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Felix Magath leads his current club Hertha Berlin out against a Hamburg side where he made individual and collective history during his playing days. - © Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Felix Magath leads his current club Hertha Berlin out against a Hamburg side where he made individual and collective history during his playing days. - © Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Felix Magath: a man torn between Hamburg past and Hertha Berlin present


"Without a shadow of a doubt, Hamburg represents the biggest chapter of my life in football, but that plays absolutely no role in these two games," said Felix Magath ahead of a promotion/ relegation playoff which, on a personal level, will be one of the most challenging moments of his career.

Wolfgang-Felix Magath owns a prominent place in HSV folklore.

A gifted attacking midfielder, Magath was the diminutive playmaker of the great HSV side coached by Ernst Happel. He scored 63 goals in 388 games for the northern Germany club between 1976 and 1986, with the likes of ex-Liverpool and England legend Kevin Keegan and imposing striker Horst Hrubesch for teammates. It was Hamburg's heyday, and Magath was a key feature.

His technique, vision and stamina made him one of the most admired and talented players of his generation – and success was not far away either. Magath got his hands on his first trophy at the end of his first season at HSV, lifting the European Cup Winners' Cup with his goal completing a 2-0 win over Anderlecht in the final.

Felix Magath is synonymous with HSV's most successful era, which included European Cup glory with a win over Juventus in Athens. - via www.imago-images.de/imago images/WEREK

The Red Shorts went on to lift the Bundesliga title in 1979, 1982 and 1983, and they came second twice as fans' favourite Magath pulled the strings in midfield.

Magath's HSV era reached its zenith in 1983 when they became only the second German team to win the European Cup. His stunning left-footed strike after only eight minutes against Juventus decided the final in Athens, creating an indelible memory for Hamburg fans and Magath alike. "That was the most emotional moment of my life," he would later say.

Countless more emotional moments followed when Magath removed his studs and got his shoes under the desk, and his managerial career began right where his playing one had ended: on the Elbe. It was not an entirely successful start, however, and Happel's prediction that Magath was "not cut out to be a coach" seemed prophetic.

However, after Magath swapped his suit for a tracksuit, acting on his desire to feel the grass under his feet again, a remarkable coaching career commenced.

Felix Magath felt the need to get back onto the pitch, moving into a coaching career which saw him win the Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg. - /

His uncompromising methods were not everybody's cup of tea, but they delivered results. He developed a reputation for saving the unsavable, succeeding most notably in keeping Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga in 2000. "I don't know whether Felix Magath would have saved the Titanic from sinking, but what I do know is that the survivors would have been top fit," said former Frankfurt forward Jan Aage Fjortoft.

He then earned more coaching stripes at VfB Stuttgart, leading them to second in 2003 – earning his first of three German Coach of the Year accolades, and a move to Bayern Munich. After leading the Bavarians to back-to-back Bundesliga and DFB Cup doubles, he found himself out of work again in 2007 only to return a few months later to begin work on what would go down as his coaching masterpiece.

Back in his apparent comfort zone – at a club which had only narrowly avoided relegation two years in a row and needed to be put into shape – Magath revolutionised both the playing personnel and their approach to lead Wolfsburg to their first and hitherto only Bundesliga title in 2009, ensuring his glowing reputation spread even further across northern Germany.

Watch: Felix Magath - the return of the taskmaster

Now, the 68-year-old, who just two months ago returned to coaching after five years out of the game in a bid to rescue Hertha from the drop, is faced with the prospect of tainting his Rothosen reputation in order to complete the job he took on in mid-March.

"I've never done anything in my life other than football - I can't do anything else anymore. I love this game," he said at his unveiling in the capital. "I think I've proven before that I can adapt to different situations. There's something in the job I have to do here which suits me. I want to help Hertha and keep the club in the league."

For the Hertha tactician to succeed, he now has to navigate the most emotionally testing fixture of his entire career as the men from Berlin look to turnaround a 1-0 first-leg deficit and Magath determines the fate of a club who revere him and one who are relying on him for their own survival.

"If it's HSV, it's going to be tough for me," Magath said prior to the conclusion of the Bundesliga 2 season, which delivered what is quite a remarkable quirk of fate.

"My past with HSV means nothing – this is purely about Hertha and staying up."