New Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld made his first ever visit to the Home of FIFA in Zurich on Wednesday 30 July, where he met with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. Messrs Hitzfeld and Blatter enjoyed a warm and friendly discussion on a number of footballing subjects, including the planned "6+5" rule and Switzerland's chances of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
After his meeting with the FIFA President, the man who was at the helm for a number of Bayern Munich's trophy-winning years took time out to speak to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Mr Hitzfeld, what brings you here today?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: I was lucky enough to come and pay a visit to Sepp Blatter. It was a very fruitful meeting and a great opportunity to exchange our views. I've known him for many years now and we have often met, but this was a chance for us to have some intensive discussions about some current problems and interesting topics in a relaxed atmosphere.
What do you think about the planned "6+5" rule?
I am totally behind this rule and have been for years now, since I can see that development is going in the wrong direction. There are too many foreign players in every league, which means that the local youngsters can't be brought on properly. Furthermore, a lot of money is spent unnecessarily and which would be better invested in youth work and the development of talent. I've always been an advocate of having more home-grown players in each league.
The new season is already under way in some of the European leagues. Are you already missing being involved at club level?
I'm not missing it at all. When the first matches of the season began just recently in Switzerland and you could see how the different coaches were working, I was a bit emotional, but since then I've been able to get used to it. I'm gradually getting a little nervous though as my first match in charge of Switzerland is only three weeks away now.
How much are you looking forward to your new job?
The anticipation keeps on building. The more time I spend in this job, the more I enjoy it. It is a whole new challenge - keeping an eye on players, getting in contact with them, working with the federation, bringing new ideas on board and also going through everything that had been done previously. The Swiss federation has done a great job, particularly in terms of training coaches and youth development. They have set an example for the rest of Europe to follow. Despite being a small country, Switzerland has achieved a great deal in recent years.
What is your opinion of the young, talented team you are taking on?
The potential is there to qualify for the next World Cup if all of them continue to show hunger and play to the best of their abilities. It's obviously always difficult to get a team back up to a high level after you've been involved with the European Championships on home soil and when that has been your only focus. The World Cup in South Africa is a different source of motivation but it is no less important. We now have to make the players realise that results count, right from the beginning.
How do you rate Switzerland's chances of qualifying for South Africa 2010?
I'd say that we're in an average group where we will have to take all of our opponents seriously. It's no easy group, even though some people would like to think so. Qualifying for 2010 will take a lot of work and we'll also need our share of luck during the matches. We need players that are up to the task so we cannot afford to lose too many automatic starters, otherwise we'll be in trouble. I'm very optimistic though. Greece and Israel will be two tough rivals, while Moldova and Latvia will be tricky opponents who can play a bit of football as well. All the groups are like that, however - you cannot afford to underestimate the unfancied teams.
Having won almost everything there is to win in club football, how would taking part in a FIFA World Cup compare?
I'm really looking forward to this new challenge of being a national team coach rather than being involved in club football. It fills me with pride to represent a country. I'm looking forward to the matches, to the national anthems before kick-off, the atmosphere and the chance to beat other countries. Qualifying for the World Cup is obviously a great source of motivation for me. It would be a highlight in my career, and that's what I'm now working towards. I'm going to do all I can to achieve this goal.