Friday’s match at the Allianz Arena will be a highly emotive occasion as Bayern Munich and German football says farewell to Franz Beckenbauer who passed away this week. Friday however is also the occasion of another legend’s birthday with Ottmar Hitzfeld turning 75. Here we pay tribute to the coach who has had such an immense impact on the Bundesliga.
Not a bad player
Because of his tremendous achievements as a Bundesliga and national team trainer, the fact that Ottmar Hitzfeld was no slouch as a player is too often forgotten. Born in 1949, he started out his playing days in the German lower leagues as a forward before moving across the border to sign for FC Basel. In Switzerland he won two league titles and one cup finishing as the top scorer in 1975.
As an amateur he was selected to play for Germany at the 1972 Olympics in Munich where he was a team mate of a certain Uli Hoeneß- the man who would later hire him twice as coach of Bayern Munich. Hitzfeld scored five goals in the tournament, but there was to be no Olympic medal for his endeavours.
In 1975 he joined VfB Stuttgart in the German second division and was part of the legendary side that scored 100 goals on the way to being promoted as champions to the Bundesliga. He scored six goals in one game against Jahn Regensburg- a record which remains intact until this day.
After three seasons with the Swabians he returned to Switzerland with Lugano and Luzern before retiring aged 34 in 1983.
An even better coach
Having graduated as a teacher of mathematics and sports during his playing days with Basel, it came as little surprise that Hitzfeld moved straight into coaching on ending his playing career. His success was instant and wherever he went, trophies followed.
He led second tier SC Zug to promotion in his first season before accepting an offer from Aarau with whom he won the Swiss cup in 1985. His next step up was in 1988 when he became coach of Grasshoppers Zurich and during his three seasons there he won two league titles, and two Swiss cups.
He was a man with a growing reputation and in 1991 he took over as coach of Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. In his debut season he led the Schwarzgelben to runners-up spot thus qualifying for the UEFA Cup. The following season saw BVB make it all the way to the final in Europe only to be well beaten by Juventus. However revenge would be had on the Italians.
The 1994-95 season saw the Bundesliga won for the first time since 1963 and the Meisterschale was defended the following season. However, the pinnacle for Hitzfeld at the Signal Iduna Park was achieved in the 1996-97 season when they reached the Champions League Final in Munich and miraculously exacted revenge on Juventus with an historic win in the final. Voted ‘World Coach of the Year’ Hitzfeld however was then ‘moved upstairs’ by the club with Nevio Scale replacing him as coach.
The end for Hitzfeld? Not by half! In 1998 he was persuaded to take over as Bayern Munich trainer. In his first season in the Bavarian hotseat he steered the club to the Bundesliga title with a 15-point advantage, but the season would end in heartbreak with the traumatic loss to Manchester United in the Champions League final in Barcelona.
The best way to overcome the shock was with success and the league and cup double was achieved in the following campaign with a third successive Bundesliga title won in 2000-01. Bayern once again reached the Champions League final (beating Manchester United en route) and beat Valencia on penalties to make up for their loss in 1999. Hitzfeld became only the second coach after the legendary Ernst Happel to win the trophy with two different clubs.
A third place league finish put a stop to the seamless run of success, but Hitzfeld proved himself once again with a second double in the following season. The 2003-04 season was to be his last (for now) with Bayern finishing ‘only’ second and reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League. He was sacked with a year left on his contract.
Bayern take two
Despite numerous offers, Hitzfeld opted to take a break from the game, but in 2007 was tempted back by Bayern when they sacked Felix Magath as coach. Hitzfeld wasn’t able to turn things around instantaneously with Bayern finishing fourth, but he worked his customary magic in the following season with a third Bundesliga and DFB Pokal double with the Rekordmeister.
This time he decided to quit while he was ahead and informed the club he would not be available for a further season.
It was then time to return to his second home Switzerland to become their national team coach in 2008. During his tenure with the ‘Nati’ he qualified them for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where the Swiss lost in the round of 16 to eventual finalists Argentina.
What they’re saying:
Thomas Tuchel: “Another coaching legend. There’s a big board in front of my office with a few original documents from Franz Beckenbauer and Ottmar Hitzfeld. They’ll be tough to emulate. Hitzfeld was a gentleman with a special aura and great success. Happy Birthday to him.”
Lothar Matthäus: “He is the best manager I ever had.”