Wolfsburg claimed the title on the final day of a thrilling Bundesliga season.
By Nick Bidwell in Munich
Bundesliga history is littered with the title sob stories of clubs whose anticipated coronation turned to dust in the last 90 minutes of the season. Bayern Munich (1970-71), Werder Bremen (1985-86 and 1994-95), Eintracht Frankfurt (1991-92) and Bayer Leverkusen (1999-00) have all suffered the agony of tripping in the home straight. But there was never much chance of a similar fate befalling pace-setters Wolfsburg this term.
Needing just one point from a home game with Bremen to clinch their first championship, Wolfsburg’s players certainly had no cause for insomnia the night before their day of destiny. Not only impregnable in their backyard – 15 wins, one draw – they also had the ideal final-day opponents: a team drained and demoralised by their UEFA Cup Final loss to Shakhtar Donetsk three days previously.
With Wolfsburg’s eyes trained on the glittering prize and Bremen saving themselves for their impending German Cup Final against Leverkusen it was no contest. Wolfsburg were one up early on, 3-1 ahead at the break and 5-1 to the good at the final whistle in what was nothing short of massacre in the Lower Saxony sunshine, the sharpshooting once again led by the brilliant Brazilian-Bosnian strike force of Grafite and Edin Dzeko.
Grafite’s two goals against Bremen meant he was the league’s top scorer with 28, while Dzeko added one to take his tally to 26. The pair are now officially the most prolific Bundesliga strike duo of all time, having surpassed the 53 goals accrued by Bayern superstars Gerd Muller and Uli Hoeness in 1971-72 and 1972-73.
Only in a warped parallel universe would Wolfsburg be deemed not to deserve the championship spoils.
No team in the country were better at switching from defence into attack, they scored more goals than anyone else and they never flagged in their enthusiasm, energy levels and appetite for hard work.
Equally impressive was the way a team not at all used to the high Bundesliga plains handled the pressure. Even when coach Felix Magath announced a few weeks before the end of the season that he would be moving to Schalke in the summer, the destabilising effect which many predicted was limited to just one below-par match, a 4-1 thrashing at championship rivals Stuttgart.
The naysayers instantaneously grew in numbers, then headed for the hills as Wolfsburg came roaring back to secure the title with comprehensive wins over Dortmund (3-0), Hannover (5-0) and Bremen.
Wolfsburg’s triumph, the first league crown to come to this part of northern Germany since Eintracht Braunschweig surprisingly brought home the bacon in 1967, was, in essence, the perfect fusion of the old and the new. A group of a largely unheralded players hungry for their first taste of honours – Italy’s World Cup-winning defender Andrea Barzagli apart – meeting the tried and tested leadership know-how of Magath, now in his 14th year as a pro coach.
Magath’s success has ensured that the old-school type of leadership is firmly back in vogue. Jurgen Klinsmann’s recent sacking at Bayern has, to a great extent, discredited those coaching revisionists for whom psychology, science and a self-help manual come before talent and good old-fashioned application. All the best coaches this term – Magath, Hamburg’s Martin Jol (who has since joined Ajax) and Lucien Favre at Hertha Berlin – have been traditionalists, standing for unimpeachable authority and discipline. Bayern are obviously aware of the prevailing trend and next term they will be ruled by Louis Van Gaal‘s Dutch rod of iron.
Indeed, Bayern’s season was saved by another coaching golden oldie in Jupp Heynckes. Under Klinsi, Bayern were in danger of failing to make the Champions League cut. Heynckes, a back-to-basics figure if ever there was one, managed to steady the ship, recording 13 points out of a possible 15 and sealing runners-up spot with a 2-1 win over Stuttgart, who finished third and will have to pre-qualify for the Champions League.
Germany’s Europa League participants are Hertha – whose hopes of the Champions League died with an embarrassing 4-0 defeat at relegated Karlsruhe – and Hamburg, who owed their European ticket to a 90th-minute winner from Piotr Trochowski at Frankfurt.
The continental dreams of Borussia Dortmund, much improved this term with Jurgen Klopp at the helm, were scuppered by a 1-1 draw at Borussia Monchengladbach, who were mightily relieved to have clambered out of the relegation quicksand.
Karlsruhe and Arminia Bielefeld were demoted automatically – to be replaced by Mainz and second-division champions Freiburg – while Cottbus’ excellent 3-0 victory at home to inconsistent Leverkusen allowed them to fight another day when they face Nurnberg, the third-placed team from the second tier. The play-offs have been an innovation for this season. Their backers seem to believe that more suspense is required in the Bundesliga.
Where have they been for the last 50 years?