As a tenacious man-marker, Berti Vogts, or 'The Terrier' as he was aptly named, helped hosts Germany to victory at the 1974 FIFA World Cup™. Twenty-two years later, as national team coach, he led his country to glory at the 1996 UEFA European Championship in England, before going on to enjoy spells in charge of Kuwait and then Scotland.
Then five months ago, the 60-year-old took up the Nigerian national team reins, something he described at the time as a "major challenge". Upon his appointment, Vogts said his objective was to take his team, currently placed 25th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the vastly experienced tactician believes there will be a few shocks in store at the first FIFA World Cup to be held on African soil. And while he believes Nigeria could be among those to spring a surprise or two should they get there, Vogts acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to be done before then.
FIFA.com: Berti, were you able to attend Canada 2007, where Nigeria recently took part in the FIFA U-20 World Cup? Berti Vogts: No, I'm afraid I didn't quite make it. I'd booked a flight so that I could be there for the semi-final and the final, but Chile put paid to that with their 4-0 extra-time victory over our Nigerian youngsters. It was a pity and a real blow to us, as the lads emerged not only as excellent individuals, but also as a great team. I can only say that they did themselves proud.
*But you did manage to follow the tournament I imagine. What was your overall impression? * I was overwhelmed. The FIFA U-20 World Cup was a resounding success. Above all, I was delighted to see the enthusiasm of the North Americans for football. I believe that if our sport can be brought closer to the general public in Canada and the USA, football will soon be incredibly popular over there too. This tournament was a major step in that direction, as it created an impressive level of excitement that we can build on.
*You have been the national coach of Nigeria for five monthsnow. Originally you described this task as a major challenge. Has this initial impression been borne out? * Yes, you might say it has. It's certainly a major challenge, but above all it's great fun to work with all of these young, massively talented players and to bring them on. Believe me, it's simply fascinating to see how much footballing potential there is in Nigeria. And I'm finding it very exciting to be able to help.
*Do you see that as your main task, providing help? * You know, when you talk about challenges, you have to emphasise that the true challenge lies in making sure help is accepted. Of course it's my job to help: in footballing terms, tactically, organisationally and structurally. But this help is often not accepted. And this is where the challenge lies - for Nigeria and also for many other African national teams, and above all in terms of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
*In what respect does help have to be provided? * The problem is in the organisation. The Nigerian FA wants to make changes and adopt a new approach.
*Are you optimistic that this can be achieved? * One thing is very clear: these changes must be dealt with. My work in Nigeria is a major challenge. I hope that I can lead my team to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
*How much does the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa mean to the continent? * Its significance is simply enormous. Achieving the objective of qualifying for the tournament will bring about change and send a glimmer of hope - it's a one-off opportunity that cannot be missed. If we can do that, then much is possible.
*What exactly? * I believe that there is a possibility that we will see one or two African teams in the semi-finals at the World Cup in South Africa.
*Which African teams do you think might make it that far? * In the first instance I think Côte d'Ivoire. For me, they are by far the strongest team in Africa right now. And then I see Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon on a par with each another. Of course, you can't forget hosts South Africa, nor Egypt, the current African champions. As I said, I believe that two of these top teams could make it to the semi-finals, as long as the European coaches are allowed to work on their own terms.
*Will home advantage play a big role for African teams at the FIFA World Cup? * No, not necessarily. You must not forget that the tournament will be played at a time of year when the weather conditions in South Africa are European. I think European teams will feel quite at home at the 2010 World Cup.
*You seem very passionate about your new job and appear to identify strongly with Nigeria and Africa in general. Do you feel you have made the right decision, becoming the national coach ofNigeria? * Definitely, I'm convinced of that and I'm really enjoying the work. I'm getting used to a completely new mindset and a totally different kind of job. You have to learn how people here think, so that you can then deal with them and be able to change things. It's a great job for me to try and help Nigerian as well as African football make progress.