Hitzfeld's return restores dreams of glory
Thursday was not a great day for weather in Munich, with overcast skies, freezing drizzle and a miserable chill in the air. The depressing atmospheric conditions made not one jot or scintilla of difference to Uli Hoeneß. The Bayern general manager was positively beaming as he turned to address the largest-ever media throng to pack the press room at the Säbener Strasse.
The reason for the official's sunny disposition was standing right next to him, bearing the name Ottmar Hitzfeld. "I'm truly delighted to present our Ottmar Hitzfeld," Hoeneß smiled. "It feels like I've never been away. I'm at home here," Hitzfeld himself declared a little later, radiating similar levels of contentment and delight.
Still in hunt for title
Ottmar Hitzfeld has returned to Bayern Munich, "and now I'm confident we'll see a successful outcome to this very difficult season after all," Hoeneß remarked. "We've suddenly become aware we could still get something from an almost impossible situation. Provided we all work closely together from now on, everything is possible. Our dream is to retain the league title."
Following Tuesday evening's goalless draw at home to Bochum, Hoeneß and fellow board directors Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Karl Hopfner had even cast doubt on the club's chances of finishing third and securing at least a qualifying berth for the Champions League. Felix Magath was dismissed, and his predecessor promptly installed as his successor.
Nothing is impossible
The man always nicknamed "The General" issued a rousing call to arms at his very first news conference. "I'm going to make it clear to the players that we're still in the fight to become German champions," Hitzfeld announced. Munich currently lie eight points behind leading duo Werder Bremen and Schalke 04, but Hitzfeld merely saw that as an exciting challenge. "I want to achieve the impossible, and win the league with Bayern one more time."
His previous spell at the helm from 1998 to 2004 brought four Bundesliga triumphs, before Hoeneß felt the "burned out and weary" boss needed to move on at the end of the 2003-4 campaign. Hitzfeld has rejected many an offer to return to the game since then, but the only proposal tempting him to spend a couple of days thinking it over came when his former charges Borussia Dortmund called over the winter. "But taking a club from ninth up to fifth wasn't much of a challenge," he reported.
Hard work ahead
However, he took only a few seconds to make up his mind when Hoeneß rang on Wednesday, he revealed. "There wasn't a lot to think about. It remains exciting and an honour to work at one of Europe's best clubs." The fact that Bayern are still in the Champions League and meet Real Madrid in the last sixteen was another argument in favour.
In any case, past history would remain exactly that, Hitzfeld insisted. "This is a new start for everyone." He would seek out the leading dressing room personalities and gauge the mood in the team. "I've been struck by the way the players haven't been enjoying themselves recently. You can only perform if you have desire and passion." Working together with assistant Michael Henke and fitness coach Oliver Schmidtlein, "we'll start by putting in the hard work you need for success."
Focused on next five months
Hitzfeld's new contract only runs until the end of the season. "I basically only wanted to agree to the next four or five months. I'm assuming Bayern will install a different coach after that," the General observed.
By contrast, Hoeneß was not ruling out retaining the 58-year-old's services after the summer. "It would be dumb if we won five matches in a row and then said, off you go Ottmar." Both parties were willing to wait and see how the situation unfolds. "We'll be working so closely together, we'll have plenty of opportunities to talk things over," Hoeneß summarised, the smile never once leaving his face.