed Beckenbauer’s task of shutting out the world’s best player, Diego Maradona, to perfection. It was a selfless performance, with El Diego later describing Matthäus as “the best rival I’ve ever had”.
And although it was Brehme who garnered the bulk of the glory following his game-winning spot-kick, it was the captain’s versatility and defensive nuance that guided Die Mannschaft to victory that day.
Ballon d’Or, 1990
Off the back of his fantastic display in the World Cup final at Stadio Olimpico, Matthäus was crowned as the winner of the Ballon d’Or on Christmas Day 1990, pipping that summers tournament’s Golden Boot and Ball winner Salvatore Schillaci to the post along with iconic midfield rival Paul Gascoigne.
Continued individual brilliance followed at the Nerazzurri in the 1990/91 campaign, where he scored 23 times in 46 appearances and was just beaten by Sampdoria’s Gianluca Vialli in the race for the Capocannoniere that season.
And after guiding Inter to victory in the UEFA Cup in May 1991 with a 2-1 victory over Italian rivals Roma over two legs, Matthäus was recognised as FIFA’s inaugural World Player of the Year – an award that capped off a monumental two years for Matthäus, when der panzer truly was at the peak of his powers.
Die Mannschaft Record-Breaker, 2000
By the time Euro 2000 rolled around, a decade after his Ballon d’Or crown, Matthäus had developed into an outstanding sweeper – with his intelligence and tactical nous prolonging his career in a different role.
And although the campaign itself was one to forget for Germany – now reunified by the way – it was a special one for Matthäus, as he became the first German to represent his country on 150 occasions (83 for West Germany) after appearing in a group stage game against Portugal.
By the time he’d called it a career at the impressive age of 39, Matthäus had played in nine major tournaments for Die Mannschaft since 1980, including five World Cup finals – being the first outfielder in history to achieve that feat.