05/03/1993 at 01:00 AM EDT
When he starts upfield, the only thing that can stop him is a machine gun," legendary German soccer star Franz Beckenbauer once said. Faster (almost) than a speeding bullet, able to leap huge salaries at a single bound (some $1.7 million per year), it's Lothar Matthäus, 32, arguably the best player in the world. On the streets of his native Germany, Matthäus is more recognized than countrywoman Claudia Schiffer, and on a continent where soccer reigns, the midfielder of the famous Bayern Munich team and World Cup champion has the star power of Michael Jordan. It's not Lothar's goal-seeking forays from center field that set hearts aflutter among his female worshipers. "It's perhaps my natural disposition and simplicity that my fans find so attractive," he speculates. Well, yes, that and his 165-lb., granite-solid bod, which some observers say isn't exactly a Hollywood physique. "Soccer players have legs like tree trunks," notes Paul Kennedy, managing editor of Soccer America magazine. "You can't knock them down." Americans will have a chance to judge Matthäus for themselves when he leads the defending champion German squad in the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. next summer.
Despite his fame, Bavarian-born Matthäus has put the game he loves in perspective. After the premature birth of his second child, he says, "I see other things are important besides soccer." Divorced from his wife, Silvia, with whom he has two daughters, he now lives with European TV personality Lolita Morena, 31, the mother of his year-old son, Loris. Family, he now says, "has an absolute priority. I do the dishes. I clean the house. I prepare breakfast." Ah, a champion who gets a kick out of life.