Created on 28-05-2008 at 00:00 AM
An astonishing 120,000 crowd packed the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Tuesday, but even the world’s second-largest stadium was not big enough for Bayern. A further 20,000 potential spectators were locked out of the ground. “I never thought this was possible. The passion here is amazing, especially in India,” Uli Hoeneß said after nine memorable and eventful days on tour in Asia.
The frenzy surrounding the Munich party reached its zenith in Kolkata, appropriately nicknamed City of Joy. After a 3-0 friendly victory over Mohun Bagan, the team bus was forced to inch its way through an exuberant mass lining (and blocking) the route for several kilometres.
Hoeneß’ thanks to the team
“I’m completely astonished by this world. I’ve been to Asia quite often, but the reaction we experienced in Jakarta and Kolkata is overwhelming,” a disbelieving Ottmar Hitzfeld commented. “the players were amazed too. They’ve really enjoyed coming here,” the coach continued.
As the Bayern party celebrated the final match of a punishing season and reflected on the past few days over a glass of champagne, Hoeneß hailed the tour “a huge success”. Before the FCB charter aircraft taxied for take-off back to Munich, the general manager gathered the players around him to say thank you. “It wasn’t just about winning two matches, we’ve made a host of new friends for Bayern Munich and for German football,” he declared.
Worthy send-off for Kahn
Before the exhibition match in Kolkata, Munich defeated an Indonesian national team 5-1 in Jakarta, staged training sessions for kids and youths, and visited a hospital. The party also spent three relaxing days on the tropical island paradise of Bali. “It’s been fantastic and we’ll take away some incredible memories,” summarised Hoeneß, “the team has been very disciplined and played good football in difficult conditions.”
The circumstances surrounding Oliver Kahn, subject to a frenzied reception wherever he went, were truly unique. The Kolkata-based organisers of his last-ever match ensured the FCB skipper was given a fitting send-off, as Kahn took delivery of a raft of gifts including a trophy studded with 8,640 diamonds and a motor scooter, before accepting the applause of the 120,000 crowd. “I believe Oliver Kahn will remember this day for a very long time,” Hoeneß commented.
Pastures new for Hitzfeld
“Playing in a setting like this has been staggering,” Kahn remarked, although taking leave of the professional game had been “relatively easy. I’m the kind of guy who’ll probably first feel a sense of regret in a few weeks’ time.” The living legend handed over to designated successor Michael Rensing after 55 minutes of the meeting with Mohun Bagan.
“I’m really pleased for Oliver, because he’s been given the farewell he deserves,” said Hitzfeld, who also now moves on from the club. “It’s been a great way to say good-bye,” commented the head coach, ending a total of seven and a half years at FCB to take the Swiss national helm. “I’ve helped shape a very successful era at Bayern, for which I’m very grateful. But I’m also delighted I don’t have the responsibility and the pressure any more. I’m looking forward to the new challenge.”
Tokyo in July
The club as a whole is also looking forward to a swift return to Asia, as the Bundesliga giants will be back in the region just two months from now. “We’re playing Urawa Red Diamonds in Tokyo in July,” Hoeneß announced. Before that, the players, staff and officials will take a much-needed break. “The nine days have been great and we’ve all really enjoyed it, but now I’m ready to go home to my family,” Zé Roberto confessed. “We deserve our vacation, and we need it too,” Hoeneß concluded.