Super Cup Final 2017 – German Football at its best.

On a overcast afternoon with rain clouds forming overhead, three Bayern Munich fans crossed the short bridge over the Rheinlanddamm that leads towards Signal Iduna Park. Proudly dressed in Bayern strips with scarfs hanging round their necks, the trio walk gingerly towards the ground talking quietly as they look around for fellow Bayern supporters. They do so as they are significantly outnumbere by a factor of ten at least. A sea of yellow awaits them at the end of the bridge, fans of Borussia Dortmund gathering on masses for today’s German Super Cup final. It’s not surprising that the Bayern fans are outnumbered as the game is taking place in Dortmund at Borussia’s ground. The impressive Signal Iduna Park with its bright yellow pylons acting like a beacon in this industrial city drawing in the fans from near and far. Despite being outnumbered and on hostile territory, there is no cause for concern for the Bayern fans as both sets of supporters are looking forward to a good match between two of Germany’s biggest sides.

The Super Cup is the aperitif to the new Bundesliga season which kicks off in earnest in two weeks time. Like the English Community shield, the current league champions (Bayern) face the cup winners (Borussia Dortmund) for the first piece of silverware of the season in this showcase event. The difference between the Super Cup and the Community Shield however is that the managers in German all take this Cup seriously unlike their English based counterparts (Mourinho aside). Perhaps a rebrand of the Community Shield is needed to push life back into that stale trophy. Near the stadium, kids aged between five and fifteeen trained on artificial surfaces dressed all in Dortmund strips with the same ambition to become the next superstar off his already production line. 

Who will be next to pull on the famous yellow jersey?

Dortmunds success at producing these kids is not the exception to the rule but the norm and is a reflection of the changes implemented by the German Federation and the Bundelsiga decades ago. Detailed brilliantly in Ralph Hogenstein’s book ‘Das Reboot’, this is one of the key reasons why German football is flourishing at all levels including the league itself which once again posted record profits for the twelfth year running. The Bundelsiga is living up to the worlds perception of Germany as a country of ruthless efficiency at scale. The Super Cup, which is run by the Bundesliga is its showcase and what a showcase, brilliantly organized like a  well oiled machine highlighting just how good German football is and how far it has come. 

The atmosphere inside the stadium is electric with 81,360 fans eagerly awaiting kickoff. The game itself lived up to the expectation with both sides starting at an elevated pace and soon the goals came. Midfielder Christian Pulisic, Americas next great hope took advantage of some sloppy defending to fire Dortmund into the lead within the first twelve minutes. That lead lasted only half that time with Robert Lewandowski poking the ball home after some good wing work by Kimmach. The goal was met with disbelief by the crowd who suspected that the cross came from an offside position but the Video Action Replay (VAR) which is being rolled out across all Bundelsiga matches this season confirmed that the goal was valid. After the equalizer, both sides dropped their tempo which to be fair was unsustainable over the remaining 70 minutes of the match. Only Ousmane Dembele continued with his energetic runs, repeatedly carving open a disorganized Bayern back line sadly missing the now retire Philip Lahm and demonstrating exactly why Barcelona are looking at him as a potential replacement for Neymar. MSD anyone? 

After the half time interval, Borussia looked the more likely to take control of the match primarily because they were feeding off of the noise and energy coming from the Borussia fans standing as one giant yellow wall behind the Bayern goal in the Signal Iduna’s south stand. Safe standing has been a feature of this stadium for some time now and is the largest of its kind in Europe. It’s a welcome return to the football of old with stadiums across Europe forced to eradicate standing in favour of all seating in the early nineties following a series of tragic fatal accidents. But with clubs like Dortmund leading the way, other clubs including Scottish champions Celtic are trialing safe standing sections with a view to rolling it out further if successful. Despite both side having chances, it was Dortmund who eventually finally found the break through on the counter attack that saw Dembele break at speed again and set up Pierre Aubameyang who curled the ball past Ulreich with the outside of his right boot. It was an exsquiste finish that should have been good enough to win the match but with Bayern as opponents you cannot rest until that final whistle blows. And so it proved with Bayern scrambling home an equalizer with two minutes left to play. Scrappy yes but vital for Bayern as they now had the momentum going into the penalty shootout. From then on it was Bayerns to lose and despite a scare (Kimmach missing his penalty at 2-2), Bayern held their nerve to win the cup much to the disappointment of the home support.

