Greatest Football Managers: Udo Lattek

Udo Lattek never played football as a professional but he will go down in history as the greatest manager German football ever produced.

Born in Bosemb in January 1935 at the heigh of Nazi supremacy in Germany, Udo Lattek was pursuing a career as a teacher before fate took a twist for the good. With the dogs of war howling, the Latteks were forced out of their home and settled in the Rihneland.

Although it was never part of the plan, Udo Lattek took on a career in teaching sport by incident. While his early academic days pointed out towards a potential career as a mathematician or a physician, Lattek took upon himself to immerse into the world of football.

While he did play for the likes of Bayer Leverkusen and VfL Osnabruck (even scored 10 games for them), Udo Lattek was never going to become a storied football player.

And while throughout his career Udo Lattek had developed a reputation of someone who was at the right place at the right time, it was clear that the German had that something special about him.

At the age of 30, he chose to apply for a job in the German FA. A year and a half later, Udo Lattek became the assistant coach of Germany during the 1966 World Cup. The Germans lost the final to England who saw Geoff Hurst scored one of the most controversial goals in the game’s history.

And while he was a young and upcoming coach in a time when most of the illustrious coaches had crossed their mid-40s, Lattek’s age helped him forge excellent relationships with the players.

And at the 1970 World Cup he became West Germany’s coach. And while the national team lost the semifinal to Italy, Lattek received raving reviews to manage a team boasting stars such as Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller without any controversy at the age of 35.

The critics though, still remained unconvinced of this young coach’s potential, pointing out to the fact that he never managed to be at the helm of a club.

Bayern Munich came calling after taking up Beckenbauer’s advice to hire Lattek. While at Bayern he ended up winning the DFB Pokal, three National Championships and one European Cup, Lattek was never given much credence.

The Bavarians boasted the likes of Sepp Maier, Hans-Goerg Schwarzenbeck, Uli Hoeness and Gerd Muller at that time. The team plundered goals and wins for fun and everyone expected them to conquer Germany with or without Lattek.

DORTMUND, GERMANY – APRIL 23: 1. BUNDESLIGA 99/00, Dortmund; BORUSSIA DORTMUND – FC BAYERN MUENCHEN 0:1; TRAINER Udo LATTEK, Co-TRAINER Matthias SAMMER/DORTMUND (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

So much was the negativity surrounding his rein that Max Merkel (fellow coach) even went as far as to suggest that Lattek didn’t really have to do much.

“Now the FC Bayern, where Mozart and Beethoven are playing in one band, also have someone, who just has to turn the music sheets,” he said.

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After retiring from the game, Beckenbauer wrote in his memoirs: “In fact, we felt as if the new head coach was just part of the technical staff. He never imposed himself on us.”

Jurgen Klopp of the seventies

The manner in which he carried himself was reminiscent of Jurgen Klopp who always seems to enjoy an excellent relationship with his players. And that was perhaps the biggest reasons why he managed to get the best out of players even when things weren’t looking too good.

While most managers would struggle to make their presence known in front of big egos, Udo Lattek never had a problem with that. The wily tactician’s spell as the manager of Borussia Monchengladbach is a testament to that.

The likes of Jupp Heynckes, Allan Simonsen, Berti Vogts and Herbert Wimmer were essential to the club’s two league titles and one UEFA Cup between 1975 and 1979.

It was surprising when Lattek went on to manage Borussia Dortmund who were in decline at that time.

It was at Barcelona where Udo Lattek really showcased characteristics of a manager who would take a stand when the need arose. Managing Diego Maradona was never going to be easy. The Argentine drama queen was once left out of a game after Lattek had grown tired of his petulant behavior. And that was perhaps the reason why he was sacked in 1983.

Return to Munich

Now that he was free from all obligations in Catalonia, Lattek was given a chance to return to Bayern Munich by one of his protégés, Uli Hoeness. A hat-trick of league titles followed but Bayern lost the 1987 European Cup to FC Porto.

Following that defeat, Lattek decided to retire from coaching. However, when Schalke came calling, he couldn’t resist. Lattek actually signed a contract on a piece of paper as the club looked to get some inspiration from the revered tactician.

But that stint wasn’t going to last long. Lattek had lost the love for coaching and took up a role as a TV commentator and a columnist at a local newspaper.

MUNICH, GERMANY – MAY 05: FUSSBALL: 1. BUNDESLIGA 86/87, MEISTERSCHAFT, MEISTER FC BAYERN MUENCHEN, Trainer Udo LATTEK (Photo by Bongarts/Getty Images)

Borussia Dortmund though, were in deep trouble. The club almost ceased to exist and during the 1999/2000 season, were just a point above the relegation zone. Heading into dire straits, the club managed to convince Udo Lattek into making a return to football management just for the remaining games.

It was clear that Lattek hadn’t lost his touch. In the remaining games, he guided the club away from relegation and even left them with a great base for the future in the shape of Matthias Sammer who would become the youngest coach to lift the German Bundesliga two years later at the age of 34.

While his later years saw him suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, Lattek would go down in history as the most successful manager in the history of German football.

Although some would call his early success to be nothing but fate guiding its hand, it is safe to say that winning eight Bundesliga titles, three European trophies and multiple league cups cannot happen without being as astute and pragmatic as Udo Lattek was.

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