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Observer role

Hitzfeld casts eye over future Swiss charges

Relaxed as possibly never before, Ottmar Hitzfeld treated himself to a break after Bayern’s thrilling end-of-season tour of Asia, but the 59-year-old takes up the cudgels again at the start of Euro 2008, where the future Switzerland coach intends to watch and learn as his new team battle for continental honours.

“I don’t know the Swiss team very well,” he confessed, “so this is a chance to get to know the players better.” Hitzfeld will be in Basel to watch the co-hosts contest their opening match against the Czech Republic on Saturday and will be present for their second and third group fixtures, “but I won’t be making any public comments whatsoever,” the General insisted.

No loss of authority

The Swiss players continue to invest total confidence in current boss Jakob ‘Köbi’ Kuhn, who is stepping down after the tournament. “Retiring after the Euro was Kuhn’s personal decision,” explained skipper Alexander Frei. “It’s always difficult finding the right time to step aside and announce a successor.” Kuhn remained hungry to succeed, the captain continued.

Defender Ludovic Magnin similarly felt Kuhn still had plenty to offer. “In his eight years, he’s achieved everything he set out to achieve. I don’t think the fact a new boss is coming in will affect us at the Euro.” The important thing had been for the Swiss to appoint “a major figure capable of bringing us on. We can be delighted we’re about to work with a man who’s won so many trophies.”

New broom

“Hitzfeld will be good for the national team and Swiss football as a whole,” Frei agreed, although Magnin warned against inflated expectations. “When they heard the name Hitzfeld, the Swiss immediately thought they’d win the World Cup, but what really matters is that he’s a new broom.”

Hitzfeld makes no secret of his “very close ties” to Switzerland, as that is where his trophy-laden career began. He won the Swiss championship twice as a player with Basel (1972, 1973), also appearing for Lugano and FC Zürich. His first stint as a coach was with SC Zug in 1983, and he twice claimed the domestic title (1990, 1991) at the Grasshopper Zürich helm.

Natural conclusion

“I worked in Switzerland for 17 years. I have a lot to thank the country for,” observed Hitzfeld, describing the national coaching job as “close to my heart.” He takes change for the first time on 20 August in a friendly against Cyprus, having first turned his expert gaze on his new troops at Euro 2008.