Having won the Bundesliga as both coach and player with Werder Bremen Thomas Schaaf hopes to emulate that feat by guiding them to their first European title since helping win the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup 17 years ago.
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As Thomas Schaaf prepares his Werder Bremen squad for Wednesday's UEFA Cup final he knows exactly what his players are going through. As a defender Schaaf featured in a European final for the club and 17 years on he is hoping the outcome is the same.
Bremen defeated AS Monaco FC 2-0 in Lisbon on 6 May 1992 to win the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, the club's only piece of European silverware, with Schaaf coming on as a substitute to help secure the trophy. It is an experience he will never forget and one he could soon emulate as coach. "It is something absolutely special," he said. "As a player I knew what it felt like to hold a cup like that in your hands. It's what every player works towards and as a coach I am just as committed to that goal. Tomorrow we will see two very strong teams doing their utmost to win it. If we succeed it will be great. As a coach you want to experience that."
Should he do so, it would be the icing on the cake of a remarkable month. Schaaf turned 48 on 30 April, the day of Bremen's semi-final first leg against Hamburger SV, and within a week was celebrating his tenth anniversary as coach by taking Bremen to the final. He had already guided Bremen to the German Cup final two weeks previously with victory over Hamburg in the first of a four-match sequence against their north-German rivals in 19 days which culminated in ending Hamburg's title hopes with a 2-0 win in the Bundesliga. The results cemented Schaaf's hero status at a club where he has long been the heart and soul.
'Up and down'
A one-club man and the Bundesliga's longest-serving coach, Schaaf joined Bremen as a youngster and after working his way to the senior side, played 262 league games during a playing career spanning 17 years with the club. He won the German title as a player with Bremen in 1993 then led them to the title as coach five years ago. He is now out to repeat the feat on the European stage. "This season has been up and down," he said. "We've disappointed ourselves a couple of times and in the Bundesliga we've not done what we wanted, but if you make it to two finals and prevail against international opposition that is positive. Some players can only dream of an opportunity like this. We can do something extraordinary. The team deserves praise."
So too does Schaaf, but in keeping with his low-key nature, he will not be seeking it. There were no birthday celebrations prior to the first leg against Hamburg, and no public gesture to mark his tenth anniversary in charge on 10 May. Outwardly Schaaf prefers to keep his emotions in check, but there is no doubting just how much winning this competition would mean to him. "Being here will bring either enormous happiness and joy or extreme disappointment," he said. "Of course it would be great if it is a moment of joy and happiness for us." More often than not for Schaaf and Bremen, that is exactly what it is.