By 90Min
July 24, 2019

Ottmar Hitzfeld is number 18 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next four weeks. 


Legendary status in football is achieved through loyalty, professionalism and a clear will to do your upmost to those who look turn to you in times of need.

It's a word flung around too often in some facets of the game. However, there are sides who can boast such managers in their ranks, but few rivals clubs can raise their hands and claim that one assertive, diligent German is a legend at mine, and your club.

That is exactly the case in regards to Ottmar Hitzfeld, who ventured over that fearsome line only to replicate - or surpass, depending on your allegiance - his success with the side each respective rival now fears most in German football.

ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/GettyImages

I am talking, of course, about Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.


Born into a family heritage that brought with it nothing but hatred and evil - his uncle Otto was a notorious Nazi general - the German used this relenting shadow that hung low over his family's past as the backdrop from which to evoke joy and positivity. Ottmar did just that. 

Forging a career as a striker, Hitzfeld spent much of his 13-year playing career in Switzerland, winning the Swiss Super League on two occasions and claiming a Swiss Cup triumph during a successful stint at FC Basel.

Upon retiring from playing in 1983, he quickly assumed a managerial role - a platform where his ambitious and disciplined nature was able to fully flourish.

Starting out at FC Zug, it took just one season for FC Aarau to take note of his style and application, snapping him up as their coach where he secured the Swiss Cup just two years into his managerial career. Naturally, bigger opportunities came by and he soon took the reins of fellow major Swiss club Grasshopper Club Zürich.


In just three seasons he led the side to four titles, two in the league, when he began alerting the gaze German football. It was just the beginning for Hitzfeld.


Career Honours
Swiss Cup (1985, 1989, 1990)
Swiss Super League (1989/90, 1990/91)
Swiss Super Cup (1989)
Bundesliga (1994/95, 1995/96, 1998/99, 1999/00, 2000/01, 2002/03, 2007/09)
DFB-Supercup (1995, 1996)
DFB-Pokal (1999/00, 2002/03, 2007/08)
DFB-Ligapokal (1998, 1999, 2000, 2007)
Intercontinental Cup (2001)
Champions League (1997, 2001)

 Hitzfeld was about to embark on a path that would change the face of German football history.

Dortmund came calling, and with little hesitation, the German took charge.

His six-year spell with Die Borussen was the longest stint the club had seen until Jurgen Klopp took over the hotseat, but it will fondly remembered by the Yellow and Black army for many years to come.

A debut campaign saw Hitzfeld guide the club to a second-place finish, their highest in the top-flight for 25 years, and an eight-place increase on the season prior. However, with European football confirmed for the following season, Dortmund were unable to balance all their competitions as smoothly, somewhat expectantly having overachieved in Hitzfeld's first year in charge.

Alexander Hassenstein/GettyImages

Disappointment was to become the overriding sentiment at the culmination of the 1992/93 term, as a heavy 6-1 aggregate UEFA Cup final defeat to Juventus put a serious dampener on an otherwise revolutionary period for Dortmund that saw them finish fourth in the league.

As is the character of the man known simply as 'Der General', rallying his troops and marshalling them into battle was second nature to the German, as another UEFA Cup run ended in quarter final defeat and a consecutive fourth-placed Bundesliga finish.

What transpired over the course of his time in the North Rhine-Westphalia wasn't without purpose, the team were improving in every facet and the fanbase were in tune to the work Hitzfeld was doing.


The signs were there for all to see. Hitzfeld brought in Paulo Sousa, Jurgen Kohler, Andreas Moller and Julio Cesar as the players he would mould into his, at the time, unusual 3-5-2 formation. He was arguably the first modern manager to build a club solely on his own ideas - without altering the philosophy and ethos.

He had taken Dortmund from mid-table mediocrity into the upper echelons of not only German football, but also on the European stage. Until then the club and its fans had lived for the past 20 years in Bayern and Hamburger SV's shadows, before transforming them into a team blessed with youth, experience and talent. 

They had free spirit, passion and a combination of pace and guile in their ranks, duly getting their just rewards in the 1994/95 campaign. Hitzfeld's garrison of soldiers secured consecutive Bundesliga titles in 1995 and 1996 against all the odds, firmly placing Dortmund on the footballing map.

Unwilling to lay down their weapons having conquered Germany, Europe was next. 

Imperious on their way to the Champions League final, a fairytale showpiece against former nemesis Juventus stood in their way. A masterstroke to deploy Paul Lambert in a man-marking role on Zinedine Zidane payed dividends and a 3-1 win handed Die Borussen their first, and only, European crown.

To Dortmund fans, Hitzfeld was now their legend.


Everything I demand of others, I have to exemplify myself: credibility, reliability, honesty. 


Ottmar Hitzfeld


Or was he?

With everything already achieved at Dortmund, the recently crowned 'World Coach of the Year' spent one year as the club's sports manager before making the move to rivals Bayern ahead of the 1998/99 season. Yes, 1999 is indeed the year when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did that thing.


Other than their bitter Champions League final defeat that season, Hitzfeld secured the Bundesliga crown with elementary precision, finishing 15 points clear of Bayer Leverkusen. His appointment improved Bayern instantly, and were it not for a DFB Pokal final defeat on penalties (and that Manchester United late show) he could very well have snatched a treble in his first year.

Their return to German dominance was no fluke, Hitzfeld was in a league of his own at this point. His every move and decision proved a masterstroke, and it became a matter of not if, but when, Die Roten would lift the Champions League.

