André Breitenreiter: the man behind the champion

The new TSG head coach André Breitenreiter led FC Zürich to a sensational Swiss title win. Former colleagues describe the 48-year-old, who previously led Hannover 96 and SC Paderborn to the Bundesliga, as an incredibly ambitious coach with a clear plan and strong communication.

All Heliane and Ancillo Canepa needed was five minutes before they were sure they'd made the right decision: "We sat down on opposite sides of the table in our office on a Sunday afternoon and felt it from the first moment: it just clicked, the chemistry was right." Their instincts weren't wrong. Quite the opposite in fact: the man sitting opposite the eye-catching husband-&-wife owners of FC Zürich would lead the club to the league title within a year. His name: André Breitenreiter.

What the new TSG Hoffenheim head coach achieved in the Swiss Super League last season is nothing short of a sporting fairytale. He turned relegation favourites into a top-of-the-table side. Zürich club president Canepa perhaps summed it up best: ''He's a fantastic coach.'' The 48-year-old's exploits have turned heads far beyond Switzerland. A former colleague recently offered a perfect explanation of how the Langenhagen native has managed to guide his team to such heights: ''He gets teams to believe in things that shouldn't be possible,'' said Stefan Pralle to the ''Tages-Anzeiger'' newspaper in Zürich. Pralle, long-running managing director at Lower-Saxon club TSV Havelse, is the man who ''discovered'' Breitenreiter. In autumn 2009, he brought the former Bundesliga player (143 appearances and 28 goals for HSV, Wolfsburg and Unterhaching) to TSV Havelse in the Lower-Saxony Oberliga - and the attacking player promptly led the team to the league title and with it promotion up to the Regionalliga. Breitenreiter, says Pralle, is ''unbelievably ambitious in everything he does. He has an infectious way of transmitting that to everyone around him. With TSV staring down relegation, the second chapter of André Breitenreiter's career began. He became head coach. ''I needed someone who could work a miracle, who knew the club and the limited capacities at its disposal,'' says Pralle. Breitenreiter achieved the miracle, as TSV escaped the drop.

Breitenreiter then moved onto the next stop in his coaching career - SC Paderborn. There, too, he quickly achieved what is perhaps the most important thing a coach can do: he won over the team. He pulled off a sensational feat in his first season at Paderborn, leading the club into the Bundesliga for the first time ever, all while playing bold attacking football. Although SCP were relegated the following year, Breitenreiter had long since made a name for himself as a coach.

In summer 2015, FC Schalke 04 - led by managing director Horst Heldt - secured the services of the sought-after coach. Breitenreiter led the Royal Blues to a fifth-place finish and thus into the UEFA Europa League, but the coach became a victim of unrest at the club area, as new director Christian Heidel chose to replace him with Markus Weinierl (which proved to be a mistake). Both Breitenreiter and Heldt left the club - many TSG fans will remember the moving scenes in the PreZero Arena in May 2016, as the duo said their final farewell to the Schalke fans on Matchday 34. Horst Heldt has not forgotten what Breitenreiter achieved: "I'm very familiar with the excellent work he does, and the way he manages to get into the heads of his players." The duo later worked together in Hannover, where they achieved promotion. A year and a half later, as the results failed to materialise, the two parted ways, and Breitenreiter took some time off. The father of two children, who had been together with his wife Claudia for more than 25 years, now had family matters to take care of. After the death of his mother, Breitenreiter decided to "take on my share of responsibility as a son and give my father all the support he needed in the first few months. It all took time.''

His father, diagnosed with dementia, had to move to a care home. Once he knew his father was in good hands, Breitenreiter was ready to take on a new job. It was a question of respect. "I know what values my parents passed on to me," Breitenreiter once said. Soon the visit to the Canepas followed - and the title-winning fairytale with FC Zürich. André Breitenreiter's coaching career had hit another high point. Now a new chapter is set to be written in Hoffenheim.

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