Jürgen Klinsmann has hailed the goal-scoring prowess of Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, in an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com.
The Germany great - who scored 323 goals of his own during a storied career for club and country - also spoke of his admiration for record champions Bayern, Joshua Kimmich and the club's incoming coach Julian Nagelsmann, whilst running the rule over the 2020/21 relegation battle involving former employers Hertha Berlin...
bundesliga.com: Robert Lewandowski has once again outdone himself! After 34 goals last season, there are now already 39 Bundesliga goals on his account. How do you rate this performance?
Jürgen Klinsmann: "I think Robert Lewandowski is a real phenomenon. I mean, the way he has played his career, throughout his entire career has already been outstanding but what he has been doing the last few years is just unbelievable. It's unbelievable the way he scores the goals week in, week out but also how he contributes to the team and how he makes his team win. So, he's a character that is always hungry. He never gets enough. He always wants the next goal and the next goal. He's a great role model. If you want to teach young forwards and young strikers about the dedication to the game and the hunger towards the game, you show them videos of Robert Lewandowski and you are all good! No, he's a really phenomenal player. He deserves all the credit in the world. I hope he can crack the record of Gerd Müller."
bundesliga.com: Will Lewy break the 40-goal record - what do you think?
Klinsmann: "Well, he has two more games to go. He is one goal short. I wish it will be possible for him because it's a very special record, I mean, what Gerd Müller did in his time was phenomenal too. It was exceptional. Obviously, he was the biggest striker we had in Germany. So, he's a very, very special player and a special person but if he gets a chance to break that record, I think it would mean a lot."
bundesliga.com: When Gerd Müller scored his 40 goals (1972), you were just seven years old. What are your memories of him?
Klinsmann: "Well, my personal memories about Gerd Müller are wonderful memories. I was a little boy but he scored almost every weekend. Obviously, when he scored the winning goal for Germany in 1974 to win the World Cup, I was 10 years old. The first thing we did as little kids after that game where Germany became World Champions was to run onto the street and play football – we imitated everyone that was on the field before in the World Cup final. Because my role was being a forward as well – a striker – I imitated Gerd Müller as well as I could as a little kid. We were screaming all these names, you know, of all those players that played that World Cup final. So, later on, obviously, I got to know him. We worked alongside each other a little bit when I had my year at Bayern Munich as a coach. What a wonderful person. A wonderful personality. I met him as well towards the end of his career when he was in the United States playing for the so called NASL - for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. I visited him there in Fort Lauderdale, in Florida, and he is just a wonderful person. Such a good, good person and therefore, he was obviously such a role model for all the strikers throughout the history of the game. Now, to compare him today with Robert Lewandowski, also for Robert, it is a very special situation."
bundesliga.com: In your opinion, what makes Lewandowski so unique?
Klinsmann: "Robert Lewandowski is so unique because he has everything in his game. He has all the cards in his pocket. His portfolio is just full with tricks. He is complete because he is left and right footed. He is strong in the air. He is strong at finishing, even free-kicks. Especially penalties which is also something that, if you are a forward, you want to use any chance that comes your way to score. So, in that way, he is complete but what also makes him so special is that he connects so well with his teammates. He links with his players up front. He comes back. He helps defending corner kicks. He is there defensively for his team so he puts a lot of work into his game. He is not only there waiting for his moment, waiting to finish his own chances. He is there for the team whenever needed, in whatever role he is needed. That is what makes him so special."
Watch: Robert Lewandowski on Gerd Müller's goals record
bundesliga.com: Can you compare the two?
Klinsmann: "I think you can definitely compare their work rate and the amount of goals they have scored. I think they were two very different strikers/forwards. Centre-forwards, really because Gerd Müller was really so exceptional in the box. He knew exactly where the ball would drop, where an opportunity would drop. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He is a little bit more like Thomas Müller because he has an unbelievable nose for the situation – an eye for the moment. He finished things off just so, so well. Robert is more attacking. He comes out of the movement. He is working a lot. He can also dribble a couple players. He can link with his teammates so they are different but the way they are similar is through the way they finish things off."
bundesliga.com: If Lewy cracks the 40 goals mark... What would you like to say to him?
Klinsmann: "Well, I think the whole football world would like to congratulate him for this very, very special record, especially everyone in Germany because, for us, Gerd Müller was just a huge idol and such a huge personality that we admired throughout his days. When he becomes able to crack that record, it will mean a lot. So, definitely, you want to congratulate him and give him all the compliments. I think he will, at the end of the year, receive all the honours in terms of individual awards like footballer of the year, in Germany, in Europe and the world. All these things, you know, which are very nice things to have but which are not as important as winning trophies with the team."
bundesliga.com: Bayern's Bundesliga record is also unique: nine titles in a row! What does this ninth title say about Bayern?
Klinsmann: "Bayern Munich is the most successful club in German football history, by far. They deserve every compliment in the world because it is a club that always drives for titles. A club that is always hungry. It is a club that was built through their football legacies: players like [Franz] Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness, Paul Breitner, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. So many outstanding players that built the club in the 70's. First and foremost, when the Bundesliga was still a very young league. They continued to build and build and build. If you look at what they achieved these last 50 years, it is admirable. That is why so many people around the world – and I have lived in the United States for 23 years - when there is one team that is mentioned about German football, the first team will always be Bayern Munich. They are basically the exception of our Bundesliga. That is why they deserve all the compliments. They have won the most trophies. Winning it nine times in a row, the German Bundesliga, is another amazing achievement. You always expect them to do well in European competitions as well. It is just an outstanding club."
bundesliga.com: Do you have a message for Bayern?
