Hey there. Recently we hung out with Paul Breitner on a boat. It was fun. And hot.
So, while sweating, we asked him a whole bunch of questions about a whole bunch of things. He was pretty compelling, so we put the whole video up for you to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Or, if you’d rather, you can read the transcript below.
Nando Vila: It’s not often that I get to talk to one of the all-time greats. This man scored in not one, but two World Cup finals, which is more than you have. Paul Breitner, how are you?
Paul Breitner: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Nando: So which World Cup final did you prefer? The one that you won or the one that you lost?
Breitner: I just remember one. The other one I forgot because — losing a final, and especially if you lose a Champion’s League final or a World Cup final — forget it. And also forget if you scored or not. It’s better to leave it back.
Nando: You’re still very involved with Bayern today. What do you think is the main difference between the way soccer is played today and how it was in your time?
Breitner: Soccer has tremendously changed in the last 10, 12 years. Barcelona started to create a new football, a new soccer, a new movement, new ideas, a new attacking, a new defending way, a new reform, a new speed. And you can’t compare it with the futbol — or do we talk about soccer?
Breitner: You can’t compare it with the futbol played in the ’90s. It’s harder, rougher, it’s faster. It’s technically better than ever. So it’s fantastic.
Nando: How difficult is it to implement that kind of style of play? Like how early do you need to start training with that style of play in terms of the formation of players?
Breitner: You have to grow up with the ideas, with the speed. Today the most important point is to have the right speed. Without speed, you can’t become successful at these times as a soccer player. You need the speed. You need the rhythm. As I said, you have to start as early as possible.
And I think this is a problem over here in the U.S. because there is no organization like we have it in Europe. We are organized by clubs. And you can enter these clubs at the age of three or four, starting to play futbol, playing tennis, swimming, and doing any kind of sport. And you can practice your sports until you die. So you can play your first championships at the age of six. So you’re growing up in a competitive way and this is what I am looking for here in the U.S. and what I hope that one time will be built.
Nando: Now I am, unfortunately, a Real Madrid fan. You played for Real Madrid.
Breitner: Somos dos Madridistas.
Nando: Somos dos Madridisitas.
I want to ask you — when you went to Madrid, it surprised many people. There weren’t many foreigners in the league. What was that experience like when you first got there? What was the main difference, the main cultural shock when you got to Madrid compared to your time in Germany?
Breitner: You know, it wasn’t only a surprise for many millions of football fans, but also for me. That Real Madrid would buy me. Because I finished playing the ’74 World Cup as a left back. And all these guys said, ‘Real Madrid, are they crazy? They tried to buy a left back. What is a left back? Nothing. We need midfielders. We need strikers.’
But the new coach after the World Cup ’74, the new coach of Real Madrid was the Yugoslavian national coach [Miljan Miljanić] still at Germany during the ’74 World Cup. He knew me as a youngster, and he knew I was midfielder. I was a midfielder. And therefore he said, ‘I want you to buy Paul Breitner for the next season.’
These three years playing for Real Madrid were the most beautiful, the most exiting years in my life. After some weeks I said, ‘Okay, I’ll never move from Madrid.’ But after three years, I decided to leave Real Madrid because I went there [at] 22 years old. And after three years — 25 — I was too young for training once a day and just for living. To going out three or four times a week to the disco and to enjoy the red wine and to enjoy life.
Nando: Madrid is a lot of fun.
Breitner: I was used to study. I was used to doing business. And I wasn’t allowed, because I lived the three most interesting years of Spanish history during the last 80 years. I lived 15 months of [Francisco Franco] and the rest of the three years — the change from [Franco] from the monarchy to democracy. And it was tremendously interesting. I needed years to work with all the ideas and with all the moments I lived in the three years.
But it was fantastic. Real Madrid is still the number one club in the world. A little bit more number one than Bayern Munich.
Nando: You mentioned that interesting time in Spain. You know, it really was sort of an awakening for a country. Germany was obviously a much more mature nation at that point. Did you notice that the country of Spain was kind of waking up or growing up in that time?
Breitner: I can compare it with the reunification in ’89 of Eastern Germany and Western Germany. I have lived so many moments. I got so many expressions, the same expressions I got decades before when the Eastern Germans started or had to start from one day to another lifting democracy. And I saw the Spanish people starting to lift democracy, making the step of learning what is democracy, what means freedom. And I always said, ‘Hey, you have to start working, like working doing the first step of democracy, the second, the third. And you’ll starting working with the fifth step and the same happened in ’89, in ’90, ’92. During the first years of the East Germans, smelling, living, breathing freedom in democracy.
