On the face of it, it is almost exciting. Lothar Matthaeus - a man who has raised the World Cup, who holds the record for the number of appearances in World Cup matches, who has played with the biggest clubs, who was a FIFA Player of the Year, has a face familiar to all, in short, a soccer legend - is coming to Israel's little Premier League, after signing over the weekend a two-year contract to coach Maccabi Netanya beginning in June.
The thing is that he is arriving with the wrong title. If Matthaeus would have landed at Ben-Gurion Airport during his days as a player, that would be a cause for celebration. As a coach, though, his record is weak, his behavior problematic and his resume is nothing to brag about. In less than seven years as a coach, Matthaeus has been to clubs and national teams in Austria and Serbia, Hungary and Brazil, Austria again and now Israel. Even when he was successful - and that did not happen often - his departure was unpleasant. He usually did not succeed, neither with club achievements nor with his behavior toward management, the players and in his personal life; sometimes the affairs winded up in court.
The most prominent example of Matthaeus' lack of seriousness, that which sealed his fate of being labeled a problematic person, occurred two years ago, in January 2006. When he was brought in to coach Atletico Paranaense, a big fuss was made of his being the biggest former player to sign with a Brazilian club. The beginning was excellent: Atletico opened with five victories and two draws, even though the players resented the manner in which the new coach treated them ("He did not see eye-to-eye with us, he behaved toward us as if we were inferior," one player on the team is quoted as saying), but the club's management was satisfied with the results of a coach who was ejected after cursing a referee and confronting him. And then Matthaeus surprisingly left for Germany, "for personal reasons" as he put it, which later turned out to be a big fight with his third wife, from whom he has since divorced. "Three to four days," he assured Paranaense officials. After two weeks had passed and he hadn't returned, with the club searching for him in vain, he shocked them with a fax announcing his resignation.
These kinds of problems accompany Maccabi Netanya's new coach wherever he goes. As a player, too, he did not exactly possess what you could call an easy-going personality. His conflict with Jurgen Klinsmann, with whom he played at Inter, turned Klinsmann into a star no smaller than Matthaeus himself, and it followed them into the national team's training camps at the beginning of the 1990s (and also to Matthaeus not being included in the squad for Euro 1996, after Klinsmann had already been made captain and had enough influence over then-coach Berti Vogts).
Matthaeus was prepared to coach in the second division - with the stipulation that it be in Germany - but none of those clubs were interested in the highest-capped German player.
"They don't like me in Germany because I represent Bayern," said Matthaeus, who grew up at Moenchengladbach before joining Germany's equivalent of Maccabi, after hated regional rival Nuremberg turned down his offer to coach it. This is of course nonsense, and it only takes one case to illustrate the point. Klaus Augenthaler played his entire career, from childhood until his retirement, at Bayern exclusively, and for the last seven years he has been coaching teams in the Bundesliga, including Nuremberg.
And it is not that they think so highly of him at Bayern, either. He is considered to be part of what in Germany was called "F.C. Hollywood," a Bayern squad for which it was more important to appear in the tabloids and at parties than at the club.
When he was appointed to his first coaching job at Rapid Vienna, it began well but after a few months, the club for the first time in its history was in danger of being relegated. "It's worse here than at Bayern Munich; it is a viper's den," he said in an interview, and was immediately fired. His claim to the remainder of his salary, which had been frozen by the club, and compensation was described as "annoying" by the judge. He later agreed to return to the club, but owner Rudolf Edlinger refused and reached an out-of-court settlement with Matthaeus. "This is a childish person; it was a mistake to sign him," said Edlinger.
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