Football: Trapattoni on his way

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BAYERN MUNICH's coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, looks set to return to his native Italy next season, leaving Ottmar Hitzfeld as clear favourite to take over the toughest job in the Bundesliga.

Hitzfeld, who guided Borussia Dortmund to their European Cup triumph last season, looks likely to be given the task of trying to turn the former giants into a big European power once more.

According to the Bayern chairman, Franz Beckenbauer, the only obstacle stopping Hitzfeld moving to Munich was that Trapattoni had yet to decide whether he was leaving. However, that appeared to be decided on Friday when the former Juventus, AC Milan and Internazionale trainer told Italian newspapers of his intention to move back to Italy.

Hitzfeld, at present Dortmund's sporting director, said on Thursday he was aware Bayern wanted him but insisted a deal had not been reached. But Beckenbauer added: "Hitzfeld would certainly suit Bayern."

The 59-year-old Trapattoni, who struggled to communicate in German during two spells at Bayern, led the club to the Bundesliga title last year but did not achieve the success in Europe which Beckenbauer wanted. Bayern have not won the European Cup since the mid-1970s when they dominated the tournament for three successive seasons. "I'm not being pushed but I want to return home and put myself in the shop window," Trapattoni told Corriere dello Sport. "We'll see what happens."

Hitzfeld became Dortmund's sporting director after coaching them to victory in the European Cup. The former mathematics and sports teacher joined the club in 1991 and helped them to German titles in 1995 and 1996. Under his control, Dortmund also reached the 1993 Uefa Cup final, losing to Juventus.

Several leading Bayern players, including Lothar Matthaus, the former World Cup-winning captain, have expressed their support for Trapattoni. But Bayern are out of the European Cup after losing to Dortmund in the quarter-final and still have a battle on their hands to stop Kaiserslautern winning the League. Bayern are at present second, four points behind Kaiserslautern who have a game in hand. But the Bayern have still reached the final of the German Cup where they will meet MSV Duisburg on May 16.

Hitzfeld's biggest job will be to keep control of the controversies which are part of everyday life at the club nicknamed "Hollywood FC". But with his proven ability to keep his stars content, the calm but authoritarian Hitzfeld would seem to be the ideal candidate.