German coach adopts Swiss football team
German star football coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said he would be proud to lead the Swiss national team when he takes on the mantle after the European championships.
Speaking to the media in Zurich on Monday, Hitzfeld spoke of the strong attachment he felt to his adopted country. He will succeed current coach Köbi Kuhn in July with a mandate to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The appointment of Hitzfeld, announced earlier this month, has been greeted by the Swiss with optimism and high expectation. Nicknamed "The General", he is regarded as one of the best tacticians in the world.
He became only the second manager to win the prestigious Uefa Champions League trophy with two clubs – once with his current German side Bayern Munich and once with Borussia Dortmund – and has twice been crowned "World Coach of the Year".
The Swiss national team is no stranger to foreign coaches, but Hitzfeld has a particular affinity with the country, having played for and managed clubs in Switzerland. He grew up in the south of Germany close to the Swiss border and lived in Engelberg, canton Nidwalden, during his recent two-year sabbatical from the game.
"My father used to take me to Swiss matches in Basel when I was a child and I have always had a very close connection to the national team. It seemed an automatic development to represent Switzerland as manager of this team," he said.
"When I hear the Swiss national anthem, I sometimes have to fight back the tears. I hope this does not happen when I am the head coach."
Hitzfeld turned down the opportunity of coaching his own country four years ago because he wanted a break from the game.
"Four years ago I would not have said yes to Switzerland either as I was burned out. But the timing of this offer was perfect," he explained.
Hitzfeld also revealed that he would be working with Kuhn's current assistant coach Michel Pont rather than bring his own long-term deputy Michael Henke with him from Bayern. This is because Pont can communicate better with the French-speaking players and has an intimate knowledge of Swiss football.
Hitzfeld refused to be drawn on the strengths or weaknesses of his next charges out of respect for Kuhn, who still has to negotiate the European championships, held in Switzerland and Austria in June.
One thing Hitzfeld does share with Kuhn is a strong will and an intolerance of misbehaving players.
Last year Kuhn ditched captain Johann Vogel as in-fighting gripped the squad in the wake of their successful 2006 World Cup campaign. Hitzfeld too has ejected troublesome players in the past, transforming Bayern Munich from a team dubbed "FC Hollywood" into a tight-knit and successful outfit.
Hitzfeld's first task is to qualify Switzerland for the 2010 World Cup. He then has the option of renegotiating a longer term if both parties are happy with results.
"The expectations are high, but I am a positive person and I view this as a great challenge. Switzerland are capable of qualifying for the World Cup, but there is a lot of work to do first," he said.
swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich
Born in 1949 in the German town of Lörrach, near Basel, Hitzfeld is currently serving his second period as trainer of Bayern Munich.
As a player, he twice won the league title with Basel in 1972 and 1973. He won the Swiss Cup with Basel in 1975 and was top scorer in Switzerland in 1973 with 18 goals.
As a coach, he won back-to-back league titles with Zurich Grasshoppers in 1990 and 1991 and celebrated victories in the Swiss Cup in 1985 with Aarau, as well as in 1989 and 1990 with Grasshoppers.
He won six German championships (with Borussia Dortmund in 1995 and 1996; with Bayern Munich in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003).
Hitzfeld also won the Uefa Champions League with Borussia Dortmund in 1997 and with Bayern Munich in 2001.
He was twice elected "World Coach of the Year" – 1997 and 2001.
Kuhn, 64, became coach of the Swiss national side in June 2001, replacing Enzo Trossero of Argentina.
During his spell as trainer of the squad, Kuhn led Switzerland to Euro 2004 and the World Cup in 2006.
He will lead Switzerland in the forthcoming Euro 2008 games, co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria.
During his playing career, Kuhn played 63 times for the national side. For much of his playing career he was with FC Zurich.
He played one match for Switzerland in the 1966 World Cup tournament in England.
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