Career in Shirts: Lothar Matthäus

Italia 90 is without a doubt, my favourite World Cup. I may only have been 10 years old, but I have so many memories from it. Roberto Baggio’s jinking run and goal, Roger Milla’s jinking hips, Rene Higuita playing rush-goalie, England’s semi-final heartbreak (watched from the TV in the staff room at primary school, after we had finished a school production) and Gazza’s tears, will forever be etched in my mind.

Yet there was one moment at Italia 90… one goal… that wowed 10 year-old me. A goal that I just wanted to keep recreating on the playground or in the park. I wanted to hit the ball as hard as the goal I had seen on the telly.

On 10th June 1990, with about 64 minutes played, West Germany were beating Yugoslavia 2-1, when the West German captain, Lothar Matthäus picked up the ball in his own half. He ran with the ball towards the Yugoslav goal, skipped past a challenge from an onrushing defender, before arrowing a missile into the bottom-left corner from 30 yards out.

In a time before the internet, it was difficult to watch Matthäus play regularly, but from the little glimpses of him on TV and the match reports I’d read in World Soccer magazine, the conclusion was always the same… Matthäus was an immense player. He could play as a defensive-minded midfielder, or as a box-to-box midfielder or as a playmaker, further up the field… it didn’t really matter where he played as the result was always the same… he would boss that midfield (or defence, in the latter stages of his career). This was a player who could score goals, create goals or help stop goals. He was the complete player.

There was one other thing that stuck in my mind about Italia 90… the kits! Italia 90 (along with France 98) is one of the best-looking World Cups and it could be argued that West Germany wore one of the best shirts in football history. In fact, Matthäus seemed to be quite lucky. Not only did he have a fantastic career but he also wore some fantastic shirts.

Let’s delve into into some of the key moments in his wonderful career and some of the beautiful shirts that were used along the way.

Borussia Mönchengladbach

1979/80 – First Team Debut

Lothar Matthäus began his professional career at the team he supported as a boy, Borussia Mönchengladbach and he quickly became an integral member of the first team. In 1979, he made his debut for the club and would go on to play 41 games in all competitions scoring 6 goals. So good was his debut season, that he also made the West German squad for Euro 1980. It was the beginning of one of the most celebrated international careers in football.

Lothar Matthäus for Monchengladbach in 1979/80 (image from www.sueddeutsche.de)

In that debut year, Mönchengladbach wore this beautiful Puma home shirt. The white shirt was complemented by a round collar in the traditional Mönchengladbach dark green and this green seemed to continue in a thick stripe going down both sleeves. In the middle of this green stripe was a thinner black stripe. What was interesting about this shirt was seeing the Puma cat logo on the same side of the shirt as the club crest, separated only by the sponsor. This was a clean, sleek-looking shirt.

Over the next four years, Matthäus became a mainstay of the Mönchengladbach midfield, playing 200 games for the club and scoring 51 goals. However, Matthäus never won a trophy with his boyhood club. He did come close though. In the 1983/84 season, he missed out on the Bundesliga title on goal difference and missed the decisive penalty in a DFB Cup Final shoot-out.

That was one of the moments that I would like to erase from my career… You never intentionally miss a penalty, especially when you have a chance to win the cup. All the more so, when as a child you slept in Gladbach bedclothes.

Lothar Matthäus in Kicker Magazine

That penalty was to be his last ever kick for Borussia Mönchengladbach, as he was going to join the winners of the shoot-out, Bayern Munich. It was a move that disappointed Mönchengladbach, not just because Bayern were their rivals at the time but also because Matthäus had announced the move while Mönchengladbach were still in the title race. However, infuriating team-mates and management would become something of a trait for Matthäus.

Bayern Munich

1984/85 – Move to Bayern & 1st Bundesliga Title

In only his first season at the club, Matthäus finally won his first trophy as Bayern were crowned Bundesliga champions. Matthäus had also had his best season in terms of goals scored, netting 17 times in all competitions. This pattern would continue for the next two years: Bayern winning the Bundesliga and Matthäus hitting double-figures with goals. Only in 1987/88, in what turned out to be his last season at the club, did the pattern break… Matthäus had scored 21 goals this time… but Bayern lost their grip on the title.

