OTTMAR HITZFELD interview ahead of 2014 World Cup
(June 10, 2014)
Ottmar Hitzfeld is the manager of the Swiss national team which is competing in Brazil. He is a former manager of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich and is an Ambassador for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation
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Laureus: This is the second World Cup finals you have taken Switzerland to. What has been your best World Cup memory so far?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: In 2010, the 1-0 victory over Spain. Even though the tournament did not continue in accordance to our wishes and finished too early for us, this victory was and still is for eternity. A piece of history was written by the Swiss national then. We did beat the eventual world champions Spain in their opening match – and also were the only nation that managed to do so for several years.
Laureus: How do you assess your first round group – Ecuador, France, Honduras?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: It’s a very strong group. All three teams are not easy to beat, otherwise they would not be qualified for the World Cup. But we have had a very good preparation so far. We do have the potential to qualify for the round of the last 16. That is our goal. Then there are no limits.
Laureus: In 2010, it was a 0–0 draw against Honduras which eliminated Switzerland from its group. Will you be looking for a little revenge?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: In this game we would have needed a victory with two goals difference. In the eyes of many this was a piece of cake, but even Spain had a hard battle and beat Honduras 2-0 only with great difficulty. So why should it be a walk in the park for Switzerland to play Honduras and enter the final 16? That's why I would rather not speak of revenge, but the fact that we know that Honduras is a very difficult opponent.
Laureus: Who do you think will be Switzerland’s most influential players?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: I don’t want to talk about individual players, but rather praise the quality of education in the Swiss Football Association. For example, there were never so many Swiss players with a Bundesliga contract! Other players play a leading role in different major leagues. All these are very important experiences that also the national team can benefit from.
Laureus: Away from Switzerland, who do you think are the favourites to win the World Cup?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: Argentina, Spain, Germany and particularly Brazil.
Laureus: Throughout your career you have been heavily involved with German football – winning the Bundesliga many times and the Champions League twice, with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. How would you assess the condition of German football today?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: Good. In club soccer the Bundesliga is the measure of all things and FC Bayern Munich is the best run club all over the world. The German National team has a very wide senior squad for the World Cup and Jogi Löw is an outstanding coach. I give Germany a lot of credit in European club soccer as well as in this year’s World Cup.
Laureus: Do you regret that you did not coach the German national team at any point?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: I had the opportunity, but I was burned out at the time and needed a break. The job would have fascinated me, but the timing of the offer by the DFB just did not work for me. There are only two national teams I would have coached: Germany and Switzerland. As a national coach you need to be fully committed and totally identified with the country’s first selection. If you coach the first selection of a country’s football players you need to be fully committed and totally identified with the country. I am German, but since my earliest childhood I have a close connection to Switzerland; their football has always pursued me and I am very happy that I was able to lead the national team twice in a row at the World Cup. And that I can finish my career in the land of the five-time world champions Brazil.
Laureus: How much experience have you had of football in Brazil?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: As a player and coach I have visited Brazil several times and realised what an important status football has in this country. Always and everywhere people play soccer, follow soccer and live soccer. And I witnessed Pelé. For me, still the best player of all time.
Laureus: Do you think it will be difficult for a European team to win in South America?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: Very, very difficult. It cannot be a coincidence that a European team couldn’t win a World Cup held in South America. Not in Uruguay, not in Mexico, not in Argentina and for sure not in Brazil.
Laureus: Do you think Brazil will benefit from the support they will get from the fans by playing at home or will they experience extra pressure to play well?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: There is always pressure in football. The expectations may be a bit more noticeable at a home World Cup. But Brazil has shown at the Confederations Cup a year ago how you deal well with these special conditions.
Laureus: Where do you stand on the Cristiano Ronaldo v Lionel Messi debate? Which do you think is the better player?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: Both players are incredibly great athletes and both have outstanding qualities. Both can win a match in their club or national team on their own. This season Ronaldo is up front. He has won – in addition to a fantastic goal rate – also the most important title in club football with Real Madrid, the UEFA Champions League. Also at the World Cup, he can play a very important role.
Laureus: Who do you think could be the surprise team of the World Cup?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: Something can always happen. But when I would answer to this question in detail I would ruin the surprise effect. Despite that I will focus mainly on my team and the tasks in our group.
Laureus: In your entire coaching career what has been your greatest memory?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: I want to create a hit list. There have been many beautiful and unforgettable moments. I am thinking the National League B championship with the SC Zug, which launched my career, as well as the victories in the Champions League [for Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich] or the 5-3 success with Switzerland against Germany.
Laureus: You have said you will retire from coaching Switzerland after the World Cup. Will you leave football? What are your plans?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: Now - hopefully a very long World Cup. What comes next I don’t know exactly. But one thing is sure: no boredom. I will certainly spend more time with the family, probably first off in Engelberg/Switzerland to recharge my batteries after the World Cup.
Laureus: Can you say why you are happy to be involved with Laureus in Switzerland?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: I feel simply privileged to be a Laureus Ambassador and play my part in this wonderful organisation.
Laureus: Do you think it is important for successful sportsmen and sportswomen to give something back to society?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: The Swiss national team has many players with immigrant backgrounds. They all say how much they owe Switzerland and that they are happy to return something through football. They have benefited from a great education in school, professionally and in terms of football. Now they want to ensure that Switzerland is proud of them. This is an example of a great motivation in a field where fast money plays a big role and can quickly turn someone’s head.
Laureus: Why is it important to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: Because they earn a proper chance and we need to help them to take this chance. Most of them are in an utterly difficult position without being responsible for their own circumstances. It is very hard work to get out of this and all the people in a better situation should help these kids. Sport can be an instrument on their way to a better life. This is why Laureus is doing such great work - and I'm very proud to be an Ambassador to the Laureus Foundation.