"Too soon!" were all the words Hasan Salihamidzic needed when asked by FIFA.com for his initial reaction to the draw for the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals which saw Bayern Munich pitted against Juventus.
A former star for both sides, Salihamidzic did of course go on to elaborate, saying: "These two teams are among the top four in Europe and that's where I'd have liked to have seen them. It's 50-50; a showdown between the best team in Germany and the best in Italy. It'll come down to little details and to who plays better on the day. They each have respect for each other, but I think that if Bayern play their best, they'll be the ones that win."
Brazzo ('The Lad') as he is affectionately known, can certainly see both sides of the argument – and with good reason. The Bosnian won the FIFA Club World Cup, six German Bundesliga titles and four German Cups in the decade he spent between 1998 and 2007 with Germany's most successful team, before wearing the black and white for a further four years in Turin. "Juve are solid and playing some good football, and the entire team knows how to defend. They are really strong collectively," Salihamidzic explained. "And they have amassed an unbelievable record over the past two years, only losing two or three matches. They also have one of the best coaches in Europe in Conte – he's done some great work and the players love him."
And what about Bayern Munich? "The champagne football they are playing is amazing – they dominate matches and never give up possession. They simply stifle their opponents," the Bosnian enthused. "Bayern have really matured and are now among the top three in Europe. They've qualified for the final of the Champions League twice in the past three years, only to lose on both occasions unfortunately. Over the past three or four years they have become a really strong outfit. They never lose their cool and always remain focused. I really hope they do it this time."
That last sentence reveals who Salihamidzic would rather see emerge victorious from the two-legged affair being played on 2 and 10 April. "I have two hearts beating in my chest which means that one of them will always be sad. But at the end of the day, I spent nine years playing for Bayern, I live in Munich and my children were born here. I'm from Bayern, I'm a red."
Salihamidzic enjoyed success at the highest European club level, when he, Stefan Effenberg and Mehmet Scholl led Bayern Munich to a dramatic 5-4 win on penalties against Valencia in the 2001 UEFA Champions League final. The Bosnian cut a confident figure throughout that match and got his team off the mark in the shootout to make it 1-1.
Holding a trophy of that magnitude in your hands is an intensely satisfying moment, as Salihamidzic attested. "You realise what you've been working for your entire life, and then when you get your hands on that cup – what a moment! It's the biggest thing you can win in club football, and it's what every footballer lives for."
That particular UEFA Champions League final was held in the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium, home to Juve's arch rivals AC and Inter Milan, but Germany's relationship with Italian football has been less fruitful in recent years. The 2006 FIFA World Cup™ and UEFA EURO 2012 saw Germany lose to Italy in the semis of both competitions. Bayern Munich lost out to Inter Milan in the final of the UEFA Champions League in 2010 and again in the Round of 16 of the same competition in 2011.
As many as 15 internationals who appeared in the EURO 2012 semi-final could be involved in this quarter-final (six from Italy, eight from Germany). "Italian teams are very compact," Salihamidzic said. "Everyone defends and they're all very active. In recent years, their teams have taken on some German qualities since the Bundesliga is setting the pace. The Italians have really come to the fore again in recent years."
The Bosnian believes that either Juventus or Bayern Munich could go all the way this year – provided that they can get past Barcelona. Anyone coming up against the Catalans will have to hope that they get them on an off day because, for Salihamidzic, Barça remain the best in the business.
That, however, is a debate for another day. In the meantime, the two matches between Bayern Munich and Juventus promise to showcase football at its very best.