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‘Almost perfect’

Master strategist Hitzfeld bows out in style

For once, Ottmar Hitzfeld was outwitted by his players on Sunday. As the championship celebrations raged around him on the Wolfsburg pitch, Michael Rensing distracted the head coach’s attention, creating the opportunity for Mark van Bommel and Andreas Ottl to empty two full glasses of Weißbier over the startled General’s head. The 59-year-old stepped back from the melee, brushed the foaming brew from his head, and laughed. It was, after all, the traditional Bayern way of celebrating the title, the 25th trophy of Hitzfeld’s illustrious coaching career.

”It’s a very special feeling, and part and parcel of it is taking a shower,” he said in a TV interview later, clad by now in Media Director Markus Hörwick’s dry suit. Wolfsburg was his 250th match as Bayern coach, and the title his fifth with the club, to go with a third German Cup success a couple of weeks earlier.

Intense pressure

”It’s been a unique season, because expectations were so high,” he commented. After a total of seven and a half years at the club, the General leaves Bayern this summer to take the Swiss national helm. “If he can get Switzerland to the World Cup, it would be as great an achievement as the championship,” commented Franz Beckenbauer.

After returning to Munich halfway through an ultimately disappointing 2006-7 campaign, Hitzfeld has now supervised a thorough overhaul of the playing staff and guided the Reds to two trophies. “The club spent heavily, so the pressure was immense,” he remarked, “we had a lot of new players, some of whom didn’t speak German. You never know how it’ll go and how the team will respond to setbacks. But winning the league makes it all worthwhile. I’m delighted for the club, because we’re back to where we belong as number one in Germany.“

Expert and a gentleman

Incoming boss Jürgen Klinsmann would take over “an intact unit,” Hitzfeld continued. “I’m delighted I’ll be handing over a great team to Jürgen. This team is capable of mixing it right at the top again next season,” he said, reminding Klinsmann of the guiding principle at the club: “Bayern are only interested in winning trophies.“

The 59-year-old has led Bayern to 13 of those, with the 2001 Champions League ranking as the crowning glory. However, the deep affection for Hitzfeld among fans, the players and the management has other grounds. “We don’t need to mention his coaching expertise, he’s the best,” commented FCB President Beckenbauer, “but he’s also unbeatable as a human being. He never criticises his players, he always tries to pick them up when they’re down. Ottmar, you’re almost perfect.“

Icing on the cake

The General has now made his departure memorable for all the right reasons with another domestic double. The players could help him run up one more landmark in the three remaining Bundesliga fixtures. Hitzfeld’s Bayern teams have scored 497 goals and conceded 218 in the league so far. Passing the 500 mark would be the icing on the cake.

Hitzfeld’s coaching record:
World Club Cup 2001
Champions League 1997 (with Dortmund), 2001
German championship 1995, 1996 (both with Dortmund), 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2008
DFB German Cup 2000, 2003, 2008
League Cup 1998, 1999, 2000, 2007
DFB Super Cup 1995, 1996 (both with Dortmund)
Swiss championship 1990, 1991 (both with Grasshoppers Zurich)
Swiss FA Cup 1985 (with FC Aarau), 1989, 1990 (both with Grasshoppers Zurich)
Swiss Super Cup 1989 (with Grasshoppers Zurich)

Hitzfeld’s record as Bayern coach:
250 matches: 155 wins, 53 draws, 42 defeats