Lothar Matthäus playing for Bayern Munich during the 1984/85 season (image from https://businesstoday.co.ke/)

In his debut season, Bayern were using a wonderfully simple kit. A red shirt with the white adidas stripes going down the sleeves, the classic adidas logo in white and a simple white, unobtrusive ‘Commodore’ sponsor logo. The Bayern Munich crest didn’t even appear on the shirt. Yet, it didn’t matter that the badge was missing, as even without it, this shirt is unmistakably Bayern Munich.

Despite the goals and title wins and international call-ups and massive ego he was cultivating, Matthäus wasn’t as highly-thought of amongst the fans and commentators. In the fantastic book ‘Tor! The Story of German Football‘, author Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger adds:

“… for a very long time he wasn’t regarded as a particularly impressive performer, only as an average if dogged defensive midfielder. When he left for Italy in 1988, the largest German weekly called him ‘an ageing child star’, suggesting a failed talent was seeking one last, fat cheque.”

Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger

Yet they couldn’t be further from the truth. Inter manager, Giovanni Trapattoni had been been tracking Matthäus for a year and half as he felt that Matthäus was the missing link in his Inter side. So, in 1988, Matthäus finally signed for Inter and in the best league in the world amongst the best players in the world, Matthäus proved his doubters wrong.

Inter Milan

1988/91- Move to Inter, 1st Serie A Title & UEFA Cup Success

Matthäus was an instant success. In his first three seasons, he helped Inter to their first Scudetto title since 1980, a Supercoppa win in 1989 and a UEFA Cup triumph in the 1990/91 season. Matthäus was a natural fit for Serie A. His driving runs from deep, and his long-range strikes not only made him a favourite with Inter fans but also amongst the Inter players. Former Inter players, Aldo Serena and Giuseppe Bergomi, have both said that Matthäus was one of the best players they have ever played with, with Bergomi adding that he once told Matthäus, “You are our leader and it is you that makes us win games”. If this wasn’t enough, during this period he also won a German Footballer of the Year award, a European Footballer of the Year award, the very first FIFA World Player of the Year award and was coveted by Napoli as Diego Maradona wanted to play alongside him… not bad for an “average if dogged defensive midfielder”.

Matthäus and Walter Zenga for Inter during the 1988/89 season (image from https://www.bauscia.it/)

During this period, Matthäus wore some classic Inter shirts. In fact, during that time the home shirt hardly changed. Manufactured by German sportswear brand, Uhlsport, the shirt had a classic style. A standard cut with a fold-down collar and v-neck. The shirt was dominated by the iconic black and blue stripes. They were everywhere… body, sleeves and even on the collar. ‘Misura’ was the shirt sponsor which seems a bit odd to me, as I’m so used to Inter being sponsored by ‘Pirelli’. They only noticeable difference between seasons was the change in club crest.

However, it is the 1990/91 away shirt which I absolutely love. The white shirt serves as a great alternative to the home kit, while still referencing it. The collar is the same as the home shirt and across the middle there is a band of diagonal, black and blue stripes with the sponsor sitting perfectly in the middle. It’s a lovely nod to the home shirt, while being completely distinct from it.

1991/92 – Final Season in Serie A

1991/92 would prove to be Matthäus’ last at Inter as well as one of Inter’s worst seasons ever. That year they finished 8th with Matthäus only contributing with 5 goals in all competitions, his worst ever return. Matters weren’t helped by Matthäus picking up a cruciate ligament injury. Now with a player on the wrong side of 30 and with a serious knee injury on their books, Inter decided to cash in. Bayern Munich came calling and decided to take a risk on the injured Matthäus. A deal was agreed and Matthäus returned home, to begin the next stage in his career… a stage where he re-invented himself and proved that age, really was just a number.

