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Matthäus: "We had to react to the Dortmund challenge"

Dortmund and Bayern have been the Bundesliga’s two top teams in the past two seasons. But former Bayern player Lothar Matthäus told Deutsche Welle that the grand rivalry is a replay of the situation two decades ago.

DW: Every decade saw a different Bundesliga side come up against Bayern Munich as contender for the top spot in German football. In the 1970s it was Mönchengladbach, in the 1980s Hamburg and Bremen, and Dortmund first came along in the 1990s. When did you start seeing them as your main rival?

Lothar Mathäus: I saw Dortmund actually move past us two years in a row: 1996 and 1997. Those two years they were superior. But in the end that was no more than a phase – they just benefitted from a temporary weakness at Bayern. Maybe we just weren't hungry enough for success back then.

There was a lot of hype around the Bayern-Dortmund matches back then – was that for show or were the players all really passionate about those grand duels?

The heat was definitely on back then. We knew we had to react to the Dortmund challenge. We had to drive the message home to them: You had your bit of fun, but now it's over. There were the moments that really symbolize that. When Oliver Kahn went up against Stephane Chapuisat [foul play, outstretched leg] or striker Heiko Herrlich [bite to the head]. Those are things we all remember, and that are brought up over and over again now ahead of every Bayern-Dortmund match.

Some of that was definitely foul play – sometimes even brutality.

Of course we didn't just want to make our mark by playing well. We also wanted to demonstrate our superiority, maybe not with brutality, but I'd say with certain gestures.

Of course it's not acceptable to attack an opponent like Olli did back then with Chapuisat, but he didn't mean to injure him. He just wanted to show: Hey, we have the power here and it's about time you stepped back in line! That's just what it was like back then. Off the pitch we got along just fine – players and referees. Of course it happened every now and then that someone said something when they should have kept their mouth shut. But no one took that personally. It was just posturing, intended to make the other side nervous. It was just a show of strength like boxers do before a fight. And that is part of football as I see it – then and now.

We also remember that incident involving Andreas Möller and you...

Andy Möller – good grief! He's a nice guy. We get along fine. We both played in the national squad that won the World Cup in 1990. But on the pitch? He played in a yellow jersey [Dortmund] and me in red [Bayern]. We all knew that he was a bit soft. And then he went down again after a foul when we were playing them in Dortmund and then I made this gesture to say "Stop making a fuss, you crybaby!" But that was nothing personal. Just like Olli Kahn didn't have a problem with Chapuisat or Herrlich. But, hey, those are the kind of moments that add spice to the sport.

As observers we often had the impression that Bayern was showing a bit of nerves back then and seemed to be focusing more on themselves than their opponents. When Jürgen Klinsmann kicked that barrel or coach Giovanni Trappattoni let rip in that news conference, that seemed to confirm that impression.

We saw a few experiments back then, which didn't work out that well - Giovanni Trappattoni's stint with Bayern falls into that category. But then it all had value as adding to the show-effect. Bayern were always in the headlines, always entertaining. That was the time we got the nickname "FC Hollywood."

Lothar Matthäus, actor Heiner Lauterbach and two wif, Matthäus' wife Liliana at a golf event in 2009 Foto: Ursula Düren dpa/lby +++(c) dpa - Report+++ pixel

Matthäus (left) and his fourth wife Liliana (right) sought media attention with German showstars such as Heiner Lauterbach

Did the players find that irritating?

At some point we felt enough was enough and we needed to get back to business. And that was when we summoned the willpower to win again.

The media and the fans dubbed the Bayern versus Dortmund showdowns as "duels of hate." Was it really a matter of hatred?

No. There is no such thing in football. Players are motivated and they are under pressure. Of course you're aware that another team has snatched the victory from you, you want to make sure you get your own back.

What are the parallels to today?

Bayern had to come to terms with Dortmund not only beating them on the pitch, to the trophies and titles, but also winning the hearts of the fans the last two seasons. But at the end of the last season that has changed and Bayern have managed to turn things around come out on top again.

So you feel that's the way it should be? A hierarchy with Bayern at the top?

It's like a Formula One race. You have to stop and swap the tires and that's when someone else manages to get past you. But they then will have to stop later for a tire-change – and that's the point in time when we pull ahead again.

Lothar Matthäus, born in 1961, is the German player with the highest number of national caps so far. He won the Bundesliga championship seven times, had a successful international career, winning the Italian top league with Inter Milan in 1989 and the UEFA cup twice. He was the captain of the German national team that won the World Cup in 1990. Since his career ended he has been coaching various teams outside Germany - and made the headlines of German tabloids with details of his private life.