While many top-level coaches dream of bowing out on a high note, only a select few actually manage to achieve it. Jupp Heynckes is undoubtedly one of this minority.
Last year the 68-year-old called time on his career after winning the treble of the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich. The feat marked the German top flight's all-time third-highest scorer’s place in the history books alongside the world's greatest coaches.
The former Germany striker's unflappable demeanour, unparalleled wealth of experience, and unwavering will to win helped him to successfully create a single-minded team that combined a possession-based game with tireless pressing and energy to devastating effect.
Now the FIFA Coach of the Year for 2013 is enjoying his retirement and is looking forward to watching the forthcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, as he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: Now that you have had some time to digest last year's successes, what do you remember of that trophy-laden period in May?
Jupp Heynckes: You could see from the television pictures that alongside playing top-class football there were lots of emotions involved too, especially once we put the icing on the cake with the DFB-Pokal after winning the Bundesliga and the Champions League in London. It was a very eventful time and it left its mark on all of us. When you're in the thick of things you're not able to look left or right, you have tunnel vision where you only ever focus on the next objective.
Were you immediately aware of the magnitude of the achievement or did it only sink in later on?
I knew straight away, especially given the reactions of the players and backroom staff, the people around me. That made it clear that we’d achieved something special. After we won the league, the Champions League final was just around the corner and after we'd won that we had the DFB-Pokal final. That made it difficult to handle everything and to keep the levels of concentration and motivation high. But of course everyone realised what we'd done. For the older players like [Arjen] Robben, [Franck] Ribery, [Philipp] Lahm, [Bastian] Schweinsteiger, [Daniel] van Buyten and [Claudio] Pizarro, our historical achievement was unbelievably important.
What did becoming FIFA Coach of the Year for 2013 mean to you?
It was a huge honour to receive the award - I was delighted. But it’s a bit like a symphony orchestra: the conductor is nothing without the musicians, and vice versa. That's how it is in football too. The team needs a top-class coach and if you want success on the international stage you need world-class players too. I had that last year. It was a mutual effort that worked perfectly at Bayern. There was a great harmony between the team, the coaching staff and the club hierarchy, and I include everyone in that. They were all great guys, from the medical department right through to the groundsman. Everyone was hugely motivated, had passion in their work and above all had self-discipline and team-discipline. Not having to constantly remind everyone what’s required is an important part of being successful.
Jurgen Klopp was also nominated alongside you for the Coach of the Year award. Is the fact that two German coaches were shortlisted a sign of the Bundesliga's quality?
It's very interesting to observe how highly the Bundesliga is spoken of abroad, from the overall quality to the stadiums, the family-friendly atmosphere and the football itself. That shows that together the DFB and the league have done a lot of things right over the last few decades, including the introduction of youth academies. I don't believe German football has ever had as much top-quality talent as it has now.
In Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery three attacking players were nominated for the FIFA Ballon d'Or. As a former striker yourself, what do you make of that trio?
All three are fantastic footballers and each has their own outstanding qualities. Messi has swept the board at the Ballon d'Or in the last four years. He's a genius and is certainly on a par with [Diego] Maradona and Pele. The way Cristiano Ronaldo plays is incredible. He's so strong physically and is dangerous in front of goal - he's another absolutely unique player. In the last two years Franck Ribery has become a real team player at Bayern. He has huge individual talent when it comes to creating and scoring goals, but maybe not to the same extent as the other two. However, he's learned to help out in defence and to play for the team. I think our success boiled down to that last year: the fact we played superbly as a team. Ribery fitted perfectly into that system.
If you had to choose between players from the 1970s and from the modern era, what would you go for?
Times change. You can't compare what the game was like back then with how it is today. I believe that if people like [Karl-Heinz] Rummenigge, [Franz] Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Gunter Netzer still played today and had access to modern training conditions, they would still be exceptional players. But you can't compare the two eras. That's why it's also difficult to say who the best player was: Maradona or Pele, Messi or [Zinedine] Zidane, not forgetting [Johan] Cruyff. They were all incredible players.
How do you rate Germany's chances at Brazil 2014?
I think they've got a very good chance, even if the past shows us that it's always difficult in South America. Dealing with the weather conditions and the huge distances involved isn't easy, but we've got a huge squad of players with two candidates for each position. There are still some important questions to be answered though: Will Sami Khedira be fit and healthy again in time? Can Schweinsteiger hit top form? Will [Ilkay] Gundogan be brought back in? Those are the doubts I have, but otherwise Germany are among the favourites alongside Argentina, Brazil and Spain of course. Even though it's historically been difficult to win the World Cup in South America, we have to go there with our heads held high, saying, 'We want to be world champions'. The players need to hear that and let it sink in. That's what I did from the very start last year: I told my players what needed to be changed and improved. I told them that if we played to our potential we could win the lot. Of course several factors have a role to play and it's vital that all the components fit together. Last year they did with us. Germany have got a great chance of winning the World Cup in Brazil.
You won the World Cup yourself as a player in 1974. What does the tournament mean to a player?
It's the international stage. If you win the Champions League you become known across the globe, but the World Cup has always thrown up new stars and developments. It won't be any different in Brazil. I’m sure one or two unexpected stars will emerge while others will fail to live up to expectations. However, I believe that it'll be an unbelievably good tournament despite the climate and the distances involved.
As a coach you never took charge of a national team. Did the role not interest you? Or did the opportunity ever arise?
The DFB offered me the job three times. Once I was at Benfica and on the other two occasions I didn't want to do it because I’ve always preferred to work with players on a daily basis. I don’t think I’ve lost out on anything. My work gave me everything and allowed me to live out my passion. The daily contact with the players and the daily work on the training pitch was what interested me and helped me develop as a person and as a coach. It’s different with a national team. But that’s all in the past now anyway, I don’t need to think about it anymore.