Inter 1991/92 third shirt (image from www.footballshirtculture.com)

By this point, Inter had changed manufacturers to Umbro and were now sponsored by FitGar. The style of shirt was reminiscent of the shirt worn by Spurs in the 1991 FA Cup final, incorporating a smart, button-down collar. The home and away shirts maintained the same, classic colour combinations as before, but now Inter had this stunning, third shirt. The yellow body, and black and blue collar were complimented by an eye-catching graphic across the front of the chest and shoulders. Inter’s black and blue colours can be seen surrounding the Umbro logo. This was certainly a shirt that wanted to be noticed.

Bayern Munich

1992/94 – Return to Bayern & 4th Bundesliga Title

In Matthäus’ first season back at Bayer, the club finished 2nd in the Bundesliga and were knocked out of the German cup in the 2nd round. Matthäus did win the German Goal of the Year that season, but he would have to wait for the following year, to end his wait for a club trophy. Yet once that happened, the trophy haul didn’t seem to stop.

In the first season after Matthäus resigned with Bayern Munich, the club used one of the most iconic adidas templates. The shirt was simple enough. It was a plain red shirt with white sponsor and a white adidas logo just underneath the v-neck collar. However, what makes this shirt standout were the 3 massive, blue adidas stripes that seemed to come over the right shoulder and extend down that side of the chest. A great example of taking something simple and making minor tweaks to make it stand out.

In 1993/94, the shirt was tweaked again. The shirt was still red, the adidas logo was still at the bottom of the collar and the three big, blue adidas stripes were still coming down from the right shoulder. However, it now looked like the stripes continued down towards the left side of the shirt, having been cut in the middle to incorporate the sponsor. Blue sleeves were also added as well as blue and white details on the collar and cuffs. Perhaps not as iconic as the previous season’s but still a great shirt.

1995/96 – More UEFA Cup Success

A year after winning the Bundesliga, Matthäus was lifting the UEFA Cup after beating Bordeaux in the final. By this point, Matthäus was playing more as a sweeper. He may no longer have had the capability to make those lung-bursting runs from midfield, but he was still tactically astute, strong in the tackle and able to hit a pass.

At the beginning of the season Bayern bought Jurgen Klinsmann, Matthäus’ teammate from the German national side and ex-teammate from their time at Inter. It should have been match made in heaven. However, to say that they didn’t get on would be an understatement. Whether it was because Klinsmann was the new star of the team, or because of the German captaincy, Matthäus’ ego was bruised, culminating in Matthäus’ offering to settle their differences live on TV. The dispute never made it to the studio, but the effects were felt, as Matthäus was banned from the national side.

Bayern Munich 1995/96 home shirt (image from www.classicfootballshirts.com)

That season, Bayern were almost unrecognisable. The famous red shirt was gone and replaced with red and blue stripes. This was complimented with a white logos, adidas stripes and collar (although that too, had blue and red detailing). The collar was pretty smart as it incorporated a button at the neck. The adidas logo was also replaced by just the name of the brand and placed in the middle, just under the collar. The position seems a bit odd, seeing as how there is no design feature stopping the logo from being in the usual position on the right. However, to me this shirt will not be remembered for the great players or the UEFA Cup success but instead for the fact that Crystal Palace wore the exact same shirt (with a different badge and sponsor, obviously).

1998/99 – Champions League Heartbreak

During his long career, Matthäus won every major tournament… except one… the Champions League. The closest he would get was at the end of the 1998/99 season, when Bayern faced Manchester United in the Champions League final. When he was substituted in the 80th minute, Bayern were 1-0 up and looking comfortable for the win. It finally looked like Matthäus would get his hands on the trophy, 12 years after losing his only previous final against Porto. However, United scored two injury time goals and the rest is history.

Matthäus’ substitution in that match is seen by many as being the turning point, with even his own teammates questioning the decision to come off. “If I was Matthäus, I would have played that game till the last drop of my blood,” says Kuffour.

