There was no ‘Nessun Dorma’ playing now. The Stadio Olimpico was full to the rafters but produced only nervous murmurs. In an instant 20,000 cameras flashed and the fate of the 1990 World Cup final was decided.
West Germany had just been awarded a penalty. With the scores level at 0-0, Argentina looked to one man to save them. But this time it wasn’t Diego Maradona, hero of the 1986 campaign, instead they turned to Sergio Goycochea, the model-come goalkeeper, who played for Millonarios in Colombia.
Andreas Brehme wasn’t supposed to take the penalty. That was the job of his captain and Inter teammate, Lothar Matthaus. But it was Brehme who stepped up. And as the cameras snapped, the German full-back put the ball in the bottom corner, inches away from Goycochea’s out-stretched arm. The trophy was won and Andreas Brehme was on top of the World. Now they could play Nessun Dorma.
In an interview with FIFA years later, Andreas Brehme suggested that people make too big a deal out of that World Cup-winning penalty and not enough of the overall team performance. He certainly isn’t a man to over-elaborate or paint himself as anything other than a team player, as I discovered when I caught up with him recently. During the chat, Brehme spoke with a warmth and affection about a number of topics including Giovanni Trapattoni, Inter and the city of Milan.
Brehme played for the Nerazzurri from 1988 to 1992, racking up 116 appearances and scoring 11 goals. He admitted that when he moved from Bayern Munich, he was driven by the allure of Italian football: “I had a contract at Bayern Munich when the offer from Inter arrived. The former manager of the club made contact with me. At this time, the Italian Serie A was the best in the world, with the absolutely best players. Therefore, I had to agree.”
Once in Milan, he immersed himself in the culture – a sign of his raw determination to succeed. He was the type of character who could make the best out of a bad situation, but that quality wasn’t needed at Inter. At the time, Serie A was head and shoulders above the rest of Europe’s competitions and Andreas was in awe of what he found.
“My memories of the time in Milan are very important for me, they actually influence me today. I’m speaking more Italian than German in my daily routine. I had my best time at Inter. I get the most defining memories when I think about the training centre, Appiano Gentile, where I spent most of the time. There was even a restaurant. And of course, I think about the victories. We won the Scudetto, the UEFA Cup and the Super Cup twice. In my first year at Inter, I was named player of the year. Still today I am gladly and often in Milan.”
The fact he settled quickly led me to ask if the presence of fellow Germans Lothar Matthaus (who signed for Inter in the same year) and Jurgen Klinsmann (who joined a year later) contributed to this transition. Brehme’s answer, however, was surprising. “It wasn’t necessary for us to help each other. The Italian players helped us a lot to integrate and find our ways. Everyone was very generous around us, we could ask them everything – the coach, the players, the staff.”
It soon became apparent that this Inter team, so successful under Trapattoni, were a complete unit. They had no obvious cliques and their team spirit was hammered home by their Mister’s character. ‘Trap’ after all, had been extremely successful with Juventus and it was no surprise that the players were in awe of his presence. I asked what the coach had done that made Brehme speak with such enthusiasm about him. “Giovanni was the best coach in the world, the best I ever had. He helped me a lot to settle in Milan. But he wasn’t the only one, the whole team tried to help me and was very affable. At this time, I didn’t speak a single word of Italian and everyone there was a great support for learning the language.” This spirit of togetherness which was reflected in his team’s approach on the pitch and culminated in one Scudetto, the UEFA Cup and two Super Cups.
Andreas’s admiration for Trapattoni remains unwavering, as does his commitment to the idea of the collective. Even when quizzed about how Jurgen Klinsmann improved the squad, or how the German players’ World Cup win benefitted Inter, he was constant with his mantra. This wasn’t about him, Klinsmann or Italia ‘90. “We were only strong together. Winning is only possible when you are a team, when you have a strong collective. Giovanni Trapattoni always said: ‘You can only win as a team, and only when every one of you brings 95 percent.’”
Brehme’s description of the group was one of solidarity and of work ethic, no outstanding individuals. Ricardo Ferri, Inter’s long serving central defender, was mentioned as the best player he had played alongside, and Ruud Gullit the best he had played against. But as he talked about those times in Milan, the focus always returned to ‘attitude’ and ‘application’.
Not only was he a player who took advantage of every opportunity that came his way, but he was also well ahead of his time. He had all the attributes that today’s wing-back needs: strength, speed, power and extraordinary fitness. Plus he had the ability to get forward, a great range of passing and could even score goals (he netted 11 in 116 for Inter and 34 in 154 for Kaiserslautern). Today, he would be tailor made for a club like Bayern or Chelsea. And Inter can only dream of having a player with his energy and delivery now.
Asked if he agreed with this concept, he replied “I’ve scored many goals from free kicks, but I also contributed various assists from the left flank. Maybe I was ahead of my time. Not for nothing you get named player of the year as a full back.” When pushed on his favourite goal, he returned to type, talking again of the overall experience, “I’m not able to name a single goal, every goal was special.” One thing he couldn’t forget was the adulation he received after scoring. “The fans in the Curva Nord are unique. The 26,000 people made every single match an unforgettable experience.”
Given his strong attachment to the Nerazzurri, his departure in 1992, after only four years at the club, seemed premature. His answer was simple, but further emphasised his loyalty towards the team – even if it meant him leaving. “Inter wanted to have a younger team when I had an expiring contract. I knew the president from Zaragoza, Arturo Casamayor, who was interested in me for a long time. So, I agreed a transfer to Spain at that time.” A new chapter began, but despite enjoying pastures new, his heart would always remain in Milan.
Brehme looks back on his career with fondness: “Every trophy was magnificent. And every domestic championship I have won was also splendid. However, it’s easier to win a domestic championship with Bayern than, for example, with Kaiserslautern, when we won the title as a promoted team”.
A World Cup winner and pioneering full-back, Brehme remains a treasure to the black and blue half of Milan. In fact, he was treasured everywhere he went. The motivation for this success? I’ll leave the last word to Andreas: “Speaking about motivation, I can say that I didn’t have to get motivated. I made my hobby into my profession. I owe everything to my father, who brought me to football and also trained me. I am very grateful to him.”
Words by Richard Hall: @RichHall80
A special thanks goes to Thomas Hurner for translation and help in organising this along with Dr Dunckel Till. And of course, we reserve a huge Milanese grazie to Andreas Brehme for sharing his time and being so passionate in his answers