World Cup Winner’s Advice for Southgate on Foden and Potential England-Germany Euro 2024 Final

World Cup Winner’s Advice for Southgate on Foden and Potential England-Germany Euro 2024 Final

It is little wonder Pierre Littbarski was one of the most daring and skillful dribblers of the 1980s, as if playing with sticky tape on his boots. His talent shone after a childhood spent in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, and the bricks that divided the city formed the foundation of a career that included three World Cup finals.

‘I played in Potsdamer Platz, on the west side,’ he begins, as we sit beneath the Cologne sunshine. ‘We developed a technical game, where your ball could only bounce once and you played it against The Wall. For people not living in Berlin, that sounds crazy. The Wall was also our goal and we would shoot against it. My coach would send me to play there, and that was where I learnt my technical skills.’

What happened if the ball went over?

‘Yes, that was a big problem! Especially when you’re not that rich, you protect your ball. You take it to bed, to school, everywhere. If the ball went over, it never came back! So, your control had to be good. It certainly helped me!’

Littbarski won the World Cup in 1990 after being on the losing side in 1982 and 1986. The Italia 90 triumph was the last as West Germany, one year after The Wall came down.

Pierre Littbarski meets Mail Sport to reflect on his 1990 World Cup win with West Germany – and give his views on England

Pictured with Craig Hope, Littbarski admits Gareth Southgate has a 'very difficult' job

Pictured with Craig Hope, Littbarski admits Gareth Southgate has a ‘very difficult’ job 

‘For me, that night in 1989 was a special moment, even though I was not there because I was away with the national team. I was born in 1960 and, in 1961, The Wall went up. It was always there. I travelled to East Berlin a lot because we had family there.

’But even now it is a strange feeling going to the east side, to Brandenburger Tor or when I see Checkpoint Charlie. There is still a feeling inside, like a boy, one of excitement.’

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The Germany of today is not as unified as many would have hoped 35 years ago. To that end, the success of the host nation here at the European Championship is seen as an opportunity to bolster national morale. Littbarski, a thoroughly charming soul who is wearing his Germany shirt with ‘Musiala 14’ on the back, believes that a good vibe is spreading throughout the country.

‘It is very different to the World Cup two years ago,’ he says. ‘I am watching the games at events in holiday parks and the mood is so good.

‘I can see a difference in the minds of the players, too. They are enjoying playing for Germany! Before, there was a lot of pressure, they did not perform very well. They had the hiccup against Switzerland (1-1 draw), but you watch them and think, “OK, this is the right way to play football”.’

For Littbarski, the dream final would be Germany versus England in his home city. First, the Germans must beat Denmark in the last 16.

The former Cologne winger also sees similarities between the old rivals, especially in areas of concern.

‘I love Phil Foden,’ says Littbarski, an authority on dribblers with a low centre of gravity. ‘He is a player who can understand very fast situations. He is one of my favourite dribblers in the world.

He loves Phil Foden and would choose him ahead of Bukayo Saka on the right wing

He loves Phil Foden and would choose him ahead of Bukayo Saka on the right wing 

The former winger thinks Germany have a problem with Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz occupying the same position. Sound familiar?

The former winger thinks Germany have a problem with Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz occupying the same position. Sound familiar? 

‘But I would prefer to see him on the right-hand side, in place of Bukayo Saka. Because for me, he’s not coming enough in the decisive positions he plays for Manchester City. They need to give him more freedom.

‘The accommodation of the attacking four (Foden, Saka, Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham) is very difficult for Gareth Southgate. Maybe sometimes you don’t play the four best players. Maybe it should be the four players who fit best. It is the same with Germany. Sometimes I feel Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz are taking the same spots, like England with Bellingham and Foden.’

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So, what would happen if they did meet in the final?

‘First, the English press will talk about the penalty shootouts, of course,’ says Littbarski, and he is right.

‘But they are very close, so it is all about the superstars. We have two players who can make the difference, Wirtz and Musiala. England have Kane and Bellingham. These four players will decide the match. It would be the perfect final. There are so many stories around this game, so much history. We have huge respect for the English team.’

Littbarski was part of the West Germany team the last time they hosted the Euros in 1988. Strong favourites to win the tournament with a side including Lothar Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Rudi Voller, they lost 2-1 to eventual champions Holland in the semi-final.

‘They beat us before the match,’ reveals Littbarski. ‘We came on the pitch and we knew each other very well from our clubs. We went to the Dutch players to shake hands. They just refused and turned the other way. We were already thinking, “What happened here?”. That was because the coach, Rinus Michels, he developed a strategy with the mind games. They had beaten us before the match, but you to admit they had a very good team.’

Two years later and, after exacting revenge on the Dutch in the last 16, West Germany met Argentina in the World Cup final in Rome. Littbarski played the full 90 minutes of a 1-0 win.

‘In the 1982 final, I was very nervous (3-1 defeat by Italy). I was young, I could not sleep before the match. In 1986 (3-2 defeat by Argentina), I was injured before the tournament and did not play very well. Come 1990, experience helped me a lot. I expected us to win. We had excellent individuals but also worked as a team. I knew we would win that final.

‘I grew up with Matthaus and Voller. Matthaus was multi-functional – he was fast, he could defend, he could score. Voller is three days older than me and we played Under-21s. I knew in every moment where he was going and where I could send the ball. It was a lot of fun growing up with those players and so special to win the World Cup with them.’

Where does Littbarski keep his winners’ medal?

‘A good question, I am searching for it! I think one of my ex-wives has it! The medal is a nice thing, but the memories are better.’

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