1998-99 Bayern Munich Champions League shirt (image from www.classicfootballshirts.com)

Bayern played the final wearing their third strip, but it will be forever remembered for the outcome rather than for being a stunning shirt. I think silver is not the best colour for a football shirt and here it is no different. Combined with a darker shade of red for the sleeves and side panels, this shirt just doesn’t feel like a Bayern shirt.

1999/2000 – Final Season in Germany and Final Bundesliga Title

Matthäus started what would be his last season in the Bundesliga, as the previous season’s German Player of the Year. It was little consolation for missing out on the Champions League trophy but still an amazing feat for the then 38 year old.

Matthäus finished the season and his time in the Bundesliga doing what he had become so used to doing… lifting trophies. That season, Bayern completed the league and cup double, meaning that he left the club having won a total of 19 trophies.

However, if anyone thought that Matthäus was hanging up his boots, they were very much mistaken. Matthäus decided to head to the MLS for one last swansong… where he tried to make friends and influence people… much to the annoyance of those around him.

Matthäus playing for Bayern during the 1999/2000 season (image from https://iffhs.de)

Bayern were back in red that season, with the blue being reserved for the sleeves and the collar. The shirt used a popular adidas design of that season, with teams such as Real Madrid, Benfica, Spurs and Marseille using shirts with a similar design. While it may not be a design that will rank in the best ever, it is shirt I like. It’s clean, bright and simple.

New York/New Jersey MetroStars

2000 – MLS & Retirement

Instead of calling of time on amazing 20-year career, Matthäus decided to join the New York / New Jersey Metrostars (now the New York Red Bulls) for one last hurrah. What should have been a superstar signing injecting some excitement and experience into a still fledgling league, soon turned sour as his age and ego came to the fore.

Matthäus made a total of 23 uninspiring appearances for the Metrostars without a single goal. It soon became apparent that the ageing body was starting to take its toll. As performances deteriorated so his ego started to make more of an appearance. After a defeat to the Columbus Crew, he publicly criticised his teammates and during a defeat to the Kansas City Wizards, he threw his captain’s armband at the assistant referee. Yet to top it off, Matthäus was caught catching some sun in St. Tropez when he should have been getting treatment on a back injury.

Despite all this, he still came away with an award… Matthäus was voted the MLS’ biggest waste of money. Even now, with all the years that have passed and all the players that have come through the MLS, Matthäus still ranks highly in the league’s biggest ever flops.

The end of the season also culminated in Matthäus announcing his retirement from the game and the end of an incredible career.

Matthäus playing for the New York/New Jersey Metrostars back in 2000 (image from www.empireofsoccer.com)

In the early days of the MLS, teams had some of the craziest, most colourful shirts in football and although the 2000 Metrostars shirt isn’t one of the wackiest, it is still an iconic shirt from that era.

The shirt itself is fairly standard Nike shirt with thick red and black stripes with quite a big v-neck collar. However, what makes it stand out, and what I love about it, are all the other details, such as the big, vibrant club badge and the big ‘MetroStars’ emblazoned across the front in a font that makes me think it’s advertising another superhero movie. Even the number on the front is in a strange position under the ‘MetroStars’ but to the right. The shirt is simple but effective.

Germany

Lothar Matthäus’ international career is nothing short of incredible. He is Germany’s most capped player with 150 caps scoring 23 goals along the way. What’s more impressive about these numbers is that they could have been a lot higher had he not had a falling out with Jurgen Klinsmann and Berti Vogts back in 1996. Vogts banned him from the national squad and wasn’t recalled till the 1998 World Cup.

Matthäus had a special relationship with World Cups. He is one of only 3 players to have played in 5 different World Cups and holds the record for having played the most World Cup games, with 25 appearances across those World Cups. He has 2 runners-up medals having been an unused substitute in the 1982 final and then losing the 1986 final after a superb performance man-marking Diego Maradona. The performance was so good the Maradona called him ‘the best rival he ever had’. Matthäus finally lifted the World Cup in 1990, after beating Argentina 1-0. The goal was scored by Andreas Brehme from the penalty spot, but it should have been Matthäus taking the penalty. Unfortunately for him, he was having problems with his football boots, so Brehme took over.

