Germany: DFB Pokal
0 - 1
(0 - 1)
G. Xhaka (17), K. Odilon (44)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Funkel praises Lautern support, hints that he might again return to coaching

German coaching legend Friedhelm Funkel spoke to members of the assembled press corps last night after completing his fifth turn (two as a player and three as a coach) at a DFB Pokal Final last night. 

The 70-year-old trainer praised both his team and the 1. FC Kaiserslautern supporters for their efforts and "realistic expectations" against one of the most successful German championship sides ever. 

Funkel concluded a nearly two-minute-long speech about the squad and fans with sentence that necessitated a follow-up question from the journalist at the post-match presser. 

German footballing legend Friedhelm Funkel knows a thing or two about realistic expectations. In five DFB-Pokal finals (two as a player and three as a coach), he's only managed to emerge victorious once. Interestingly enough, this came when he played for what used to be one of two German club teams supported by German pharmaceutical giants Bayer. Funkel's Bayer Uerdingen (currently KFC Uerdingen 05) beat reigning German champions FC Bayern München in the 1984/85 Pokal Final. 

Funkel failed to capture the Pokal when playing for Lautern four years prior. As a coach, Funkel's MSV Duisburg (1998) and Eintracht Frankfurt (2006) both failed to capture the cup in Berlin. Ahead of kickoff in last night's match, Funkel noted that he had "never felt like more of an underdog" than ahead of a match with the historically unrivaled 2023/24 Bayer 04 Leverkusen. The FCK gaffer told German public broadcaster ARD that he could assess his sides chances in a percentage, but "didn't want to". 

Funkel remained defensive of his team and his tactics at the post-match presser. Despite the fact that they were gifted a man advantage for over half of the match, the Pfälzer Red Devils didn't take too many risks in the second 45. For the most part, the 2. Bundesliga underdogs still hung back and defended against the superior ten-man team. Lautern generated very little heading forward. Funkel reflected on his own career when speaking at the presser, emphasizing that it was never easy to top the champs. 

"It's always eminently difficult to beat such an opponent," Funkel said, "but the whole game, the whole event [for that matter], was very uplifting. There was a lot of joy. The way the fans celebrated the team showed that they were completely satisfied with our performance. From the very beginning, our fans were realistic. They knew who we were playing against."

"It's very difficult to play against a team with such world-class players, even if they happen to be shorthanded," Funkel continued, "If someone was expecting us to put them [Leverkusen] under pressure and throw them up against the wall, they have no idea how football works. The opponent was waiting to score a second and third against us. We handled matters with discipline."

"Of course a defeat never leaves one feeling smart," Funkel went on, "That's not up for discussion. Given the situation that we're in, however one wishes to describe it, we have every reason to be able to take this defeat in stride. It was an amazing feeling for all of us to be celebrated in front of the [Fan] Kurve like that and see the joy in the faces fans. The people that remained there despite the loss."

"They were realistic about matters," Funkel concluded, "and that naturally leaves one with a desire for more." 

Naturally, that necessitated a further question from the media field. The 70-year-old Funkel has now trained twelve separate German football clubs in his 35-year-career as a coach. His last two jobs were strictly short-term rescue missions. Funkel helped FC Köln avoid the drop at the end of the 2020/21 season via the playoffs. Then 67-years-of-age, Funkel famously admitted that he was likely too tired to coach again in an interview near the end of the season.

After nearly three years off, Funkel was once again coaxed back by the management team on the Betzenberg Hill. Germany's former southwestern powerhouse was once again threatened with a slip back into the 3. Liga this year. Funkel - his "fire" restored - was brought in to "put out the fire" following the club's firing of previous trainers Dirk Schuster and Dimmitrios Grammozis in the current season.

It was - as had been entirely expected - confirmed that Funkel would vacate the FCK head-coaching position this summer following his latest success in this regard. The manner in which he concluded his prolonged speech nevertheless forced a question out of one of the journalists in attendance. "What does 'a desire for more mean, Mr Funkel?" a reporter asked.

"Perhaps I'll make it to another Final and won't be playing against the German champions," Funkel said, eliciting some chuckles from across the room, "Naturally I know that every wish isn't meant to be fulfilled. Of course, right now, I need a break. The last 12-13 weeks here really were a lot of fun. When I'm recharged and have my energy back, I won't rule out doing something else." 

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