​As the fans exited the stadium either to celebrate or commiserate, the overall consensus was that it was an excellent game that acted as another feather in the growing German cap. With the World Cup in Russia next summer edging closer, a national team fresh off of winning the Confederation Cup at ease with its B side, a booming youth development production line and a league going from strength to strength under the tutelage of the Bundelsiga and German FA, its hard to not see success on the cards once again. German football is on a high, a brand growing in stature globally year over year with no real reason to suggest that will stop any time soon. And if the Super Cup is anything to go by, no one will want it to stop so best to hang on and enjoy the ride.

Where Are They Now – Ajax 1995

After both teams drew a blank on the first leg of their European Cup semi final clash, Ajax FC entertained a strong Bayern Munich side at home knowing that 90 minutes separated their team from their first  European Cup final since 1973. Bayern, with a host of stars including German internationalists Markus Babbel, Thomas Helmer and Mehmet Scholl, were favourites to progress against a talented but youthful Ajax squad. In an epic match that saw both teams give 100% commitment to every tackle, Ajax came out on top with a 5-2 win that sent them through to the final in Vienna against AC Milan.

Milan, having beaten PSG both home and away to progress, went in as slight favourites and rightly so. With a squad featuring Paolo Maldini, Demetrio Albertini, Zvonimir Boban and Daniele Massaro, Milan had coasted to the final without conceding a goal from the quarter finals onwards. However, the signs that this Ajax team could beat Milan were there from the group stages where the two had already locked horns in group D with Ajax winning both times by a two goal margin.

After a thrilling match, Ajax scored the only goal of the game in the 85th minute through 18-year-old substitute striker Patrick Kluivert, on for Jari Litmanen, and held on to win and crown Ajax champions of Europe. This was their finest hour, not only because of the teams they had beaten along the way but by the way they had played, especially for such a young squad. The achievement itself was even more remarkable as the squad was built of mostly local talent, all eager to impress and build a name for themselves. Even with Dutch legend Frank Rijkaard returning to the team at the age of 32, the average age of the squad was still only 23.

At the age of 25, Edwin Van Der Sar was one of the oldest members of the team, having been in the first team for the past 4 years. A towering goalkeeper at 6 ft 5 inches, Van Der Sar (picture below) was a crucial part of the 1995 season, picking up the Best European Goalkeeper award of that year.

Van De Sar keeps goal

The defence, either as a straight back 4 or as a central 3 was a combination of youth and experience. At right back, Michel Reiziger was a constant, no-nonsense defender who had broken into the first team at the age of 17 and become a regular in the side since then. In the final in 1995, the then 22-year-old played as the right-sided defender along side Danny Blind (centre) and Frank De Boer (Left). Blind, 33, was an experienced centre half who was brought to Ajax in 1986 by then manager Johan Cruyff to add much-needed steel. Completing the back three was the younger twin brother of Ronald Be Boer, Frank. The solid left-sided defender (picture below) came through the youth ranks in the late 80’s and by 1995, the 25-year-old was a permanent fixture in the team.

Frank De Boer with his brother, Ronald

In midfield, the trio of Davids, Seedorf and George provided the Ajax strikers with the supply and the flair needed for them to win games. Davids, 22 at the time of the final, came through the youth ranks at Ajax and went on to make a name for himself as a tough tackling midfield general affectionately known as Pitbull. Clarence Seedorf, who played alongside Davids, was only 19 during the 1995 campaign but already displayed glimmers of the talented player he would become. His natural ability shone through especially in the second leg of the semi final against Bayern where he shackled Mehmet Scholl and prevented him from playing his game. Switching between midfield and attack, Findi George was a pacey Nigerian winger brought in two seasons before to add flair to a workman like midfield. At 24 years old, he was known for his dazzling runs and shooting abilities which gave a different dimension to the team.

