BERLIN: Lothar Matthaeus, who two months ago castigated former teammate Juergen Klinsmann over his restructuring of the German national team, has joined a growing legion of worshippers, praising the ex-forward for changing the fortunes of the side.
“Compliments, Juergen – you’ve done everything right. You’ve brought in a fresh wind, cleaned things out,” Matthaeus, now the coach of Hungary, told the Bild newspaper in an interview published yesterday.
The comments were in stark contrast to previous statements, which included calling Klinsmann a “killer” for his methods and warning of “consequences” if his reforms failed.
Klinsmann replaced Rudi Voeller five months ago following Germany’s first-round exit from the European Championship, a performance that drew widespread media concern for the team two years before the next World Cup – which Germany will host.
Klinsmann fired nearly the entire staff, altered training methods and banned officials from team lunches among his many changes, offending many and drawing criticism from several people.
With Germany having won four of six matches and outscored opponents 18-6, Klinsmann is being celebrated as the symbol of reform Germany needs, including retooling its stagnant economy.
The Die Zeit weekly newspaper called him the “secret chancellor of Germany”, a reference to the way politicians were scrambling to find solutions to the country’s problems through his methods.
“I’ve got nothing to do with politics,” said Klinsmann, then smiled. “The important thing is that the players now know how we want to play and what’s expected of them.”
His attacking style, self-belief and successful integration of eight younger players has many openly talking about the possibility of winning the 2006 World Cup – Klinsmann’s stated goal.
Werder Bremen’s Miroslav Klose, who has scored four goals in five matches under Klinsmann, said playing for Germany has been the highlight of his career – better than playing in the European Champions League.
“It’s the greatest thing. There’s all this euphoria on the team,” he said.
Klinsmann stressed that improvements were needed, but also reiterated his belief the team had the components to win the World Cup.
“We are among the best six to eight teams in the world with the potential to move up,” Klinsmann said.
German legend Franz Beckenbauer has warned that Germany have yet to face a top-tier opponent, except for Brazil, which resulted in a 1-1 draw. But he is among those who have praised the blonde ex-forward.
Matthaeus’ turnaround, however, is the most surprising, considering his long animosity to Klinsmann.
The two-time World Player of the Year blamed Klinsmann for getting him removed from Germany’s 1996 European Championship team, saying his rival would “go over bodies” to get his way.
Matthaeus said his former teammate “sawed away” at him until he was dropped as captain, then forced off the team. Klinsmann then replaced him as skipper in Germany’s last team to claim a major title.
But in the Bild interview, Matthaeus’ assessment of Klinsmann’s traits seemed to have mellowed into admiration.
“You have to be egotistical to create a breakthrough. Juergen will get his way 100 per cent, without considering the losses,” Matthaeus said. – AP