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Comeback at Old Trafford

Zickler: It still sends shivers down my spine

FC Bayern’s veterans’ team, the FCB All-Stars, are deep into the build-up to a hugely prestigious game on 14 June when captain Paul Breitner and greats including Alexander Zickler, Giovane Elber, Roy Makaay, Jorginho, Mark van Bommel & Co travel to Old Trafford in Manchester for a clash with the United Legends.

“It’ll be a fantastic experience for us and the fans,” said Zickler prior to the meeting at the self-styled Theatre of Dreams. Twelve-year Munich stalwart Zico spoke exclusively to

Interview: Alexander Zickler Hallo, Alex! Congratulations on a decade living in Austria. Do you feel like an Austrian now?
Alexander Zickler: I get to vote in the mayoral election this year so I’m well integrated (laughs). My wife is Austrian too – but when Germany play Austria we have his and hers sofas.

You work for RB Salzburg. What’s your job?
I’m U14 coach and U15 assistant coach. It’s time-consuming but I enjoy it, and fortunately my family are right behind me. We have a lot to do with football and my son plays for RB, but we do try and do other things away from the game as well.

How much are you looking forward to the All-Stars game at Old Trafford?
There are shivers running down my spine already! We had great games against United back in my playing days and the atmosphere there is amazing. We played them at the Allianz Arena last summer [a 3-3 draw], so I’m expecting a really cool return match. It’ll be a fantastic experience for us and the fans.

Are you still fit?
In the first couple of years after I hung up my boots I just enjoyed life and went for it at Christmas. But after the scales started showing me a three-figure number I knew it couldn’t carry on. I started running and now I’m a really good weight, I’m fit and I can still run.

Are you as quick as in the old days?
Nearly! I’ve not lost a lot of speed, as my All-Stars team-mates or our Monday kickabout group in Salzburg can testify. They prefer me to be on their team!

You’re still a Bundesliga record-holder with 18 goals as a sub, so is there a risk Paul Breitner might only bring you on in the second half?
His loss! (laughs) But seriously, it wouldn’t bother me. I’ve always given it my best shot, even if I came on late. Coaches knew I’d always have an impact after coming on.

Let’s briefly turn to the Champions League final against United in 1999. Sixteen years later, what do you now think about this agonising defeat?
It was one of most bitter moments you could ever experience as a player. We were so close to victory but threw it away in stoppage time. But it brought us closer together as a group…

…and you won the trophy two years later. Did winning in 2001 finally wipe away the pain of 1999?
It’s easier to cope with that kind of defeat if you come back a second time and win it. But you can’t plan these things and you need a lot of luck. We worked hard for it back then. We were all utterly determined to win it.

Was it the greatest success of your career?
It was one of the greatest because it’s the biggest prize in club football! However, my greatest personal success was coming back from two years out with injury when I’d already been written off. That was a huge achievement! My time in Salzburg has also left a lasting impression.

Your most important goal for FCB came on Matchday 33 in 2000/01, a last-minute strike to make it 2-1 against Kaiserslautern…
The situation was just crazy! We won late in Leverkusen on Matchday 32. I scored with basically the last kick against Kaiserslautern on Matchday 33, and our main rivals Schalke fell behind to VfB Stuttgart almost simultaneously. And then the 94th minute on the last day… Those few weeks pushed me beyond my mental limits. I was shattered afterwards.

What do you remember about your goal?
I warmed up and was told I was coming on in the 87th minute. I tried to get involved immediately, and then we counter-attacked. I cut in from the left and tried to shoot, but it was blocked and the ball looped into the air. I focused on the ball and opted for all or nothing. It could have gone out of the ground – and that’s tough at the Olympiastadion (laughs). But I hit it perfectly!

‘We tried to pull them out of shape’

And that wasn’t the end of it…
I was lying on the turf celebrating, buried by the rest of the team. Suddenly [media director] Markus Hörwick came over and told us Stuttgart were 1-0 up against Schalke! It was unbelievable. It still sends shivers down my spine when I talk about it. It was indescribable!

You then needed a draw at Hamburg on the last day to secure the title, but HSV took a 90th-minute lead…
Oliver Kahn was the only player who still believed we’d win the title. It took him ten seconds to persuade us we could still do it! A wave of energy gripped the team.

Patrik Andersson then took a 94th-minute free-kick...
It must have been two minutes before the ref signalled for the free-kick to be taken. We were trying to get at them and pull them out of shape. The idea was somehow to hit the target, find a gap. And then it hit the back of the net! Unbelievable. That’s when we knew we’d finally won the league.

How much did the dramatic title triumph set you up for the Champions League final in Milan a few days later?
If we’d lost in Hamburg the coach would have had a very tough job on his hands, so it was important we went there on a wave of euphoria.

How much are you still in touch with events at Bayern?
My job means I can’t be in Munich very often, but I watch all the games on TV – together with my son, a diehard Bayern fan. As for me personally, the club still has a big place in my heart.