Minutes after a soul-crushing defeat at the hands of Argentina in the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup, Switzerland manager Ottmar Hitzfeld has called it quits. Speaking at his post-match press conference following the Swiss' 1-0 extra-time defeat, the legendary manager confirmed his expected retirement.
Owen Gibson of The Guardian provided a quote from the 65-year-old German:
Hitzfeld's retirement has been in the works for some time. Last October, he put his plan to step down following the World Cup into motion. Many thought the announcement would in some way undermine Switzerland's run in Brazil, but the transition has been decidedly smooth given the long buildup.
The Swiss Football Association confirmed Vladimir Petkovic's appointment in December. Petkovic was supposed to take over the team on July 1, but Switzerland's move into the knockout round pushed back that time frame.
The Swiss finished second in Group E with six points before going down Tuesday afternoon. Angel di Maria booted a ball into the back of the net in the 118th minute for Argentina, who then held on in a terrifying final five minutes. Switzerland had numerous opportunities to extend their run, including Blerim Dzemaili going off the post and then missing a wide-open net in succession.
The loss officially ended a stellar run for Hitzfeld, who took over the national team in 2008. His side was eliminated in the group stage at the 2010 World Cup despite defeating eventual champion Spain in their opening contest and struggled a bit on the international stage. Their inability to qualify for Euro 2012 was seen as something of a low point for the typically solid Swiss.
But Hitzfeld began having more success later in his run. Switzerland qualified for the World Cup thanks to a dominant performance in their qualifying group and were a loss to France away from capturing their group in Brazil.
A striker who spent most of his late career with Swiss clubs, the last six years were Hitzfeld's first and only shot at running a national club. He had previously spent nearly a quarter century on the bench at the club level, most notably in runs with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. He won seven Bundesliga titles and came away with two Champions League crowns—along with also being named World Manager of the Year twice.
In Bayern, he was at times both highly criticized and deified. The club sacked him in 2004, only to bring him back in 2007 due to the club's continued struggles after his departure. Hitzfeld helmed their Bundesliga title in 2007-08 before leaving to take the Switzerland job. United States men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann briefly replaced him at Bayern.
Placed among high-profile coaches in Germany, Hitzfeld may have been the best of the last two decades. Those looking for a brief return to Bundesliga, however, will be disappointed. Hitzfeld indicated he will work in television beginning next season and has little interest in returning to the sideline, per James Olley of the London Evening Standard:
In Petkovic, the Swiss get a 50-year-old coach with a limited track record of success. He's barely won over 50 percent of his games in six different stops at the club level, most recently with Lazio in Italy. When comparing Petkovic and Hitzfeld, the accolades are fewer and much farther in between. It is worth noting, though, that Hitzfeld had opportunities with much higher budgets than his replacement.
Given the chance to work with players on the national stage, perhaps Petkovic will shine. Filling Hitzfeld's shoes will just be more easily said than done.
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