Bremen upstage troubled Bayern
24 May 2004 HAMBURG - Although Bayern Munich were good enough for second place behind Bundesliga champions Werder Bremen, few would argue that they were as good as they have been in the past - and that despite the impressive form of Roy Makaay. Upstaged by VfB Stuttgart early on and then by Bremen for the rest of the campaign, Germany's number one club finished without a title in a season that will be remembered for bickering and the sacking of coach Ottmar Hitzfeld rather than for stylish matches. The lat
24 May 2004
HAMBURG - Although Bayern Munich were good enough for second place behind Bundesliga champions Werder Bremen, few would argue that they were as good as they have been in the past - and that despite the impressive form of Roy Makaay.
Upstaged by VfB Stuttgart early on and then by Bremen for the rest of the campaign, Germany's number one club finished without a title in a season that will be remembered for bickering and the sacking of coach Ottmar Hitzfeld rather than for stylish matches.
The latest episode came on Sunday with playmaker Michael Ballack lashing out at the club leadership and threatening to leave if he wasn't supported more against media criticism.
"Shortly before important games I was criticised publically by the club leadership....of course (I am disappointed). They left me on my own," Ballack told the Welt am Sonntag paper the day after the season finale.
"I signed a contract in 2002 with the aim to play in Germany until the World Cup 2006. But I need people to support me to play at my best. If I realise that I no longer have the full support of the club leadership we will have to sit down and find a solution."
Ballack insisted that second place and with it direct entry into the Champions League wasn't that bad, given the fact that the creative midfield pair of Mehmet Scholl and Sebastian Deisler were sidelined for months.
As a result, Munich rarely lived up to their top billing, with only the Dutch marksman Makaay, signed last summer for a club record EUR 19 million, impressing with 23 goals.
However, Makaay was upstaged by Bremen's Brazilian Ailton, whose top-scoring 28 goals played a major role in Bremen's fourth Bundesliga title.
Bremen took the lead shortly before the winter break and never looked back despite some hiccups in the second half of the season.
To add insult to Bayern's injury, they clinched the title two weeks ago, with a 3-1 triumph in Munich. They can even win a domestic double if they beat second division Alemania Aachen in next Saturday's cup final.
"We proved that we are a top team and deserved champions," said sports director Klaus Allofs.
French playmaker Johan Micoud, countryman Valerien Ismael, Ailton, Mladen Krstajic and Ivan Klasnic stood out in Thomas Schaaf's team.
Krstajic and Ailton now leave for Schalke, who were one of several clubs who played below par.
Schalke managed no better than seventh, just a place below their arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund, as both clubs now have to through the Intertoto cup to make into a European event next season.
Dortmund drew an average of more than 76,000 fans to their matches as the 10-million mark was cracked for the first time in the league overall, but they badly need continental income after amassing huge losses this season.
That could prompt them to sell their best players. Thomas Rosicky has been linked with Liverpool, Torsten Frings and Dede with Bayern Munich.
"We need every euro we can get," said manager Michael Meier in reference to winning a UEFA Cup berth.
Hertha Berlin were also tipped to play for a place in Europe, but had a terrible season in which they only barely avoided relegation. The same applied to Kaiserslautern.
VfL Bochum were the surprise package as Peter Neururer's team stormed to fifth place and a UEFA Cup berth.
Also in the UEFA Cup are VfB Stuttgart, who went 15 games without defeat before losing to Munich last December - the Bundesliga lead with it - and then missed out on the Champions League on Saturday when they lost a showdown for third place against Bayer Leverkusen.
"I am disappointed, but not bitter. We won more points than last season which shows that the team has further developed," said coach Felix Magath, who now leaves for Munich.
The other Munich club, 1860, meanwhile, first lost long-time club boss Karl-Heinz Wildmoser over a bribery affair concerning Munich's new World Cup arena and then also their place in the Bundesliga - relegated alongside Cologne and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Their place in the top flight will be taken by second division champions Nuremberg and Armenia Bielefeld, who both make a hasty return to the top flight after having spent only a season in the second division.
The third club to gain promotion is Mainz 05, who moved into the promotion places on the last day of the season with a 3-0 victory against Eintracht Trier, while Alemania Aachen, who were third ahead of their last game, were denied a place in the first division by a 1- 0 defeat in Karlsruhe and slipped down to sixth.
Subject: German news