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.
“MESSI AND RONALDO ARE THE BEST, BUT NEITHER HAS WON THE WORLD CUP. PELE WON IT THREE TIMES AND MARADONA WON IT ALONE In 1986”