Nando: Wow. We were just in Berlin, and it was striking how you can sense the difference between East and West Berlin even still today. There’s still kind of a different ambiance and environment.
Breitner: So I am sure that we need two more generations.
Nando: Two more generations?
Breitner: Two more generations to be one people for 100%. Now, I think we have reached 70, 71, 72, 73% of coming completely together. And its been a hard way, a very tough way for both sides to learn each other. To learn and to accept the other side, especially for people who haven’t had any family in the East or in the West. So I need, I think after 25 years, we need 20, 25 years more.
Nando: Well its interesting because in Spain, it’s in the opposite direction right? I think that in maybe one or two generations the rift will be even more pronounced than it is now between Catalonia, the rest of Spain, Pais Vasco. Have you been watching that closely?
Breitner: Yes, of course.
Nando: It just seems to be getting more and more acrimonious.
Breitner: I lived years, these three years in Madrid, when the players of Barcelona didn’t want to play with the players of Real Madrid on the Spanish national team. And our players, the players from Real Madrid would not play with the players of Barcelona. They said, ‘Hey Catalonia, it doesn’t exist for us.’ And they said, ‘Castilla, it doesn’t exist for us.’ So nothing changed. Nothing changed. Both lived together and close, but in separate way of thinking. ‘Are we Spanish? No, we are Catalans.’ ‘And we are Castillanos.’ For a German who is still living with all the problems of the reunification in moments, in years in which we want to become one nation 100%. In Spain, the nation is drifting [apart].
Nando: How important was the last World Cup victory for a sense of German unity and German nation pride? Did it help or no?
Breitner: No. In this matter, every German felt the same. So we’ve been happy for winning the fourth time the World Cup. But this hasen’t had any [impact].
Nando: Right. I remember when I was growing up, German football was known as very sort of powerful, physical. And now it seems to me when I watch the German team play and when I watch Bayern play, they’ve adopted a radically new style. How conscious was that change in strategy? How did that come about? Was that a collective decision that you guys made to sort of change the way you guys play?
Breitner: This decision to change completely came in the years 2004, 2005 — the two years before the World Cup 2006 in Germany. When the responsible people of the German football, also myself and many ex-players, came to the sight that our futbol is worse, became worse. And its disastrous futbol we have played. And we realized that the reason was starting in the mid ’80s to teach our kids to become, to train our kids to become futbol workers. To become more and more physically power but less technically skilled.
The right mixture is, regarding to the German mentality, 50% physical fitness, 50% technical skill. This is the German mixture, the perfect German mixture for a high quality futbol. But we got more and more physical fitness, 70% physical fitness but less technically skilled. And so we created a futbol nation of futbol workers. And we said, ‘Stop it. We have to teach our kids, to educate them, to train them to become once again futbol players.’
And the first time in the history of German futbol, we were open and able and fair enough to understand that we have to learn from abroad. We have to look to abroad. And we have to look to Spain because this was the moment 2003, 2004, 2005 when in Barcelona, like I said before, the new futbol started to work. And logically, the reason was Barcelona was by far number one during six or seven years but without winning every year the Champions because not always the best team wins titles. And we looked to Spain. We looked to Barcelona and we said this is the futbol of the future. High-speed futbol with high class technique. And we started to change the training sessions with our kids and first of all with the youngsters at the age of 10, 12, 13, 14. And then, seven or eight years later in South Africa playing the World Cup 2010 we had a completely different national team.
Nando: I remember. Everyone was surprised.
Breitner: Everybody was surprised. And we knew that we had a very young team over there, a very young squad over there.
Nando: Tony Kros, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller.
Breitner: And we knew that we just need a little more experience to become World Champion of the next World Cup in Brazil, and this happened.
Nando: And has there been resistance to this change? Have some people…
Breitner: No, because everybody was afraid, disgusted watching in the 90s, in the beginning of the 2000s this German futbol. It was boring. Bad. And when our fans got the feeling, ‘Hey, hey what is changing? Something is changing to the better.’ Everybody was excited. And, you know we…in Germany we are a people who is dominated by futbol. We have number one, two, three, four. Eating, drinking, family, chop. Number five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 is futbol. We have around 50 millions of real futbol fans. Futbol is number one in our society…is number one in our life.
Nando: Pep Guardiola, the Bayern Munich coach, has the reputation of being very obsessive and sort of looking at every detail of the style of play. What’s a story or something you can tell me about him that shows just how intense he can be or how obsessive he can be?
