As they meet in Madrid, Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho are bidding to join Ernst Happel and Ottmar Hitzfeld in having coached two clubs to glory in Europe's top club competition.
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A place in one of football management's most exclusive clubs awaits the UEFA Champions League final-winning coach, with one of Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho poised to emulate Ernst Happel and Ottmar Hitzfeld's feat of landing the trophy with two different teams.
In Mourinho's case, the FC Internazionale Milano coach is looking to add to the European crown captured with FC Porto in 2004 and he told UEFA.com he was confident of achieving this rare distinction "sooner or later" – even if he lost out to FC Bayern München counterpart Van Gaal in this season's denouement at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Mourinho said: "You know, sooner or later, I think I will be in that group, because I am a very young coach. I hope I have 20 more years to coach, so sooner or later I'll be there. But I prefer to be there in a couple of weeks than in a couple of years."
Mourinho, at 47, would become the youngest coach to lead a second club to European football's Holy Grail – the late Happel was 57 and Hitzfeld 52. For his part, Van Gaal, whom Mourinho once served as assistant coach at FC Barcelona, is now 58 and you have to go back to 1995 for the first time he tasted UEFA Champions League glory with AFC Ajax against AC Milan.
If Van Gaal emerged victorious, the 15-year span between triumphs would surpass the 13 years it took Austrian coaching giant Happel to pull off his double. He lifted his first European Champion Clubs' Cup with Feyenoord, 2-1 comeback winners against Celtic FC in 1970. Then, after taking Club Brugge KV to the 1978 final where they lost to Liverpool FC, Happel held the famous trophy a second time in 1983 after his Hamburger SV side surprised Juventus 1-0.
Hitzfeld also won two finals with a defeat in between. Yet, in his case, only four years separated those successes. He guided BV Borussia Dortmund to the 1997 title when – as with Happel's Hamburg – they produced an upset in beating Juventus 3-1. Curiously that was the first German triumph since Hamburg's under Happel. Then, with Bayern, Hitzfeld suffered defeat by Manchester United FC in 1999 but bounced back two years later with victory over Valencia CF, 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
Van Gaal, who experienced a final loss with Ajax in 1996 against Juventus, is seeking to replicate Hitzfeld's achievement. Hitzfeld, coach today of South Africa-bound Switzerland, has praised the Dutchman's work – "he did a super job," he noted recently – though his own approach was rather different. Hitzfeld was known as 'The Gentleman' during his Bayern tenure for his diplomatic dealings with the club's star names and introduction of a rotation policy to keep them happy. Not quite the style of Van Gaal, who let everybody know exactly who was boss on arriving in Munich last summer.
Happel, meanwhile, was a famously authoritarian figure who might have approved of the way Van Gaal confronted Arjen Robben on the touchline after the winger reacted petulantly to being withdrawn during the semi-final first-leg win over Olympique Lyonnais. Happel may also have admired how Mourinho's ten-man Inter worked tirelessly in their semi-final second leg at the Camp Nou – after all, one characteristic of his teams was their prodigious fitness, the product of long training runs.
However, Happel was also a man of few words – not something you could readily say of either Van Gaal or Mourinho. Yet, as Mourinho tries to follow in his footsteps, the self-styled 'Special One' insists his motivation comes from elsewhere. "I want to do it with these players, with this club, with these supporters," he said, targeting Inter's first European crown for 45 years.
"For Inter it would be something different than it is for Bayern, for Barcelona, for Man United, for Real Madrid, for sides with a different kind of history. To win the Champions League in the modern time with Inter would be something great, so I am more focused on that, than focused on 'I am the third' or 'I am not the third' to do it. I will do it one day, but I would love to do it now because of the circumstances of Inter not winning the competition for a long time."