GENEVA (AP) — Veteran Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld announced Thursday he will leave his job after the World Cup, just as his improving young team was confirmed as a top seed for the tournament.
"It is the most difficult decision of my career," Hitzfeld said in a statement released by the Swiss Football Association. "Everything is good between the management, the players, the staff and me." Hitzfeld, who will be 65 after the tournament in Brazil, made his announcement barely an hour after Switzerland rose to No. 7 in the FIFA world rankings, making it one of the eight seeded teams.
"With him, we have achieved an historic feat," association president Peter Gillieron said. "As regrettable as this decision is, we must accept and respect it." The German coach took the Switzerland job in July 2008 after an illustrious career in club management, following the national team's disappointing performance as co-host of the 2008 European Championship.
Hitzfeld is one of only four coaches to win the European Cup with two different clubs. Hitzfeld coached Borussia Dortmund to the 1997 title and Bayern Munich in 2001. He had a second spell at Bayern and won the Bundesliga title in 2008 before leading the Swiss to the 2010 World Cup as winner of its qualifying group.
Hitzfeld's team beat eventual champion Spain in its opening match in South Africa, though failed to advance from the group. After a poor start to its failed Euro 2012 qualifying program, Hitzfeld signed a contract extension which was widely questioned in the Swiss media.
Hitzfeld then reshaped his team with young players who had helped Switzerland win the Under-17 World Cup in 2009, and reach the final of the Under-21 European Championship in 2011. Putting his faith in young talent such as attacking midfielders Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, forward Haris Seferovic and defenders Ricardo Rodriguez and Fabian Schaer, Hitzfeld guided the Swiss unbeaten through qualifying and a surge up the FIFA rankings.
Switzerland is "very well placed for the future, regardless of the coach, thanks to the potential of the young players who make up a well-tested group," Hitzfeld said.