Interview: Lothar Matthäus Talks About the Bayern-Dortmund Rivalry

Bundesliga Legend Lothar Matthäus knows what it takes to play, and win, in the biggest game in the race to the Bundesliga title. The seven-time league winner talks about his first game against Borussia Dortmund, legendary moments of Der Klassiker, and the importance of the clash to Bundesliga fans around the world.

The Interview

Can you remember your first game for Bayern against Dortmund?

I think it was in 1984 during my first season with Bayern, but I can’t really remember the match. I prefer to remember the last game of the season in Braunschweig when I became Bundesliga champion for the first time with FC Bayern. But since we are talking about the game against Dortmund, you’re going to have to remind me.

Who scored the goal back then to make it 1-0? Did we play at home?

Then I probably scored the goal but, as I said, I can’t remember the game. Back then, it wasn’t the ‘Der Klassiker’ that it is today between Dortmund and Bayern. It was a game like any other because Dortmund were not the big rivals back then like they wanted to be or like they were ten years ago when they won the title two years running. Back then, it was the teams from Köln, Mönchengladbach, and Hamburg who were the real competition for FC Bayern. And we can’t forget about Werder Bremen, either. Of course, it is nice to have this Klassiker because the whole world watches this game between Dortmund and Bayern.

On 3rd April 1999, you were on the bench for the legendary ‘Klassiker`when Oliver Kahn nibbled on Heiko Herrlich’s ear and did his kung fu kick. How did you see that at the time?

The rivalry started in the previous decades when Dortmund won the Champions League and league titles. They also won a few games against us, but they financially overstretched themselves at the same time. They brought in Jürgen Kohler, Júlio César, Stefan Reuter, Matthias Sammer, who were all good investments by Dortmund and it meant that they were on the same level as us at this time. Ottmar Hitzfeld previously won the Champions League with them and in 1999 he was our manager at Bayern. Even the players seemed to go crazy during these games. Oliver Kahn did his kung fu kick against Stéphane Chapuisat and I think he almost bit Heiko Herrlich in the neck. They were certainly feisty games and they were emotional not just for the fans but also for us players.

How significant is ‘Der Klassiker’ in the Bundesliga and worldwide?

It’s the two most financially stable clubs taking each other on. There are a lot of national team players involved with a lot of individual battles, such as Haaland against Lewandowski. It used to be the battle of the goalkeepers and now it’s the battle of the centre forwards. There’s also Hummels against his old club, and Reus wants to prove himself against Müller in the fight for the same position in the national team. There are also Dortmund’s young talents, such as Bellingham and Reyna and whoever else, who want to prove themselves against the experienced and successful Bayern team. There are battles across the pitch which you can write headlines about. There is also a small rivalry between Marco Rose and Julian Nagelsmann, two of the most expensive managers in the Bundesliga along with Adi Hütter, who I think cost 7.5 million euros. There are little stories everywhere you look both on and off the pitch. I think it’s also Michael Zorc’s last season in his position and I’m sure he would like one final victory against Bayern – this would be memorable even if they do not win the title. There are lots of stories and I am looking forward to it.

How important is the return of Erling Haaland?

Haaland is as important for Dortmund as Lewandowski is for Bayern. You can win games without Haaland, but you cannot replace a player like him in the long run. You could see this in the last few weeks because Dortmund won games in the Bundesliga but more through luck, although they used to not win these games at all so there is certainly a progression to be seen here. But their performances in the Champions League were also lacking because they lost twice to Ajax and played terribly against Sporting. It has not been a top-quality team in the last few weeks because they missed not only the goals from Haaland, but also his energy, enthusiasm, and passion – factors that boost the team. He is important to the because of his personality, which lifts the team, and the way in which he plays football. He gives the team and the fans a boost and it is important that a player like this is on the pitch when you play against Bayern München.”

Dortmund have won all their home games so far this season. Will this streak continue against Bayern?

Regardless of who they are playing or where, Bayern München are always favourites in the Bundesliga. This has to be said, regardless of whether the game is in Leipzig, Dortmund, Mönchengladbach, Leverkusen, or Wolfsburg, which are the teams that have been closest to Bayern in the Bundesliga in the last few years. This means that Dortmund’s home streak ought to be broken. However, Dortmund has always had the quality in the squad and in the coach, Marco Rose, to show that they can win games like this against Bayern. In this respect, a win for Dortmund is always possible and so the streak could continue. However, I tend to think that the run will come to an end.

How has Leroy Sané developed this season? How has he become an important part of how Bayern play?

He did not meet expectations in the beginning, although they may have been very high as a result of the transfer fee and the qualities he brought. On the other hand, he came to Munich badly injured. I think he now feels at home, which is very important for a player’s psyche. It is also important for Leroy Sané, that someone to puts their arm around him, and I think he is getting that with both coaches at the moment, both at Bayern and in the national team. They trust him and they know his qualities – he is quick and can dribble well, he has a good shot and a good final pass. He doesn’t just go into one-on-one situations, but rather he drags more players towards him and opens up space for his teammates. These are the qualities he has and now that he feels at home, he has built up his self-confidence through goals and assists and the applause he gets from the fans and the praise from the coaches. I think this healed the early wounds and this was maybe the moment he needed to believe in himself and to feel comfortable. If this all falls into place and the coaches stand by you even after a bad game, then this gives you an enormous sense of security as a player.

Marco Reus is the face of Dortmund and the current Bundesliga player with the most goals against Bayern. Why does he score so many goals against the record champions?

Because he is a regular feature in these games and he is dangerous in front of goal. He has the quality to make the difference with his goal scoring ability. He hasn’t done this in the last few games, but he is more than capable of it – he even scored two goals in a game against Bayern a few years ago. Marco has his qualities, which is why he is regularly called up to the national team by Hansi Flick. He has developed his personality a little and his interviews have become stronger and more expressive. You can see that he has gone through a process of maturing from a good footballer, to a leader, and now to a captain. He has been regularly criticised, and rightly so in my opinion because you expect a lot from a player like him. However, he has played very well in recent times, especially for Dortmund, even if not all the time, and this is what makes him so important for the team.