Matthaus talks the Bal­lon d’or

Only a select group of foot­balling greats have won the Bal­lon d’or – and FFT’S colum­nist is among them. He talks us through his golden year and ex­plains why he will al­ways pre­fer Messi to Ron­aldo


Even though I was the favourite for the Bal­lon d’or in 1990, I was never sure it would be me un­til I re­ceived the mes­sage say­ing: “You’ve won, now can you come to Paris to get the tro­phy?” There are al­ways two rules to win­ning in­di­vid­ual awards. First, your team have to win ti­tles and sec­ond, you have to make a dif­fer­ence in that team. In 1990, I was lucky to have two good teams around me, both of them play­ing very well.

In­ter had won Serie A in 1989. Then in 1991 we won the UEFA Cup, so we were a very good team through­out that time. Serie A was the best league in the world and all the su­per­stars were there, so it was pretty nor­mal for a player from the Ital­ian league to re­ceive the Bal­lon d’or. I was a mid­fielder and I’d scored 16 or 17 goals in 1990.

I was also the cap­tain of the Ger­man na­tional team, we won the World Cup in Italy and I’d scored four goals dur­ing the tour­na­ment.

I was about 29 then and had learned a lot by mov­ing to Italy a cou­ple of years ear­lier. I had con­fi­dence, and you need con­fi­dence at that level, but go­ing into the World Cup I was never think­ing, ‘I’m the best player’. Sure, I knew that I was a player who could make a dif­fer­ence, but I couldn’t say that I was bet­ter than Diego Maradona, Ruud Gul­lit or all of the other good play­ers around. That was for other peo­ple to de­cide.

Our first game at the World Cup was one of my best games for the na­tional team in 150 ap­pear­ances: we beat Yu­goslavia 4-1 at the San Siro and I scored twice. That gave us con­fi­dence and showed the oth­ers, ‘Don’t be happy when you play Ger­many!’

To go on and win the World Cup was the big­gest thing you can win in your ca­reer – we had been in the fi­nal twice, in 1982 and 1986, and this was the time to win. You can­not lose a third fi­nal in a row. Then you are the cap­tain, you get the tro­phy from the FIFA pres­i­dent and take it into your hands. It was fan­tas­tic.

At the end of the year, they gave the nominations for the Bal­lon d’or and I was in the top three. For sure at that point you would like to win it, but you had to wait for the de­ci­sion. It was de­cided by France Foot­ball, as it is now, al­though then it was only for Euro­pean play­ers and not ev­ery player in the world.

I was very happy when I heard I had won it. Andi Brehme came third, so we both flew to Paris to pick up our prizes. As friends and team-mates at In­ter, we were able to cel­e­brate to­gether.

When you win the Bal­lon d’or, you’re con­grat­u­lated by ev­ery­one. The Ger­man Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion did it and In­ter had a big party weeks later at the San Siro. It was great to cel­e­brate it in Mi­lan, as it was not just an award for the World Cup. It was for the whole year, and in that year I played more for In­ter than for the Ger­man na­tional team. At In­ter they were not just happy for me – they were happy for them­selves be­cause an In­ter player had won the Bal­lon d’or for the first time.

Just like when the fo­cus was on Italy 25 years ago, now it’s on Spain – and that’s partly why Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Li­onel Messi have won so many awards be­tween them in re­cent years. They’re play­ing at two of the best teams in the world, and it’s eas­ier to win the Bal­lon d’or in La Liga than with Bay­ern Mu­nich in the Bun­desliga. But if you win ti­tles and score 40 or 50 goals in a sea­son, of course you are go­ing to win the award.

In the last 10 years, both Messi and Ron­aldo have def­i­nitely been the best play­ers in the world, but it is im­pos­si­ble to say who is the best player ever be­cause you can­not com­pare eras. Nei­ther of them have won the World Cup yet: Pele won it three times and Diego Maradona won it alone in 1986. Per­son­ally, I have al­ways liked Messi’s style more than Ron­aldo’s. For me, it is just a more in­ter­est­ing style of play, but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean he is bet­ter be­cause when you see how many goals Ron­aldo has scored, it’s amaz­ing. I re­spect them both, of course.

How long can they keep win­ning the awards? I would say a max­i­mum of two more years. I give them that long, and then I think some­body else will win these ti­tles that they have been win­ning for the last 10 years.


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