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Five Aside: Group winners reign

Five Aside Jul 1, 2014
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Tactics: U.S. defend deep

Tactics Board Jul 1, 2014
Read
Ottmar Hitzfeld

Ottmar Hitzfeld

Latest Team: Switzerland

2014 FIFA World Cup

  • 4GP
  •  
  • 2Won
  •  
  • 0Draw
  •  
  • 2Lost
  •  

Profile

Previous Clubs: FC Zug; FC Aarau; Grasshoppers; Borussia Dortmund; Bayern Munich

Honours: Swiss Cup: 1985, 1989, 1990; Swiss Championship: 1990, 1991; German championship: 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2008; German Cup: 2000, 2003, 2008; UEFA Champions League: 1997, 2001; Intercontinental Cup: 1997, 2001

When the curtain comes down on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, football will wave goodbye to one of the finest coaches to have graced the game. Few will ever be able to boast similar success to the man nicknamed 'The General' and it comes as little surprise that under his stewardship, Switzerland enter the World Cup as a top seed for the first time in their history.

It is a country to which Ottmar Hitzfeld has endeared himself, having proved a prolific striker there in his playing days, notably at FC Basel, along with a stint in his homeland for Stuttgart. He was offered his first coaching job at minnows SC Zug in 1983 and achieved instant recognition by steering them to Switzerland's top-flight title in his maiden season. A move to FC Aarau quickly followed and in a four-year spell, Hitzfeld transformed them into title contenders and won their first, and to-date only, Swiss Cup.

The ability to get the best out of his players is perhaps Hitzfeld's most prized attribute and few can rival his man-management skills. So when Kurt Jara stepped down as Grasshoppers coach in 1988, Hitzfeld was identified as the No. 1 candidate for Switzerland's most successful ever club side and it was an opportunity in which he failed to disappoint, leading them to a league and cup double in 1990 before retaining the Swiss championship a year later.

When Hitzfeld moved back to Germany to take control of Borussia Dortmund in 1991, the club had not lifted the German title for 28 years and had not tasted success in Europe since 1966, having finished tenth the previous campaign. By the time he had left seven years later, BVB had won consecutive Bundesliga titles and added their name to the Champions League trophy for the first time, boasting one of the most exciting and attacking sides in recent German memory. Their 3-1 victory against a star-studded Juventus outfit in 1997 is considered one of the competition's biggest upsets and Hitzfeld was rewarded with his first World Coach of the Year award.

Following a season as Dortmund's sporting director, Hitzfeld made a controversial move to Bayern Munich who demanded a coach who could handle all the big names and egos at the club. The Bavarian side had finished second behind Kaiserslautern in the Bundesliga and crashed out in the Champions League quarterfinals to Dortmund the season before, with Giovanni Trapattoni leaving after a public fall-out with some first-team players. It was hoped that Hitzfeld could restore harmony and discipline to the Bayern dressing room. 'The General' did not fail to deliver.

In his first season, he restored Bayern to the Bundesliga summit, winning the league by a then-record margin, despite heartbreaking defeats in both the Champions League and DFB-Pokal finals to Manchester United and Werder Bremen respectively. In a seven-year spell, Hitzfeld became one of Bayern's most successful coaches, winning four league titles, two DFB-Pokals and ending their 26-year wait for a fourth European Cup; victory over Valencia on penalties in the 2001 final his crowning achievement with the Bavarians. An extra-time Sami Kuffour header added the Intercontinental Cup to his lengthy honours list, earning him the World Coach of the Year award for a second time.

Yet, all good stories have to come to an end and perhaps quite harshly, after a rare trophyless campaign in 2003-04, Hitzfeld was relieved from his post by the Bayern board. The German Football Association (DFB) hoped to lure Hitzfield to the national team post for their home World Cup but he declared that he was not in the right state of mind to take on such an opportunity, citing a need to take a break from football to spend more time with his family.

However, Hitzfeld was unwilling to allow his Bayern legacy to end on such a sour note and when Felix Magath was dismissed in February 2007 with Bayern's Champions League qualification aspirations hanging in the balance, club president Uli Hoeness turned to him to steer Die Roten to safety. Despite Bayern failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in over a decade, Hitzfeld persuaded the board to allow him a full season in charge and the agreement paid dividends as Hitzfeld managed Bayern to a domestic treble and the semifinals of the UEFA Cup. It signalled the perfect moment to end his illustrious club coaching career and he decided to test his credentials by taking charge of the Switzerland national team shortly after the 2008 European Championship.

Hitzfeld secured qualification for the 2010 World Cup, losing just one of ten matches, and Switzerland started the tournament in South Africa superbly, with a shock 1-0 victory over reigning European champions Spain. However, the opening victory euphoria was short-lived as a 1-0 defeat to Chile and a disappointing 0-0 stalemate with Honduras meant an early exit. The failure to qualify for the 2012 European Championship led many to question whether Hitzfeld was suited to international management but 'The General' is not one to shy away from a challenge and the Nati emphatically booked their place in Brazil with an unbeaten 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Hitzfeld has managed to integrate players such as Haris Seferovic and Granit Xhaka from Switzerland's Under-17 World Cup-winning side, giving the Swiss a balanced fusion of youth and experience. Friendly victories over both Germany and Brazil are proof that Switzerland are capable of beating anyone of their day and just four defeats in their last 29 internationals is a testament to their resolve and progress. Many pundits have expressed scepticism at Switzerland's inclusion among the top seeds in Brazil but with a manager as established as Hitzfeld at the helm, they could well reach the quarterfinals for the first time since the 1954 finals on home soil.

Strengths: Hitzfeld knows how to cope with the expectations of his bosses and the fans, showing his tactical nous and eye for a good signing to win trophies at all levels of the game. His key attribute is no doubt his ability to get the best out of his players by instilling a strong team spirit and discipline on and off the field.

Weaknesses: He has achieved a reputation of being a somewhat defensive coach with Switzerland, more intent on frustrating the opponents than going out to win the game.

Career High: He became the second coach in the history of the European Cup/Champions League, after Ernst Happel, to win the competition with two different teams (Dortmund in 1997 and Bayern Munich in 2001).

Career Low: Missed out on the Treble in his first season in charge of Bayern Munich, losing the 1999 UEFA Champions League final to Manchester United after conceding two goals in stoppage time, and losing the DFB-Pokal final to Werder Bremen on penalties.

Tactics: Hitzfeld preferred a 4-4-2 formation in his early coaching days but won both his UEFA Champions League finals by fielding three centre-backs. However, he has admitted that he is flexible with his formation and will adapt it according to the needs and qualities of his players.

Quotes: "Hitzfeld is the ultimate Bayern coach. He understands everything about football. He has the most modern methods and is very clever psychologically. He can handle the stars. He has everything a Bayern coach needs." Former Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn sings Hitzfeld's praises in 2007.

Trivia: Hitzfeld has a diploma in teaching mathematics and physical education.

Words: Max Bentley