Lothar Matthaus, Sir Alex and the Best Injury Anecdote Ever

by Paul French · 5 comments

lothar matthaus stickerLothar Matthaus had something to do with Manchester United’s eighth title in eleven years in the 2003-2004 Premier League season.

Which is strange, because Lothar Matthaus retired from football in September, 2001.

And given that he was on the losing team when Manchester United scored twice in injury time to steal the Champions League from under his nose, United can’t be his favourite club in the world.

So what’s the connection?

The highlights reel of Lothar Matthaus’ trophy haul features the World Cup, a European Championship, two UEFA Cups, seven Bundesligas and one Serie A title. He also won goal of the year in Germany, twice.

In total, Matthaus won 150 caps for Germany, played in five World Cups and captained the victorious side of Italia ’90. He was awarded the Ballon d’Or in the same year.

But like all great careers, it wasn’t without setbacks.

Lothar Matthaus Tore His Cruciate Ligament

When Paul Gascoigne tore his cruciate ligament tackling Gary Charles in the FA Cup Final in 1991, he was out for 16 months. As injuries go, it doesn’t get much worse than a cruciate ligament tear.

Ronaldo (the original), Jamie Rednapp, Robert Pires, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Michael Essien are all players who have had to battle back from the injury every footballer dreads.

When Matthaus tore his cruciate in 1995, some said he would never recover.

He was too old. Not hungry enough.

But they were wrong. He battled back to play a major role in Bayern Munich’s UEFA Cup triumph the following year. He then went on to make a record of 25 World Cup appearances.

And it was the story of Matthaus’ iron will that Sir Alex Ferguson recounted to Ruud Van Nistlerooy when his transfer to Manchester United was put on hold after he   collapsed in training with cruciate ligament damage.

I sought to encourage him with stories of the singlemindedness shown by Roy Keane while he was battling his way back to fitness and of the even more dramatic example provided by Lothar Matthaus. During the long process of rehabilitation that enabled him to re-establish himself in the German national team, Lothar had set his alarm for 4 a.m. each morning. He had punished himself with remedial exercises for two hours, then returned to bed for two hours’ sleep before travelling to Bayern Munich’s training ground to put in a full day’s work on his recuperative routine. That little parable deeply impressed Ruud and I hope it helped to reinforce the drive he will need to resurrect his career. With all my heart, I wish him well.

~ Sir Alex Ferguson, writing in 2000

Van Nistlerooy went on to score 150 goals in 219 appearances for Manchester United.

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