Ottmar Hitzfeld has won everything there is to win at club level including the UEFA Champions League, the Toyota Intercontinental Cup and league titles in both Germany and Switzerland. Following his most recent championship success at the helm of German giants Bayern Munich, the 60-year-old coach took a step back from the daily exertions of club football, although as the German tactician will tell you himself, his career is far from over.
The former Stuttgart, Basel and Luzern striker's latest challenge arose as head coach of the Swiss national team and, despite a rocky start which included an embarrassing 2-1 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying defeat to lowly Luxembourg, the experienced Hitzfeld has led the Nati to near the top of European Zone qualifying Group 2, just behind leaders Greece on goal difference.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively to Ottmar Hitzfeld about Switzerland's crucial upcoming match against Greece, his counterpart Otto Rehhagel and his dreams of qualification for South Africa 2010.
FIFA.com: Mr Hitzfeld, how are the preparations going ahead of Saturday's big match against Greece?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: We've been at training camps in Feusisberg and Freienbach since Tuesday and as usual the facilities have been excellent. We have one or two problems in defence with [Stephan] Lichtsteiner suspended, [Johan] Djourou injured and [Philippe] Senderos lacking match practice, but I'm confident we can keep a clean sheet whoever I send out onto the pitch.
The Greece match could prove decisive in terms of automatic qualification for South Africa. How are you approaching the game?
The match against Greece is one of four 'cup finals' for the Swiss national team this autumn. Of course we want to take all three points, so we'll be playing for the win and hopefully we'll be able to put a bit of distance between ourselves and the Greeks. What makes the game even more important is the fact that Greece have, at least on paper, a much easier run-in than we do.
Greece have their noses in front at the moment. How would you compare their team to your own?
Greece have an abundance of very strong, physical players and boast a very compact defence, so I'm expecting a difficult, physical game. Obviously we've had an eye on Greece over the past few months and we know a fair bit about them - not least that they have a very clever coach, so we need to be as well prepared as possible.
As you mentioned, you're not only facing a strong Greek side but also one of your old Bundesliga counterparts. How would you describe your relationship with Otto Rehhagel, who led Greece to glory at UEFA EURO 2004?
I only have positive things to say about Otto Rehhagel. He won many titles at club level, including the Bundesliga with Kaiserslautern just one season after promotion to the top flight. He's had plenty of success at international level too. The EURO 2004 win in Portugal was and always will be a one-off, though, and I can't see anything like that happening again in the near future.
Just a few days after the match against Greece, Switzerland travel to Latvia, a team you narrowly beat at home 2-1. What are you expecting from the trip to eastern Europe?
We've been monitoring Latvia's progress closely as well, in fact I watched their recent defeat to Bulgaria in Sofia. Latvia are a disciplined team with a very compact defence. We struggled to break them down in the home game 11 months ago because they were so well-organised and they have an excellent goalkeeper. Still, we showed that we can beat them if we focus on our own strengths and I think one thing which will suit us going into the match in Riga is that Latvia are likely to play much the same way as they did away from home.
The Latvians are still in with a realistic chance of a top-two finish in the group. What is your take on the current standings?
Latvia have got themselves into a good position behind Greece and ourselves. They're playing to their strengths and they've proven difficult for anyone in the group to beat, so they fully deserve to be spoken of as potential qualification candidates.
You have achieved almost everything a coach could wish for in your career. However, a FIFA World Cup appearance is still missing. What would it mean to the people of Switzerland and to yourself personally to qualify for the first ever FIFA World Cup on African soil?
It would be a huge achievement for Switzerland. We shouldn't forget that Switzerland's population is about a tenth of Germany's, so there are far fewer footballers to choose from. The effects of that are obvious when we suffer from injuries or suspensions in the squad, for example. With that in mind, I can't speak highly enough of Switzerland's achievements over the past few years. Three consecutive major tournament appearances is no mean feat and it speaks volumes for the Swiss FA and the work they have put into improving the game at youth level. The quality of young Swiss players is clear with so many youngsters coming through the ranks: big European clubs are always coming in for them because they know that they will be getting a quality player. I'm not just saying that because I'm employed by the Swiss FA and I'm coach of the national team, I thought the same thing when I was still with Bayern.
You recently extended your contract with the Swiss FA until 2012. Marcello Lippi said not long ago that he wouldn't want to return to club management again. Do you share those sentiments?
You can never say 'never' in football, but I think I've finished the club management chapter of my career. Anyway, it's not really something I can consider at the moment because I'm contracted to the Swiss FA. In 2012 I'll be 63 years old and I don't think I'd want to move back into the hectic, everyday world of club management again. I'm very happy with my current role and I want to finish what I've started. I'm as highly motivated as ever and I'm convinced that we can qualify for the World Cup in South Africa.