As a player, Jupp Heynckes won the FIFA World Cup™, European Championship, DFB Cup, UEFA Cup and three Bundesliga crowns. That haul makes the 64-year-old one of the most successful German players of all time, but his subsequent coaching career has been an illustrious one too.

Heynckes assumed the reins at Borussia Monchengladbach exactly 30 years ago. He later guided Bayern Munich and then moved abroad for spells in Spain and Portugal, before finally returning to his homeland. The zenith of his coaching career came in 1998, when he led Real Madrid to UEFA Champions League glory.

After a lengthy period away from the game, Bayern enticed him out of retirement at the end of last season. Heynckes took charge in Munich for the last five matches, steering Bayern to the runners-up spot in the Bundesliga and a direct qualifying berth for this term's Champions League.

It seems Bayer Leverkusen were watching events in the south of Germany with great interest. At any event, Bayer director of sport Rudi Voller unveiled Heynckes as the club's new head coach in early June. Voller, a Italy 1990 winner himself, appears to have pulled off a masterstroke in luring Heynkes to the Rhineland. Six games into the new Bundesliga campaign, Leverkusen are undefeated and share top spot in the standings with Hamburg. spoke exclusively to Heynckes about his career in the dugout, life at Bayer Leverkusen, and who he regards as the best in the world. Jupp, you chalk up 30 years as a coach this season. What do you recall about your very first match in the dugout?
Jupp Heynckes: My first match as Borussia Monchengladbach head coach was against Schalke, but that's about all I can remember now. I was 34 at the time, and I'd spent a year as Udo Lattek's assistant. Gladbach wanted to make a fresh start back then. General manager Helmut Grashoff asked me if I could imagine myself in the job, and I said 'yes'. A lot of players moved on, but we still finished seventh in my first season and reached the UEFA Cup final.

You enjoyed a great deal of success with Borussia, and then with Bayern Munich and in Spain. Was winning the Champions League with Real Madrid the highlight of your coaching career?
You're right, I had eight very successful years with Gladbach. Between 1983 and 1987, we twice finished third and twice finished fourth. My team at the time played some very good football. Basically, I was fairly successful wherever I went - even at Athletic Bilbao and Tenerife, where we didn't win a thing. Obviously, my time with Bayern and Real Madrid stands out because of the trophies. Winning the Champions League, after Real had failed to claim the European Cup or its successor for 32 years, and then the victory parade with two million people on the streets of the city, is something I'll never forget.

You've been through tough times as a coach too. How would you now assess spells in Frankfurt, Schalke and Gladbach, all of which ended prematurely?
Basically, I have very happy memories of Frankfurt. Unfortunately, it was all going wrong for the club, and it was too late for me to reverse the trend. At Schalke, we lost a lot of players to injury, but I still reckon we did a good job and qualified for the UEFA Cup. It was all a bit different back in Gladbach, where I inherited a team that simply wasn't competitive. For all that, Borussia remain and will always be my club, and I retain extremely good contacts there.

Last season's Barcelona team came pretty close to perfection. They played consistently wonderful and occasionally exceptional football.

Jupp Heynckes

You've seen it all as a coach. What are the biggest differences between now and then?
We coaches have to come to terms with some fundamental changes to the business. The first factor is today's media coverage. The game itself is far more athletic and fast, and the stadiums are ultra-modern. It was definitely easier for a young coach in the '70s and '80s, because you were free to concentrate exclusively on working with the team. Back then, I even did some scouting on the side.

Bayer Leverkusen have made a flying start to the season and share the lead in the standings with Hamburg. How do you explain this fine early form?
Pre-season was very good, so our decent start to the season is no accident. We struggled in the cup right at the start, but we've delivered the goods in the Bundesliga up to now. It's a pleasure seeing the players turn my advice into action. The mood in the dressing room is excellent. But as always, there are areas where we have to improve. We need to play better as a unit, and there are specifics to work on both in attack and defence. Our successful start to the new season is the product of meticulous and intensive hard work, and the players' belief in our tactical plan.

Renato Augusto, Eren Derdiyok and Toni Kroos are just three of the talented youngsters in your squad. How would you assess your team's potential?
These three, and others such as Daniel Schwaab and Stefan Reinartz, still have plenty in reserve. But I'm not surprised by the progress they're making. It's important to keep the faith with these lads. That lets you talk through their weaknesses face-to-face, and after that, they'll move mountains for you. My job is to guide them. These young lads have to learn about being grown-ups.

Your striker Stefan Kiessling is the Bundesliga's top scorer, but he's still not a regular in the Germany squad. How would you rate his form?
I evaluate his performance and the way he's developed, but it's not my job to talk up his chances for Germany. That'll look after itself. In my day, I had to wait two years before being called up to the national squad. Stefan has done terrifically well so far, he's calmed down and he's a lot more effective. He's becoming more and more ambitious, and if he continues to perform, it'll all work out for him. Personally, I think (Germany coach) Joachim Low was right to stand by his established goalscorers.

Should they qualify for South Africa 2010, how far can Low and his team go?
Before that, I think it's fantastic the Under-21s won the European Championship. I reckon we'll see one or two of those players turn into regulars for the seniors before too long. The World Cup in South Africa will be much more difficult than the tournament in Germany, simply due to the lack of home advantage, which you can never underestimate. But the German FA has always prepared well for major tournaments, and they'll make sure the team enjoy optimal conditions. And the coach is doing a great job too.

You know the world game inside out. Which club has the best team at the moment?
The Barcelona side three years ago with Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto'o was top class, but last season's Barcelona team came pretty close to perfection. They played consistently wonderful and occasionally exceptional football. It was genuinely impressive. A lot of that is down to coach Pep Guardiola. In the Champions League final, Manchester United were almost hopelessly outclassed.

While we're on the subject of the best team, who's the best player in the world?
I have no problem naming the best midfielder in the world, and that's Andres Iniesta. Everything he does has a purpose, and he's always a model of composure. He's lightning-quick too, and his close control is pure class.