One unfair and unjust criticism of Hitzfeld's reign at Bayern was is implementation of a 5-4-1 formation. Rigid and effective, it failed to wow spectators, but there was good reason for it. It worked, and nobody could stop it.

That illustrious Champions League success finally came, in nail-biting fashion, in 2001. 

A third successive league title acted as the backdrop for what would be his crowning glory with the club, overcoming Valencia on penalties after a tense 1-1 draw.

He did not have a galaxy of stars, but constructed an unbreakable unit that supported one another through thick and thin, demonstrating the mental fortitude Der General had instilled into his side. 

He would eventually leave the club three seasons later with another league title and a staggering total of 14 trophies in his wake. 

It comes as no surprise why he was voted by the majority of Bayern supporters as their greatest ever coach, even ahead of demi-god Franz Beckenbauer.

His story wasn't finished though, as he returned to Bavaria mid-way through a season in 2007 to replace Felix Magath, and then subsequently won the domestic treble the year after before stepping away from league football altogether.

A six-year stint in charge of the Swiss national team followed and, while no silverware resulted, he laid new foundations and changed the face of football in Switzerland, forging a multi-national team united under one flag.

To Bayern fans, however, Hitzfeld is their legend.


Team Managed Years
Zug 94 1983-1984
FC Aarau 1984-1988
Grasshopper Club Zürich 1988-1991
Borussia Dortmund 1991-1997
Bayern Munich 1998-2004, 2007-2008
Switzerland  2008-2014

It's a debate that adds to an already heated rivalry between the clubs, but one that acts as a welcome point of debate that brought both clubs immeasurable success.

Der General finally laid down his weapons in 2014, but not before cementing his place of one of the finest managers in the history of the game, and one all of Germany, and the world, salutes.


Number 50: Marcelo Bielsa - El Loco's Journey From Argentina to Footballing Immortality in Europe

Number 49: Vic Buckingham - How an Englishman Discovered Johan Cruyff & Pioneered Total Football

Number 48: Claudio Ranieri: A Ridiculed Tinkerman Who Masterminded One of Football's Greatest Ever Achievements

Number 47: Bill Nicholson: Mr Tottenham Hotspur, the First Double Winning Manager of the 20th Century

Number 46: Sven-Goran Eriksson: The Scudetto Winning Shagger Who Never Solved the Lampard-Gerrard Conundrum

Number 45: Sir Alf Ramsey: The Man Behind the 'Wingless Wonders' & England's Sole World Cup Triumph

Number 44: Antonio Conte: An Astute Tactician Whose Perfectionist Philosophy Reinvented the 3-5-2 Wheel

Number 43: Kenny Dalglish: The Beacon of Light in Liverpool's Darkest Hour

Number 42: Massimiliano Allegri: The Masterful Tactician Who Won Serie A Five Times in a Row

Number 41: Sir Bobby Robson: A Footballing Colossus Whose Fighting Spirit Ensured an Immortal Legacy

Number 40: Luis Aragones: Spain's Most Important Manager, the Atleti Rock and the Modern Father of Tiki-Taka

Number 39: Herbert Chapman: One of Football's Great Innovators & Mastermind Behind the 'W-M' Formation

Number 38: Carlos Alberto Parreira: The International Specialist Who Never Shied Away From a Challenge

Number 37: Franz Beckenbauer: The German Giant Whose Playing Career Overshadowed His Managerial Genius

Number 36: Viktor Maslov: Soviet Pioneer of the 4-4-2 & the Innovator of Pressing

Number 35: Rafa Benitez: The Conquerer of La Liga Who Masterminded That Comeback in Istanbul

Number 34: Zinedine Zidane: Cataloguing the Frenchman's Transition From Midfield Magician to Managerial Maestro

Number 33: Luiz Felipe Scolari: How the Enigmatic 'Big Phil' Succeeded as Much as He Failed on the Big Stage

Number 32: Jupp Heynckes: The Legendary Manager Who Masterminded 'the Greatest Bayern Side Ever'

Number 31: Vicente del Bosque: The Unluckiest Manager in the World Who Led Spain to Immortality

Number 30: Arsene Wenger: A Pioneering Who Became Invincible at Arsenal

Number 29: Udo Lattek: The Bundesliga Icon Who Shattered European Records

Number 28: Jock Stein: The Man Who Guided Celtic to Historic Heights & Mentored Sir Alex Ferguson

Number 27: Vittorio Pozzo: Metodo, Mussolini, Meazza & the Difficult Memory of a Two-Time World Cup Winner

Number 26: Jurgen Klopp: The Early Years at Mainz 05 Where He Sealed His 'Greatest Achievement'

Number 25:Mario Zagallo: Habitual World Cup Winner & Sculptor of Brazil's Joga Bonito Era

Number 24: Bela Guttmann: The Dance Instructor Who Changed Football Forever (and Managed...Just Everyone)

Number 23: Valeriy Lobanovskyi: The Scientist Who Dominated Football in the Soviet Union

Number 22: Louis van Gaal: The Stubborn Master Who Won 15 Major Trophies at 4 of the World's Greatest Clubs

Number 21: Otto Rehhagel: The 'King' Who Turned 150/1 Greek Outsiders into Champions of Europe

Number 20: Tele Santana: The 'Joga Bonito' Icon Who Helped Brazil Rediscover Their Love of Football

Number 19: Bill Shankly: The Innovative Motivator Who Rebuilt Liverpool From the Ground Up

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