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Aug 5, 2013

Greatest Managers, No. 19: Udo Lattek

Right place, right time.

Udo Lattek heard it plenty early in his career -- and with good reason. He never played professionally and instead got a degree in physical education and started teaching. At the age of 30, he applied for a job with the German FA, and 18 months later found himself at the 1966 World Cup as an assistant coach, watching Geoff Hurst score one of the most controversial goals in history.

Lattek was no revolutionary, nor was he an innovator. Yet he amassed a slew of titles and trophies wherever he coached.

Being not much older than many of the players helped Lattek forge relationships, and in 1970 Bayern shocked the world when they appointed him as coach. He was 35 and had no managerial experience, but -- according to the cynics -- he was friends with Franz "Der Kaiser" Beckenbauer, and that was enough.

Whatever the case, he rose to the occasion. He won a German Cup in his first season, then three straight titles and the European Cup, in 1973-74, before being let go during the following campaign, one that would eventually see Bayern again crowned as European champions.

The critics were still unconvinced. Sure, Bayern steamrollered the opposition, combining physicality and technique to great effect, but then Lattek had the backbone of the Germany side, who had won both Euro '72 and the 1974 World Cup. With Sepp Maier in goal, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck and Beckenbauer forming arguably the best centre-half partnership ever assembled, while Uli Hoeness and Gerd Muller were banging in goals up front, Bayern were stacked with talent.

Could he do it elsewhere? Could he ever. Lattek moved to archrival Borussia Monchengladbach, replacing the legendary Hennes Weisweiler, and merely won two league titles and a UEFA Cup while also reaching the 1976-77 European Cup final.

By this stage, the "right place, right time" moniker had left him. He wasn't some Forrest Gump who just happened to be there when teams picked up silverware. Despite a rough stint at Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona came calling. Again Lattek delivered, winning the Cup Winners' Cup and the Copa del Rey.

With the bar, as ever, set impossibly high, he was let go for not winning La Liga. No matter. He returned to Bayern and the trophies came flooding back: three league titles and two German Cups in four seasons, though again he fell short in a European Cup final, his third.

Still a relatively young 52, but with a few health issues, Lattek effectively slipped into retirement, coming back for brief stints, like a five-game spell in 1999-00 to help Borussia Dortmund avoid relegation.

Lattek's football wasn't revolutionary; it was about execution. And few teams executed better than those he coached, particularly his first Bayern side. He played to his squad's strengths -- physical prowess and stamina at Bayern, speed and enthusiasm at Borussia, creativity and technique at Barcelona -- offering a clear, simple blueprint for each club the players could follow and excel at.

He is one of only two managers to have won every UEFA trophy, and had he not walked away at such a young age, it's a safe bet that his haul would have exceeded the 16 major trophies he delivered.

ESPN FC’s Top 20 Greatest Managers was determined by a polling process of over 20 regular columnists, contributors and editors at ESPN FC.

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