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Udo Lattek at 80

First among coaching equals

He was head coach, sporting director, columnist and TV pundit - and he was incredibly successful too! Udo Lattek’s long career on and off the field of play was always imbued with passion and pride. He won eight German championships – including six with FC Bayern in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1985, 1986 and 1987 – and three European trophies, making him the most successful German supremo of all time. After ending his coaching career he acquired cult status from 16 years as a critical but always expert pundit on long-running panel show Doppelpass. The man who is first among coaching equals turns 80 on Friday.

“Udo Lattek was a lucky break for Bayern Munich,” declared FCB chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. “I worked under him twice as a player here at FC Bayern. Udo was a great coach and a great personality. He’s a wonderful man who was also capable of turning a blind eye,” Rummenigge continued in his tribute to the birthday boy.

Lattek, born in Sensburg, East Prussia on 16 January 1935, never excelled as a player but became a coaching legend. “I have football to thank for everything,” he himself said. After qualifying as a physics and maths teacher, he was on the German FA (DFB) coaching staff from 1965 until 1970. In August 2013 the DFB awarded him a lifetime achievement award at the Bundesliga’s 50th anniversary celebrations. He was a World Cup runner-up in 1966 as assistant to Germany boss Helmut Schön.

Two title hat-tricks with FCB

Taking the coaching job at FC Bayern happened by chance. “Franz Beckenbauer came to me one day and said: I’ve been given the job by President Neudecker and our general manager Schwan to ask you if you want to come to Munich. We’ve got problems with Branko Zebec and all the Germany players want you to join us. I signed a three-year contract. That turned into five years. Then the palaver with the coaching business started,” Lattek once recalled.

After three championship titles and the 1974 European Cup triumph Lattek moved on in 1975 to Borussia Mönchengladbach, where he enjoyed another sustained period of success. After spells with Dortmund and Barcelona, where his squad included Diego Maradona, he returned to FCB in 1983. He again clocked up a hat-trick of league titles but failed to win the big one, as his team unlucky lost to FC Porto in the European Cup final. Alongside Giovanni Trapattoni he is the only coach in the world to win all three European club competitions.

He attempted to retire on numerous occasions but actually finished his career after making several comebacks, twice taking over as sporting director at FC Köln, and coaching Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund. He even saved Dortmund from relegation in 2000. His assistant back then was current FCB sporting director Matthias Sammer. “I gained very, very important personal experience in 2000. It was my first coaching position and he was there as my mentor,” said Sammer in Qatar, “he was my coaching father figure.”

Family celebration

“After I finished playing he set me on a new path so that I’d be OK in my second sporting career. I’ll never forget him for that, I’m very grateful for our time together and I wish him and his family all the best,” continued Sammer. Lattek himself possessed a keen sense for the mood within his squads: “I always wanted to convince my players that I had the right ideas,” he declared.

“It was like having a 12th player. He never came across as a coach to me, more as a mate,” former Bayern keeper Sepp Maier told kicker magazine, recalling an occasion when Lattek discovered his team were planning a secret trip to a disco. “He came in, sat down at the bar, blinked across the counter and suddenly blustered away: ‘I’m going to count to 25,000, and any man still here gets a rollicking.’ We all laughed, drank a couple of beers and laughed some more,” revealed Maier, “the evening was a success”.

There will be no big party to mark Lattek’s latest milestone. After two strokes and surgery to remove a benign tumour, the one-time “Powerman”, as he is known to his wife Hildegard, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and progressive senile dementia. He is wheelchair-bound and now lives in a care facility in Cologne. “Udo is a fighter, and he’ll keep on fighting,” Lattek’s wife said in an interview.

Friday’s party will be a small, family affair. Lattek is at ease with himself and the life he has led. “I can basically say I’ve done more things right than wrong,” he summarised on his 75th birthday. FC Bayern wishes Udo Lattek all the very best and the power and energy to sustain him through a difficult period in his life. Happy Birthday, Udo!