Borussia Dortmund must keep focus on football and not farewells
Borussia Dortmund will host Werder Bremen on the final match-day of the Bundesliga. It will be seventh against eighth, with the two only separated by goal difference; the winner will finish the season in a Europa League qualification spot. It is an intriguing narrative to enter the last match of a season, yet the 90 minutes on the field will only be a side story in Dortmund.
The event happening on Saturday afternoon is much more than just a regular football match. It's going to be a wistful farewell party for Sebastian Kehl and Jurgen Klopp. Although the season will end one week later for Dortmund in a cup final, nobody in Dortmund can help but feel that an era is slowly coming to an end.
"I don't know what will happen inside of me, when the referee blows the final whistle and I will realise that this was my last home for indefinite time," Klopp said in his Thursday pre-match news conference. A good guess is that it will turn into collective weeping in Dortmund after the final whistle. To describe the situation, Borussia Dortmund fans love Klopp very much and vice versa, so it will be nothing less than a tough breakup that will drag itself out over the next two weeks.
It might sound cheesy for outsiders, but it's seems to be a normal thing when Klopp leaves a club. In 2008, 30,000 Mainz fans came to the city center to see off their overwhelmed coach, who was overcome by his own feelings on a highly emotional afternoon. Seldom has a football coach won the affections of those around him so easily. Apart from being quite good at managing a football team, he is authentic to the bone. In public Klopp appears as an entertaining character, who is wearing his emotions on his sleeve, but it's his professionalism that makes him so successful in the first place.
Despite the seven-year long relationship with Borussia Dortmund, the coach has refused to receive official farewell honors on his last home match. "I want to focus one hundred percent on the last two matches, because I want to win them. I'll say goodbye when I'm actually going." Klopp said, also making it once again clear that he is putting success above all by directing a few words towards the fans urging them to create a proper football atmosphere: "I don't want a nostalgic or melancholic atmosphere during the match. I want one last full-throttle-event and a normal football atmosphere throughout the match and I think Sebastian Kehl will see it exactly the same way."
Kehl, though, will receive his well-deserved farewell from the club ahead of the game. The former captain ends his career after 13 eventful seasons in black and yellow. Kehl arrived in 2002 and celebrated Dortmund's 2001-02 Bundesliga championship, before enduring the club's crisis years when BVB were on the brink of bankruptcy. The midfielder has had a moving career with many ups and downs behind him, making it through the unsuccessful times at Dortmund to then be part of the team that rose back to domestic and European glory. Kehl also came back from several cruel injuries that may have prevented a greater career with the German national team, but ultimately formed his personality on the pitch at Dortmund. The club lose not only a great footballer, but a true leader on and off the pitch.
Kehl will lead his team onto the field of Westfalenstadion one last time with the target to achieve a finish in the Europa League. When Klopp was asked on Thursday, what finishing on a Europa League qualification spot would mean to him he said: "Everything."
If Borussia Monchengladbach defeat FC Augsburg, Dortmund will have the chance to finish on sixth place with a win over Werder Bremen. It would be a magnificent achievement for Borussia Dortmund, who were dead last in the league on match-day 19 with the threat of relegation hovering above them.
It's the positive trend in the second half of the season that allows Dortmund fans to be optimistic about the next season. Especially after learning that captain Mats Hummels will stay on for another season. The World Cup champion has openly shared his doubts about his own future at the club, demanding Borussia Dortmund to show a worthwhile perspective. Now either BVB have posed a sufficient outlook for the defender to reject a move to Manchester United, or Borussia Dortmund have simply insisted on Hummels to fulfill his contract.
For now BVB fans are in for an emotional rollercoaster ride in the two remaining matches of the season. The last Bundesliga match of the season against Werder Bremen will not only be a tearful occasion, but will also serve as a dress rehearsal ahead of the cup final the week after in Berlin against VfL Wolfsburg. After all, it will be important for the players to stay focused on the action on the field, but with Klopp they have just the right man for that task.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.