The 90s began with World Cup glory for the FFT columnist, but they ended with the biggest low of his career injury-time defeat to Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League Final. What was it like to be on the receiving end?
We were winning 1-0 against Manchester United in the Champions League final when president Franz Beckenbauer went into the elevator at the Camp Nou. A minute later, when he got out of the lift and arrived down at pitchside, the scoreboard said 2-1 to United. He said to the security guy there: ‘What is this? Is it a joke? It was 1-0 to Bayern Munich. It’s a mistake.’
The security guy told him United had scored two goals. Franz said: ‘No, I don’t believe this. They didn’t score any goals.’ Soon he realised that, yes, Manchester United had scored two goals – in the one minute that he was in the elevator.
I never had a worse feeling in football than that night in 1999. I lost a couple of titles in my career: you can lose and it’s never nice. But the way we lost that Champions League final was a lot worse. That was what made me angry.
I didn’t tell the coach that he had to take me off – only that I was tired and if he did want to substitute me, I would agree
We respected United a lot. They had great players and a great coach. I had played as a sweeper that season – we’d played with three defenders, with me in the middle of Samuel Kuffour and Thomas Linke. But for the final we made a tactical change. David Beckham was playing in the centre of midfield for United rather than out on the right wing, because Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were both suspended. Our manager, Ottmar Hitzfeld, asked me to play in midfield against Beckham.
Mario Basler put us in front, and we dominated the 90 minutes. United’s attack didn’t exist for those 90 minutes. They never had any shots on goal.
I was 38 then, and after 75 minutes I told the coach I was feeling tired. I’d been making different runs in midfield than when I’d played sweeper, where I didn’t have to run as much. I didn’t tell the coach that he had to take me off – only that I was tired and if he did want to substitute me, I would agree.
I had a really good relationship with Ottmar and I think I had to tell him that. Then it was down to him. With 10 minutes left, he brought me off. Looking back, maybe it was a mistake – but if we’d won 1-0, it would have been correct. It always depends on the result.
But maybe we didn’t lose only quality with that substitution. Maybe we lost personality. Maybe it was a wake-up call to Manchester United to say: ‘Hey, Lothar Matthaus isn’t on the field any more, so now we can attack more as they’re missing a personality in their defence – their captain.’
We went too defensive. Maybe we were too sure that we‘d win. We gave the ball away far too easily and gave them corner-kicks. Maybe they wouldn’t have got those two corners if I was still on the pitch. Maybe they wouldn’t have scored those two goals. But nobody knows.
It’s happened again
We all went up to receive our runners-up medals but I took mine off straight away. I was too upset – what could I do with second place?
For United to score twice in injury time was unbelievable. We’d also led in my only other European Cup final, against Porto in Vienna in ’87, when we lost 2-1. But back then, Bayern dominated only the first 45 minutes and the right team won. Against Man United we dominated 90 minutes, and for that reason it felt much worse.
After the final whistle, everyone was upset. The players didn’t understand, the fans didn’t understand – United’s fans were celebrating and ours were crying. We all went up to receive our runners-up medals but I took mine off straight away. I was too upset – what could I do with second place?
That was my final chance to win the Champions League. I still had a contract at Bayern until 2001, but a few months after that match I wasn’t ready to play in the Bundesliga any more and I moved to the USA to join the MetroStars.
I never won the European Cup and fans do talk about that. For me, my life doesn’t change with that title. I wouldn’t have a different life today with the Champions League or without it. I had a long career and I’m very happy. It’s nice when you can win everything, but sometimes that isn’t possible. That night it was possible, but we – the team and myself – were too stupid to do it.
We had to congratulate Man United. It was the other side of the game. Football is a beautiful sport when the better team is winning. However, it is also a sport where it is possible to have a game like that one in 1999.
Lothar Matthaus provides his insight and wisdom as Der Kolumnist in FourFourTwo magazine every month. Subscribe!