Vogel: Goliath doesn’t always win
At some point in the future, Heiko Vogel will look back on the autumn and winter of the 2011/12 campaign and marvel at the remarkable chain of events which will surely shape his career for years to come. After a sudden promotion from assistant to head coach at Basel, he promptly oversaw a dramatic revival in the Swiss champions’ fortunes and led them into the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League. Tonight, the 36-year-old will be confronted by a chunk of his own past when Basel take on the mighty Bayern Munich, where Vogel spent nine years as a youth coach.
Vogel told FIFA.com: “I'm not tense or nervous in the slightest, I'm focused and really looking forward to the match." He knows the Munich club inside out, and had a major hand in nurturing stars of today such as Philipp Lahm and Thomas Muller. “In our two matches, I'll come across a lot of familiar faces," he said. "Obviously I'm always delighted when I see how well these players have come on."
His former charges, who shot to footballing fame for Bayern and Germany, have nothing but good memories of their former coach, praising his open and communicative nature, and expressing respect for what he has achieved. “He's a great guy and you can have real fun around him," said Lahm.
However, a Champions League knockout tie is not the place for doing favours or exchanging pleasantries. Muller commented: “I'm delighted he took on such a prestigious job and eliminated Manchester United straight away, but obviously our intention is to make sure that’s as far as it goes."
Vogel, who studied sports science after his own playing career was curtailed by injury, will now deploy all the knowledge he amassed in his spell with Bayern as he plots the undoing of his former club in Europe's elite club competition. He said: “This is not about Heiko Vogel, it's about a last-16 tie in the Champions League between Basel and Bayern Munich. What it means to me personally is of no importance."
Initially, he was only viewed as a caretaker in Basel after then supremo Thorsten Fink was lured away to slumbering German giants Hamburg. However, Vogel's meticulous approach and emphasis on eye-catching attacking football proved a perfect fit for the Swiss champions. Basel recovered from a patchy start to the campaign and accelerated clear at the top of the domestic standings, and quite apart from their achievement in Europe, are also through to the Swiss cup quarter-finals. Unsurprisingly, the man who made just a handful of third-tier appearances as a player but has been coaching since he was 22 was soon permanently installed in the Basel boss’s office.
The talk in Munich this season has all been about the Champions League final on Bayern's home turf. Few people fancy the Swiss minnows’ chances against the star-studded ensemble from the Bavarian capital, although it has not gone unnoticed that Vogel and his men pulled off the shock of the group stage by knocking previous year's finalists United out of the competition.
In securing a draw and a win against the Premier League side, the Swiss showed just how difficult they are to beat. “It's a classic case of David versus Goliath, just like our games against Manchester United," explained Vogel. "Usually Goliath ends up winning, but not always, as we proved."
One man who could tip the balance Basel's way is 21-year-old Xherdan Shaqiri. The Switzerland international is still on the books in Basel, but has already sealed a dream move to Bayern this summer. Vogel dismissed the idea that his midfield gem might fail to deliver against his future employers.
“One of Shaqiri's main strengths is his carefree approach," the coach said. "I have no need to actively relieve the pressure on him, although obviously I'd speak with him about the subject if he came to me with it."
It is another tantalising twist to a potentially fascinating clash, as a former and a future Munich man could yet combine to inflict grievous damage on Germany's biggest club.