He wears a Prussian helmet on his head, grinning, cigar clenched between his teeth, wand swinging in his right hand – this image of Atmar Hitzfeld (73) is at least as mythical as the countless images in which he shows shiny trophies or bowls stretching into the sky.
Hitzfield, a coaching legend. Always a gentleman and ambitious almost always in control. This is why the “pickle helmet shot” is so memorable. It was created exactly 25 years ago after Hitzfeld won the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund on May 28, 1997 by defeating Juventus Turin 3-1 in the final. This was the first victory for a German club in the first division, which was founded in 1992 to succeed the European Cup.
“That was crazy,” Hitzfeld recalled with a smile at the subsequent “Destiny Party” at the Hohensyburg Casino, where Unna’s “Wandervogel” band provided the musical impetus. “Actually, I’m not a party monster,” explains the former BVB coach, “but when the hat was put on and the wand was handed to me, I played along. Because I was so happy in that moment. The massive pressure and all the tensions were gone. A moment of rare lightness.” !”
Bild am Sonntag: Have you thought a lot about this moment of happiness later?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: “No, hardly. I don’t live in the past. Of course I remember it from time to time, especially now for my anniversary. But I also don’t look at old photos or game recordings. What’s over.”
I amassed 25 titles in my 30 years as a coach. Winning the Champions League with Dortmund was your first big success. So also the most important?
heat field: “Every title counts. But yes, the BVB victory was special, yes. A building block for an international breakthrough.”
He adds with a wink: “Rivier’s rival Schalke had presented in the European Cup a week ago. We can’t let that sit on us.”
What stuck you the most: the ecstasy at the final whistle? Celebrating the next day on Borsigplatz?
heat field: “The genius of the young Lars Ricken. His footballing goal to make it 3-1 with the first touch of the ball after the substitution. He had previously noticed on the bench that Juventus goalkeeper Pirosi was always too far in front of the penalty area. Then he does it brilliantly.”
Was this title a blessing and a curse? From now on he will always judge you…
heat field: “Oh yeah, you can say it like that! The bar is set high and expectations are raised. Also my country. I always want to leave the field as a winner and better miss a place in the final than only second place. At the end of the 1997 season, as they say in the Ruhr region I was completely satisfied. Nothing worked for me anymore. I needed a break, I even turned down an offer from Real Madrid.”
Instead, I remained as the sporting director at BVB…
heat field: “That was the idea of my friend and then coach Michael Mayer, who didn’t want to lose me. But I quickly realized I was no way out.”
After a season you went to Bayern Munich, with whom you collected more titles in six years, including your second victory in the Champions League. How stressful was that time?
heat field: It totally drained me. I was having a hard time sleeping because I was constantly thinking about my work. I couldn’t laugh anymore, and I became increasingly depressed and speechless. The whole family suffered as a result. Then the famous professor in Munich Florian Holspur diagnosed My condition is exhaustion. After the 2004 season it was time to call it a day. It took me two whole years to recover from this illness.”
She then sat on the bench at Bayern Munich for another year before taking on the role of the quieter Swiss national coach. You ended your career in 2014. How difficult is this step?
heat field: “It was the best decision ever. A life-saving measure for me. The stress is finally over, I enjoy my time with my wife and family, I am the proud grandfather of three grandchildren, and I love to play football with them in the park. I even declined a semi-immoral offer for it… “
heat field: “Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande wanted to sign me and gave me €25 million a year – net! For the club’s billionaires, it was just playing with money. But I could have earned the same amount in one year as I had been earning throughout my career.”
And you canceled anyway?
heat field: “Yes, though we discussed a long time at home. If my son Matthias had said, ‘Accept the offer and guarantee our family fortune,’ I would have done so. But what was most important to him also was that I was doing well. I did not regret my decision for a second later. …”
How important is football to you today?
heat field: “Very important. I am a fan of football, it has always been and still is an essential part of my life. But I rarely go to the stadium anymore, I mainly watch matches on TV.”
Do you have an explanation for why the BVB could not oust Bayern Munich from the throne for ten years?
heat field: “I’m realistic. Bavaria has completely different financial capabilities and a budget twice as much I think. Borussia have to find and develop talent. To sell them again later for a lot of money. They are really great at that. Bayern, on the other hand, is one of the clubs that can Also paying for such players.”
Still in touch with your winning team since 1997?
heat field: “Only intermittently. I am always happy when I meet one of them. They were really exceptional young men and world class footballers. Like Matthias Zammer, the absolute captain. After returning from Italy, I transformed him from an attacking midfielder to a Libero in front of the defence. So it was Practically the first “six” in German football honked.
BVB plans to invite its 1997 champions to Dortmund for the inaugural season. are you with us
heat field: “No, I have already canceled. I am on vacation there with my family.”