Matthäus also appeared in 4 European Championships, winning the tournament in 1980 and holding the record for the oldest outfield player to play at the championship. In Euro 2000, Matthäus was 39 years old when he lined up against Portugal… It was also his last appearance for Die Mannschaft.

Along the way, Matthäus wore some of the best football shirts of all-time:

1980 – Debut and European Champion

Germany 1980 home shirt (image from www.classicfootballshirts.com)

A beautifully simple and elegant shirt to start off his international career. This West Germany shirt looks great in white with black accents. The big monochrome crest looks fantastic and I’m a big fan of old adidas Trefoil logo.

1990 – World Cup winner

Lothar Matthaus and Rudi Voller at the 1990 World Cup (image from www.wikipedia.com)

Perhaps the most famous German shirt of all and arguably one of the best football shirts in history, this West Germany 1990 home shirt is just a thing of beauty. It’s great example of turning a simple white shirt into something memorable.

It was the first time that Germany had incorporated colour that wasn’t black or white and what a way to introduce it. Adidas used the German flag as inspiration for what looks like a line graph going across the chest. Apparently the design follows very closely the fortunes of the West German national team in the World Cup. From the highest point on the right shoulder (World Cup victory in 1974) to the lowest point (2nd round exit in 1978) to a slightly higher position (2nd place in 1982) which continues under the crest (2nd place in 1986) to then move up to the left shoulder (1990 World Cup victory?)… it may have been unintentional but it certainly adds to the story of the shirt.

1994 – World Cup disappointment in USA

Germany 1994 home shirt (image from www.classicfootballshirts.com)

Another fantastic shirt that uses the colours of the German flag to great effect. This eye-catching, aztec-like design is transforms the white German shirt. The thick collar with the German colours also looks great and in keeping with what seemed to be the trend for sleeves at the time, the DFB logo can be found on sleeve.

A memorable shirt for a not so memorable World Cup campaign as Germany were eliminated in the quarter-finals after a defeat to Bulgaria.

1998 – Return for World Cup 98

Germany home 1998 (image from www.classicfootballshirts.com)

In 1998, Matthäus returned to the national team after Berti Vogts had banned him from Euro 96 and subsequent internationals. Yet, he returned just in time to make it to the 1998 World Cup, but just like 4 years previously, Germany were knocked out at the quarter-final stage, this time by Croatia.

The shirt, like the 1990 one, has the colours of the German flag going across the front in a more subdued manner compared to its classic predecessor. The German flag also makes an appearance on an insert on the collar, on the back of the shirt and also on the stars above the crest. The shirt is completed with black side panels, a black collar and re piping on the sleeve cuffs. Although not as eye-catching as previous German shirts, it is still a design that I like.

2000 – The Last Cap

Germany 2000 home shirt (image from www.classicfootballshirts.com)

At Euro 2000, Lothar Matthäus won his 150th in a 3-0 defeat to Portugal. The result meant that an ageing German team finished bottom of their group and were heading home. For Matthäus, it also meant the end of an incredible international career.

The last German shirt used by Matthäus, was, in my opinion, slightly bland. It used an adidas template that was quite common at the time, but then adidas didn’t really do anything else with it. The German colours can be seen on the collar and in the World Cup stars but they don’t stand out as in previous shirts. The top half of the sleeves are also in a dark grey, which I find odd, as I can’t see the connection to other German shirts in the past. A disappointing shirt for a disappointing tournament.

Putting aside the last couple of years of his career, there is no denying that at his peak, Lothar Matthäus was sublime. You could even argue that he was the complete player: strong, athletic, tactically aware, flexible, good passing, good shooting… there wasn’t much he couldn’t do (apart from keep quiet at the right times). A big player but with a big ego to match and it’s a shame that for some people he will be remembered more for that ego, when he gave so much to football.

Feature image at the top of post is from www.wikipedia.com

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