Thorsten Fink will be among friends when former employers FC Bayern München visit St. Jakob-Park next Tuesday, but the German titleholders should not expect FC Basel 1893 to roll out the red carpet: the Swiss champions are eyeing a shock.
"Anything is possible," Fink told UEFA.com ahead of Tuesday's UEFA Champions League Group E encounter. "We have a very experienced team and if Bayern don't give 100% then we can beat them. Bayern are very popular in Switzerland and they're my ex-club, so I'm delighted they are so strong at the moment. Last term they just missed out on the Champions League, but this season they can win it. They have to be among the hot favourites."
The 42-year-old knows all about winning and losing UEFA Champions League finals with Bayern. His hashed clearance, as a substitute, famously led to Teddy Sheringham's late equaliser in the 1999 showpiece, but that was a rare trough in a series of peaks climaxing in European glory in 2001. "
When you arrive at Bayern you know you're joining a side with real ambition in the league and Champions League – it's pretty special," recalled Fink, who also lifted four Bundesliga titles and three German Cups before a knee injury forced his retirement in 2006.
Fink is keen to project that ethos onto Basel, to build on the RotBlau's dramatic championship triumph in May when they overhauled BSC Young Boys on the last day with a 2-0 victory at their Bernese rivals. "I feel content at Basel – this wonderful club offers me the potential to win titles and I don't plan on leaving any time soon. As a player you are part of a whole project; as a coach you have the responsibility for the whole project so it's more important to win titles."
A good European run would also do wonders for Fink's burgeoning reputation, and, given they lost their Group E opener at CFR 1907 Cluj, the onus is on Basel to get something from their meeting with Bayern. It will not be easy against the likes of former colleague Bastian Schweinsteiger. "Bastian always had great potential. He was a winger for years – as he's not the fastest, he was good but that was all," said Fink. "Then Louis van Gaal put him where he belongs in the middle. Now he's world class."
Xherdan Shaqiri take note. The 18-year-old has had a big impact since breaking into the Basel side last term, cementing his place as the darling of Swiss football with a memorable goal against England earlier this month. For Fink, the challenge is to continue that development. "Last season Shaqiri was fantastic but he's young," he warned. "He lives for the fun he has on the pitch; if there's not much to be had then it becomes difficult for him. He has the potential to become a great player, but he has to prove himself this season."
The same could apply to Fink, a coach looking for constant improvement yet always with respect for doing things the right way – a legacy of his spell assisting Giovanni Trapattoni at FC Salzburg in 2006/07. It is why he sees his immediate future at Basel, perfecting his art. Even if the offer of the top job in Munich would be difficult to turn down, the one-time midfielder stresses: "I can become Bayern coach when I have grey hair." Perhaps he can give Van Gaal some of his own in the meantime.
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