Breitner: He’s preparing the team in a way I never have seen before for each game. And he has certain and special ideas how to beat the next opponent. And he gives his ideas to the team and he teaches every player what he thinks … what must be the basics of the game of every player to give him the freedom of 30%. … to act by its own, to create ideas, spontaneity and … to take responsibility. But if he has to realize that his system he gave the team to play is wrong after five minutes, he is able to change the system completely. And sometimes he’s changing the system–our team is playing over 90 minutes–five, six, seven, times. He’s starting to demonstrate anything. This is not just doing any action for the crowd. Every player knows what he means because he’s working the same way during the training sessions.
Nando: Yeah, I remember in the semifinal against Barcelona, Bayern started off the game all out forward with a different formation at the back. And then 15 minutes in, he completely changed. It was incredible.
I want to ask how his German is because I know that–I don’t speak German–but I remember when he first signed at his press conference he spoke the whole thing in German and everyone in Spain was shocked.
Breitner: I tell you, Pep is the guy who has spoken the best German by his first words I have ever heard by a Latin-speaking guy. It was, it was a kind of gentleness. It was respect at its best what he did. And from the first moment on, from the first word on people loved him. He was the winner on points by million of points for everybody. And it was simply said, it was great. It was fantastic and he improved. He is still improving.
Nando: In Germany there are these two superstar coaches, Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. What do you see are the main differences between them in terms of style?
Breitner: No, the main difference is that when Pep joined Bayern Munich, he had the pleasure to work with one of the best teams in the world. Jurgen Klopp started his work completely different because Borussia Dortmund was down far away from any inspiration of becoming German champion. So he started to have a very mediocre team. And he improved. The team improved from one day to another. And in the end after four years, he won his first championship with the same team. Okay, he was able to buy some players. But 80% of the squad was the same like four years before. And he was able to create — out of a mediocre team — an outstanding team. This is the difference.
Nando: I need to ask about a guy who I think might be my favorite player ever: Xabi Alonso. Because I remember he signed for Bayern Munich on a Friday maybe and he started a game the next day on a Saturday. How is it possible for a guy like that who doesn’t speak German, I presume, just to walk into the team and plays at a high level? How difficult is that?
Breitner: It’s very easy. If you have the class, if you have the work class, if you have the outstanding class like Xabi Alonso. Why? I’ll tell you. What happens to Madrid? After five years, I had to play my first official game. And I was starting to learn Spanish. And I was starting to learn the system in which I had to play. But, I was told by myself. I told me, ‘Hey, do your job. Play as you used to do it. And this is why they bought you. And I did nothing different than to play Paul Breitner.’ And Xabi joined Friday night. The team played Saturday. He played his game and he did it the way we expected it. He played Xabi Alonso. Nothing else.
And, you know, the higher the level of a team, the easier it is join it and to understand, because, right now, the difference between the way Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund is playing isn’t a big one. Maybe a five or 10% difference in the one of moving. And it’s so easy. But only if you are a high-class player like Xabi.
Nando: And who is your favorite player in the world right now? Who do you like to watch? Who do you think resembles you most when you played?
Breitner: Okay, the best one for me is, no doubt, Messi. Lionel Messi. He’s the most complete one.
Nando: Is he the best you’ve ever seen?
Breitner: Yes. He’s better than Maradona. He’s better than anyone else. Okay, let me tell you, let me say that he’s the best starting at the ’80s. Starting at 1980. Because I don’t want to say nothing against Pele and some others before — Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, and so on. This is another time, this is another quality… this time of history. Starting at the ’80s, Lionel Messi is number one.
Nando: Who is the best player you played with, you think?
Breitner: The best? Gerd Muller. Of course because he scored, he gave us the goals. Gerd brought us titles, cups, triumphs, and money. And without Gerd Muller, I wouldn’t stand here because he made us not only German champions, Champions League winners, he made us European Championship winners, World Cup winners. And without being a World Cup winner, world champion, I wouldn’t be here.
Nando: I feel like the style of forward that Muller was, you don’t see that many today. You know the scrappy, poacher types. Now the forward, you want them to be more technical and play a little bit.
Breitner: No, they have to do the same as Gerd Muller did to score goals. They have to do the work in the area. They have to be there to finish all the attacks prepared by the defenders, the midfielders…To finish all the attacking moves. Nothing else. And Gerd Muller was always standing in the right place. And I’m sure he always scored during a season of around 40 goals only in the Bundesliga. And I’m sure he would do the same today.
Nando: Well Paul Breitner, thank you so much. This was a complete pleasure and honor. Thank you.
Breitner: Thank you. It was a pleasure for me.