Klinsmann: "Huge, huge, huge congratulations to Bayern Munich and to everyone at the club! It’s people that work for the club - the staff, the players, the leading figures at the club. A huge compliment for another outstanding season. Nine in a row! Go for the 10th now. I wish you only the best! Cheers!"
Watch: Robert Lewandowski moved onto 39 Bundesliga goals for the 2020/21 season with a hat-trick against Gladbach
bundesliga.com: A question about Joshua Kimmich: When he got injured the Munich team lost the lead in the league. How important is he for Bayern?
Klinsmann: "I think Joshua Kimmich is a very, very important player for Bayern Munich and also for the German national team, obviously. The position he plays is of such importance because he is the connector. The connector with the defense, the connector with the forwards. He obviously also runs the entire show in the midfield. So, maybe 10, 15 years ago we all still admired the number 10s. The playmakers. They were a little bit more forward, behind the strikers. They did the decisive things on the field. Now, the number 6 role that Joshua is playing for Bayern Munich and for the national team has become like the quarterback role in American Football, if you want to compare this. Joshua plays that to perfection. He is not only feisty in terms of winning the ball back, he knows right away what to do with the ball and who to connect to. He keeps the tempo of the game in place. That is why what he is doing is admirable. He is still at such a young age. So, he is building an outstanding career for himself. Hopefully, a career that brings along titles for him, especially with the German national team too. For Bayern Munich, he has already won a few! He is a very special player."
bundesliga.com: Julian Nagelsmann will be Bayern's new coach. What do you think of this decision?
Klinsmann: "Well, I'm not surprised that Julian Nagelsmann has the opportunity to go to Bayern Munich because he came through the ranks at different clubs. He has done extremely well. He seems like a very, very good coach. When a team or a club like Bayern Munich knocks at your door or gives you a phone call to coach the team, you cannot say ‘no’. It is just impossible. This is something very logical. If you have the opportunity to coach Bayern Munich in your career, you have to take that opportunity. I wish him the best of luck in this new experience. It will be a bit different to his work at Leipzig or at other teams but I think he has the knowledge. He is a young coach who is very, very curious to learn, to improve. There is no better place to do that than at Bayern Munich."
bundesliga.com: Julian Nagelsmann hasn't won any titles and is younger than Manuel Neuer, who's 35 - does that make it a bold move on Bayern's part?
Klinsmann: "Well, you never know before things start and you see what happens in the future but just looking at his short career as a head coach, he has done extremely well. He is very outspoken. He knows how to interact with the teams, with the media. He seems to be a very good connector with his players. So, if he gets this chance now, he can prove himself in terms of being able to do that. You need a little bit of luck as well. Always when making a big decision in your life, you never know how it will play out so he is taking a bit of a risk, which is fine. You have to do that because, like I said, once you get the chance to coach a team like Bayern Munich, or maybe it is comparable to a Real Madrid or Barcelona, you have to take that opportunity."
bundesliga.com: What can we expect from Julian Nagelsmann?
Klinsmann: "Well, the expectations for Julian Nagelsmann at Bayern are the same as for any other coach when you take over Bayern Munich: to win titles. So, the minimum is the German Bundesliga. That is a must win. If it comes along with the German Cup, even nicer. But then you have to prove a point in Europe. The Champions League is where the crème de la crème play. Where you want to show off against the Manchester City’s, the Barcelona’s and the Real Madrid’s of the world. This is then the place to show everyone that you are capable of guiding the team to the Champions League title."
Watch: Julian Nagelsmann tactics explained
bundesliga.com: Let's move on to the relegation battle in the Bundesliga: There are perhaps some surprising clubs down there. What does that say about the Bundesliga?
Klinsmann: "The fact that the relegation battle is so intense with all the teams that are involved, there are five or six teams that are still very close together. It shows you how competitive the Bundesliga is. You cannot relax. You cannot have two or three losses when you are in the middle of the table. You start to slide towards the bottom of the table. Obviously, the biggest disappointment and something really sad is the fact that Schalke was not able to find any balance in their games and in their results especially this year. I think they had about four different coaches this season. They tried everything they could but in some way, it didn’t match. The roster didn’t match and everything that happened within the club went in the wrong direction. To see them go down and see them relegated to Bundesliga 2 is a real disaster for German football fans in general because somehow, you know you always like Schalke. It is just a likeable club with their fans and the stadium and the location where they are, you somehow, always wish them well. So, the fact that they are going down now into the second league is very sad and we can only keep our fingers crossed that they come back right away after one year in Bundesliga 2. All the other teams, they are in there for a fight. Two games still to go. It will be tight. Cologne is feisty and are fighting for every bone they can get. Bielefeld are there too. Bielefeld is experienced with relegation battles, so there might be a little advantage for them. It might be a bit of a surprise that Hertha Berlin is there with the roster that they have but once you are down there, it becomes very difficult to come back out. Then you still have Bremen and Augsburg there as well. I think it will be very dramatic. It will be very exciting for the neutral fan, but it will be real drama for the real fans that are involved with their clubs."
bundesliga.com: Who do you think is most likely to save themselves?
Klinsmann: "It is obviously very difficult. I mean, a traditional club like Cologne, you wish them to stay in there. Also, because they have such a fantastic fan base. Hertha Berlin also need to stay in the Bundesliga. It would be a real catastrophe if they would go down or even have to play the relegation games. But all of them have two weeks ahead of them in dramatic situations. It will be feisty. It will be nerve wracking to watch these last two games."