Created on 29-05-2008 at 00:00 AM
In the vast bowl of the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, Michael Henke occupied the place he has always occupied, in the seat on the bench between Ottmar Hitzfeld and Uli Hoeneß. On countless occasions in two spells totalling seven and a half years with Germany’s most successful club, Henke has leapt from his seat in high excitement, expressed disbelief to match officials, embraced the men to his right and left, and yelled instructions to the players. Tuesday’s meeting with Mohun Bagan in Kolkata prompted another Henke outburst as Breno picked up a red card for retaliation, but the 51-year-old assistant boss will remember Munich’s 3-0 victory for more positive reasons, as the game 7,200 km from home was his last with the club.
“Even I’ve never been in a ground with 120,000 spectators,” Henke confessed to fcbayern.de, acknowledging there could hardly have been a more spectacular setting for his farewell. An extraordinary Bayern career thus ended in appropriately extraordinary circumstances. In two spells with FCB (1998-2004, 02/2007-06/2008), Ottmar Hitzfeld’s long-serving assistant played his part in bringing home the Champions League, the World Club Cup, five Bundesliga titles and four DFB Cup triumphs.
Labour of love
Henke and Hitzfeld are now leaving Munich. Henke admits to few regrets. “We’ve known for a while it was coming to an end, so we’re prepared for it.” The coach expressed gratitude for a second spell in Bavaria. “I’m delighted I’ve had the chance of another one and a half fabulous years at Bayern. Returning to a former club isn’t something you can take for granted,” he opined, “I’ve really enjoyed my time here – again.”
The Hitzfeld/Henke pairing rejoined FCB in February 2007. Henke did not hesitate long when Hitzfeld’s call came in. “Obviously, Bayern is far and away the best place to coach in Germany, but working for Bayern is also a labour of love for me,” he explained.
After a disappointing 2006-7 campaign, the seasoned coaching duo oversaw a radical dressing room overhaul and led their new charges to the club’s sixth domestic double, more than fulfilling the board’s expectations and hopes. “The pressure was even greater than before after the disappointment last season and the club’s investment,” observed Henke, “we knew we were getting excellent, high-quality players, but bedding them in quickly and succeeding wasn’t a given.” The trophies at the end of the campaign were thus “a great relief.”
The tour of Asia was the icing on the cake. “I’ve been thrilled by the trip,” he revealed, “it’s been a tremendous experience.” The days in Jakarta, Bali and Kolkata had been a last chance of camaraderie and bonding with the players and officials. “Bayern Munich has become my club, I’m a fan of the club and everything going on around it,” he stated.
Hitzfeld’s right-hand man
The Asia tour was also a perfect opportunity for Hitzfeld to take his leave of Henke, the General’s right-hand man for almost 14 years. “Michael has become a friend,” acknowledged Hitzfeld, who inherited assistant coach Henke in 1991 from his predecessor in Dortmund and later brought him to Munich. “He’s been a real stroke of luck for me. I’m extremely grateful to him,” the head coach continued, praising his assistant for “reliability, loyalty, and comprehensive expertise.”
Henke has always felt valued and accepted by his boss. “I’ve never had any problem putting forward my own ideas, we understand each other instinctively. We have a great working relationship based on mutual appreciation,” he commented. However, the pair are to part company from now on.
Happy to move abroad
Hitzfeld takes up his new job as Switzerland head coach after Euro 2008, but Henke is still searching for the next challenge. “I’m considering a wide range of options at home and abroad, from head coach to general manager to assistant coach. But nothing’s been worked out in detail yet,” he explained. Hitzfeld is hoping for a very special reunion: “Maybe he’ll take a position as national coach somewhere and we’ll end up crossing swords with each other.”