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‘It’s been a fantastic season so far’

With the DFB Cup in the bag and the Bundesliga title a practical certainty, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge made time for a wide-ranging interview with, reviewing the club’s progress since a major overhaul of the playing staff last summer. The chairman also discussed leading scorer Luca Toni and captain Oliver Kahn, and previewed the UEFA Cup semi-final showdown with Zenit St. Petersburg.

Interview: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, after Saturday’s Cup triumph, you said this was a “great team“. How “great” is the current side?
Rummenigge: ”We’ve collected a first trophy with the Cup, we’re poised to win the league, and we’re in the UEFA Cup semi-finals, so we’ve undoubtedly hit our targets. Ottmar Hitzfeld has achieved great things with this team.“ Would it be true to say that every new success for Ottmar Hitzfeld makes Jürgen Klinsmann’s job more difficult?
Rummenigge: ”Definitely not, the two are completely separate from one another. We’re having a great time with Ottmar, although a year ago there were headlines like: 'Is Ottmar Hitzfeld the right coach for Bayern?' We didn’t like that. This season, Ottmar has proved he’s the right coach for Bayern Munich. I was the first to congratulate Ottmar on winning the Cup, I’ll be the first to congratulate him on (hopefully) winning the league, and I’m crossing my fingers for the UEFA Cup. We’re delighted Ottmar is set to leave us on a high. And then Jürgen Klinsmann takes over for next season – the one has nothing to do with the other.“ Do you think winning the Cup has relieved some a the pressure to succeed?
Rummenigge: ”The league is the most honest of all trophies. There’s a fine line between good and bad luck in the UEFA Cup and DFB Cup, as we’ve seen in recent weeks. Let’s not forget how extremely lucky we were to make the UEFA Cup semi-finals at Getafe’s expense. We also rode our luck on Saturday in Berlin, although we were the better team. But across 34 games in the league, the best team comes out on top. And if we occupy top spot from start to finish, it would be fair to say no-one deserves it more than Bayern Munich.“ The outstanding player recently has been Luca Toni. You speak Italian, so you’re closer to him than most people. How well has he settled here in Bavaria?
Rummenigge: ”Luca has quickly recognised that Bayern Munich is a very special club. After all, he never experienced the top Italian clubs, the Inters, AC Milans and Juventuses. He’s totally happy here at Bayern, he’s enjoying himself and – as we’ve seen in recent weeks – his German is coming along too. Luca Toni is suspended for Thursday’s UEFA Cup semi-final against Zenit St. Petersburg. How bad a loss is that?
Rummenigge: ”It’s a shame he can’t play when he’s on a roll, but we’ve just got to get on with it. We had the same situation in the Cup semi-final against Wolfsburg. Luca was suspended but we still won 2-0. I hope we do equally well against St. Petersburg.“ Was St. Petersburg’s devastating display in Leverkusen actually useful to Bayern?
Rummenigge: ”St. Petersburg are not especially well-known in Europe, but in Leverkusen they showed plenty of class, they were superb on the break and attacked at high speed. We know what to expect and we can’t take anything for granted. We’ll have to concentrate hard in both matches. It could be that the home leg here in Munich on Thursday is the more important of the two games, because we need a good result to take to St. Petersburg. Winning would be good, and winning without conceding would be wonderful.“ With the first trophy in the bag, is there a danger the players may not focus hard enough on the next competitive task?
Rummenigge: ”I don’t get that impression. The only worry I have is the fact we’ve played twice a week for the last three months. We looked a little heavy-legged on Saturday, especially in the second half, although that was to be expected – we’ve played 17 games more than Borussia Dortmund. On the other hand, success boosts morale. The players want to win three trophies, that’s obvious. But even if we don’t make it to the UEFA Cup final, we’re already having a fine, successful and fantastic season.“ Would winning the UEFA Cup make it a truly great season?
Rummenigge: ”We’ve not been especially successful in Europe since 2001. It would be nice to make the final and perhaps even win the UEFA Cup. It would certainly raise our international standing. We’ll do what we can, but it won’t be easy.“ You regularly meet your counterparts from leading European clubs. Are Bayern attracting more attention this season?
Rummenigge: ”Everyone was surprised in a bad way last season, but obviously we’ve received greater recognition this season, particularly because of our new policy of signing big-name players. Our status has improved, but it’s just a snapshot in time. You never know how it’ll be in a couple of years.“ You invested both cash and a lot of work in a new team last summer. Do you feel all the travel and negotiations have paid off?
Rummenigge: ”With the benefit of hindsight, I’d say that was almost the most interesting time I’ve had at Bayern. We had tough and drawn-out negotiations, we were working on our master plan every day. But after it all came together, we were sure we’d put together a team capable of attractive and successful football. I think this season has proved that." In his final season, Oliver Kahn has yet again been flawless. How much will the team miss him next season?
Rummenigge: ”Oliver is a huge personality who embodies the so-called ‘Bayern gene’. I’ve not forgotten the last day of the season in 2001, Barbarez scored against us in the 90th minute and Sammy Kuffour just lay lifeless on the turf. Oliver grabbed him, shook him and sent him up the field – a team needs that kind of player in tough situations. We’ll miss Oliver Kahn, not just as a goalkeeper, but as a personality. But we’ll compensate for it somehow. Other players will have to step into his shoes.“ Can Luca Toni, who Oliver Kahn reckons also has ‘Bayern genes’, ever take on the same role?
Rummenigge: ”I wouldn’t forget Franck Ribéry either. Both are influential characters, on and off the field, and good for the mood in the dressing room. And Mark van Bommel is a long way up the hierarchy too. But it still won’t be easy to replace Oliver Kahn as a personality.“