Cash scandal taints Germany's eternal star

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The Independent Online

The testimonial played in Munich on 26 May last year is unlikely to be remembered as a classic, even though it featured some of the best footballers of a generation, including a pot-bellied Argentinian named Diego Maradona.

Lothar Matthäus, regarded by many Germans as their last great football star, was bidding farewell to the game in an emotionally charged charity event. At the end, the score between the German national team and Bayern Munich stood at 1-1, but more importantly, the match watched by 47,000 fans, made a profit of 1m marks (£330,000).

That should have been the end of the story, yet the Matthäus testimonial has just leapt to the front pages of German newspapers. For even allowing for the notorious slowness of German banks, the charities cannot quite understand why they have still not received their money.

A year after the glitzy fund-raiser, only the DM50,000 pledged to a children's welfare project in Thailand has been paid. Bayern Munich, the organiser, says it took DM3m at the turnstiles and in sponsorship. The overheads were substantial, swollen at the last minute by the arrival of the Maradona clan: 25 family members and hangers-on expecting lavish entertainment. But when all the bills for caviar and champagne were settled, there was enough in the kitty to present the retiring player with a cheque for DM1m.

Matthäus had promised to put it to good use. Some DM600,000 was to be distributed among an anti-drugs campaign, an organisation for orphans, a charity in aid of Mexico, and a Munich school for handicapped children. They are all still waiting.

The footballer's first reaction, when confronted with this lapse, was characteristically abrupt. Asked to name the charities that benefited, Matthäus said: "That's my own business." The German public has heard this kind of talk before. It was Helmut Kohl, the "eternal chancellor", who thus dismissed inquiries about his mysterious donors. Mr Kohl had towered over German politics for 18 years.

Matthäus was nicknamed the "eternal Lothar" because he kept running for Bayern and Germany until the ripe old age of 39. That Germany's most durable post-war politician and football star should both be tainted by scandals over charitable donations is a huge irony.

The two men have much else in common, notably their legendary stamina and king-sized egos. Off the field, Matthäus was a consummate politician, a master of backbiting and damaging leaks. He plotted against Berti Vogts, the national team manager, and famously, against Jürgen Klinsmann. Through hurtful innuendo, Matthäus succeeded in driving his great rival from Bayern, and eventually from the national team.

But finesse was never his strong suit. During the World Cup held in the US, he sold the squad's inside gossip to Bild Zeitung, Germany's leading tabloid. His vendettas against fellow players earned him universal loathing. The strains in German squads captained by Matthäus in the late 1990s are widely blamed for their repeated failure at tournaments.

The negative passions aroused by Matthäus reached their spectacular climax during Bayern's ill-fated Champions League final against Manchester United in 1999. Visibly tired from his exertions, the ageing defender was substituted shortly before the end of the game, as Bayern sat on aone-nil lead. Premature celebrations turned to tears as the Germans conceded two quick goals in succession. Even though Matthäus had a perfect alibi, other players pilloried him unfairly for the débâcle. "He always leaves when things are getting tight," fumed his team-mate Mehmet Scholl.

Since his departure, harmony has been restored at Bayern as well as the German team, and both have rediscovered their winning ways.

Cursed with the reputation of a troublemaker, Matthäus has found all doors barred to a yearned-for managerial career. Apart from some commentating, Matthäus complains of having little to do these days, other than counting his money and attending to his business interests. It was rather surprising, therefore, that he cited his busy schedule for failing to pay his favourite charities.

"I've had a turbulent year," he told yesterday's Bild. "It is my decision which organisation will receive the money and when. Everything will be sorted out, I promise."

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