Jari Litmanen scores again

Up front, Ajax usually played with the trio of De Boer, Litmanen (above) and Overmars, with the latter acting more as a winger than a striker. Frank De Boer, like his brother, had come through the youth system. His goals in the 95 campaign helped Ajax to get to the final including strikes against Milan in the group stages and Hajduk Split in the quarters. The 25-year-old performed different roles for the team, sometimes dropping to midfield or behind the strikers, depending on the opposition. Litmanen, a Finnish international, was the recognised striker. Having built his name in the Finnish leagues, he moved to Ajax in 1992 and went on to play 159 times for the club, scoring 91 goals. by 1995, the 24-year-old had established himself as the central striker in the team. Marc Overmars supplied Litmanen with a majority of his goal scoring opportunities throughout his 5 year spell at Ajax. The winger was 22 at the time of the final and along with George gave the team the width needed to stretch games and open up spaces for De Boer and Seedorf to attack.

Ajax starting 11

Ajax 1995 starting eleven:

GK – Edwin Van Der Sar – After leaving Ajax, Edwin starred for Juventus, Fulham and most recently Manchester United where he won the Champions League in 2007. Capped 130 times by Holland to become the most capped player of all time, Edwin currently works as an analyst and has stated an interest in coaching in the near future. He is now back at Ajax as Sporting Director.

D – Michel Reiziger – Reiziger left Ajax at the end of the 1996 season to join AC Milan then going on to play for Barcelona, Middlesboro and PSV before retiring. Capped 72 times by Holland, the right back is now pursuing a coaching career.

D – Danny Blind – Defensive rock Blind was the heartbeat of the Ajax team during the 90’s. After joining from Sparta Rotterdam in 1986, Blind never looked like leaving the club and didn’t in the end. He played 372 times for Ajax, finally retiring in 1999. Blind took up the role of Technical Director at Ajax shortly after retiring and held the post until boardroom unrest resulted in him departing from the club. He was head coach for the Dutch national team before being fired after a poor start to qualifying.

D – Frank De Boer – A defender with great technical ability, De Boer joined Barcelona from Ajax after the 1998 World Cup. Unsuccessful spells at Galatasary, Rangers and Al-Rayyan then followed. After retiring, De Boer took  up a role at Ajax in charge of the youth team and during the 2020 world cup acted as assistant manager of the Dutch National team. In December 2010, following Martin Jol’s departure, Frank De Boer was appointed Ajax manager, a position he held for six years with great success. A move to Inter Milan didn’t quite go as planned and now De Boer is looking for his next job.


D/M – Frank Rijkaard – The 1995 Champions League Final proved to be Rijkaard’s last game before retirement. He took up the Dutch managers role in 1998 but was dismissed after a fairly unsuccessful time in charge. In recent years, Rijkaard enjoyed success as manager of Barcelona, winning 2 titles and a Champions League. He was manager of the Saudi Arabia national team until January 2014 when he was dismissed.

M – Clarence Seedorf – Arguably the most successful of the ’95 youngsters, Seedorf’s CV boasts spells at Ajax, Sampdoria, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan. In 2003 he became the first player to win the Champions League with 3 different clubs. After finishing his playing career in Brazil with Botafog, Seedorf took his first managerial job back at AC Milan. Despite the positivity around the move, Seedorf failed to get AC back on track and was fired after only six months in charge.

M – Findi George – Following his 3 years at Ajax, George moved to Real Betis in 1996. English fans may remember him playing for Ipswich during their brief stay in the Premiership. He retired in 2004 after a season with Real Mallorca. He is Director of international football at Real Betis in Spain

M – Edgar Davids –  A ferocious tackler in the middle of the pitch, Davids was instantly recognizable for his protective glasses which he wore during matches. Davids formed a formidable midfield with Zinedine Zidane for Juventus in the late 1990′s. Following Juventus, Davids played for Barcelona, Inter Milan, Tottenham and Ajax before retiring in 2008. He travelled the world promoting Street Football before eventually ending up at Barnet of all places for his first managerial role.

