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Hitzfeld leaves nothing to chance as he takes the international stage

Ottmar Hitzfeld has won the whole lot at club level. After guiding neighboring Switzerland through qualifying, the former math teacher will be taking charge at his first World Cup this summer.

Ottmar Hitzfeld has never coached at a World Cup before

For all his club experience, the World Cup is uncharted territory

"Never underestimate Ottmar Hitzfeld," says Michael Meier, a former colleague and personal friend of the Swiss national team coach.

Meier knows Hitzfeld from the time they spent together at Borussia Dortmund in the 1990s. Meier was the club's sporting director, Hitzfeld the head coach who masterminded a Champions League triumph. When Hitzfeld went on to claim European club football's top prize again, with Bayern Munich in 2001, Hitzfeld became one of only two coaches to have led two different teams to the European Cup.

"He was always distinct as a former math teacher," Meier recalled. "I don't know another coach who's been able to plan both his own career and the successes of a team so thoroughly." Hitzfeld's rewards were certainly hard-earned, the rigors of the job a burden on his health in more recent years. Despite Switzerland being considered far from World Cup contenders, it's unlikely the German will be lowering his standards this summer.

Counting up his titles

Hitzfeld with the 1997 Champions League trophy

Hitzfeld with his biggest trophy yet

Hitzfeld managed Dortmund for six years, his reign climaxing with victory in the final of the 1997 Champions League, in which Zinedine Zidane's Juventus were beaten 3-1 in the Olympic Stadium in Munich. Hitzfeld's Dortmund also picked up two Bundesliga titles, their first for over thirty years, before he left to coach Bayern Munich.

His first three seasons in Bavaria saw a hat-trick of Bundesliga titles, and two trips to the Champions League final. In 1999, Bayern conceded two injury-time goals to dramatically lose to Manchester United, but in 2001 Bayern beat Valencia on penalties in the final.

Another title in 2003 - his second league and cup double - proved that Hitzfeld had succeeded in taming the team once labeled "FC Hollywood." A mixture of authority and delicacy did the job, as well as players including captain Stefan Effenberg and goalkeeper Oliver Kahn.

The coach's rotation system, questioned initially as all innovations are, meant the players stayed fresh until the end of the season while often fighting for trophies on three fronts. Meier attributes his success to thorough planning, the envisioning of problems and solutions. "That for me was a hallmark of how he did his job. He's very meticulous, but also tough and consistent in his decisions."

But the stress of the job took its toll on Hitzfeld. After success on the pitch dried up, he was ushered out of the Bayern job in 2004. He enjoyed a three-year break from football, even turning down the chance to coach the German national team in their World Cup on home soil because he felt burnt out.

"He had chosen a job that, because of his physiognomy, wasn't suitable," said Meier. "You can see after 90 minutes the traces a game has left behind on his face." Hitzfeld returned to manage Bayern for the 2007-08 season, and led them to another domestic double, before bidding an emotional farewell.

Hitzfeld enjoyed a hiatus from football in 2004, before returning to Bayern Munich in 2007

A three-year break made Hitzfeld eager for a new challenge

Switzerland never far away

Ottmar Hitzfeld was born in 1949 in Loerrach, in Germany's far southwest near the Swiss border. He made his breakthrough as a player with Swiss club FC Basel, and in 1972 represented West Germany at the Olympics. He moved to Stuttgart, then a second division side, and once scored six goals in a single game - a figure unmatched to the present day - before returning to Switzerland to finish his playing career and starting his coaching one.

In 1983, he took over at SC Zug, and two years later he'd won his first trophy, the Swiss Cup, with FC Aarau. Two Swiss Super League titles followed in his time at Grasshoppers Zurich, before Dortmund prised him away.

Hitzfeld took the Swiss national team job in July 2008, after Koebi Kuhn failed to lead the Euro 2008 co-hosts out of their group at the tournament. He has not felt the need to ring the changes, but has consistently looked back to the Bundesliga for a number of his important players. His direction allowed a squad of limited talent to top their group and qualify for South Africa 2010.

European champions and World Cup favorites Spain will be their first opponents. Taking points off them will be a tall order - but with this coach, Switzerland is not to be underestimated.

Author: Jens Krepela / tms
Editor: Matt Hermann

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