M/F – Ronald De Boer – Like his twin brother Frank, Ronald also moved to Barcelona after the 1998 World Cup. Unlike Frank, Ronald struggled to make an impact at the Nou Camp and moved to Rangers in 2000. He retired in 2008 after a number of seasons in the Middle East. He is now working  back at Ajax as a youth coach.

F – Jari Litmanen – On of the best players in the world at the time, Litmanen was a highly talented attacking midfielder. Like many of the 1995 side, he went on to play for Barcelona. He moved to Liverpool in 2001, in search of first team football. After being criminally underused by Gerard Houllier, Litmanen returned to Ajax in 2002.  Until recently he was still playing back home for HJK.

F – Marc Overmars – The lightning fast winger was a key member of Arsenal’s double winning team of 1998. He moved to Barcelona for £25m in 2000 before retiring in 2004 at the age of 31. Overmars returned to football briefly in 2008 to play for the Go Ahead Eagles in the Dutch lower leagues. He is now Director of Football at Ajax.

Coach – Louis Van Gaal –  After leaving Ajax, the Dutch master helped Barcelona to win the La Liga in 1997 before stints as firstly Holland boss then Bayern Munich before returning to the Holland national team job. Van Gaal then landed in the Premiership taking over at Manchester United before being fired after one season.

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Lewandowski Five Goal Blitz From The Bench Stuns Wolfsburg

In terms of supersubs, you could probably only name a handful of players who have come on to fundamentally change the direction of a game. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from the bench to win the Champoons League for Manchester United is likely the most famous example of this. But now there is another name to add to that short list – Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski who earned his spot last night with a rather impressive appearance from the bench. With Bayern trailing Wolsfburg by 1-0 at half time, Bayern boss Pep Guardiola had to make a change to swing the balance of the game back in their favour.

Supersub Lewandowski scored five in nine minutes to seal all three points (image from getty)

Step forward Polish striker Lewandowski who came on and scored five goals in nine amazing minutes to silence Wolfsburg. His breathtaking substitute performance even stunned his own manager with Guardiola unable to believe exactly what was happening. From his first touch, Lewandowski looked dangerous and hungry for goals. He only had to wait six minutes before his first arrived converting a failed clearance from Dante to draw Munich level. Less than a minute later, the Pole put Bayern into the lead with a drilled finish from the edge of the area. Now with a hat trick in sight, Lewandowski appeared to step up a gear and four minutes later found the net again although this time it took three attempts to put it in. The post and a save from the goalkeeper only temporarily denied Lewandowski but eventually he fired past Diego Benalgio to what earn the fastest hat trick in Bundesliga history.

Even Pep couldn’t believe what he was seeing (image from Getty)

His fourth followed two minutes later when he met a perfectly placed Douglas Costa cross to secure the vital three points for Bayern. As if four was not enough, Lewandowski had one more trick up his sleeve and saved the very best for last. Three minutes after his fourth, Lewandowski added his fifth goal with a stunning overhead bicycle kick at the edge of the area. His spectacular effort left the stadium stunned as they tried to work out exactly what had just transpired. Lewandowski could have added a sixth later in the game but was denied by a goal line clearance by Wolfsburg fullback Roberto Rodriguez. As the full time whistle blew, the Bayern team celebrated with Lewandowski as Wolfsburg’s players trudged off the pitch shaking their heads.

Lewandowski was in stunning form as he single handledly won the game for Bayern (image from Getty)

Lewandowski’s goal glut earns him another spot in a unique club for players who have scored five in one match. He joins Marco Negri, Andy Cole, Cristiano Ronaldo, Miroslav Klose, Radamel Falcao, Jurgen Klinsmann and Dieter Hoeness who was the last player to score five for Bayern in the Bundesliga back in 1984. Unsurprisingly Lewandowski win the man of the match award for his superb performance from the bench. Remarkably the player was omitted from the starting line up in the first place due to a niggling injury that had him doubtful to play at all. Guardiola may have taken a gamble in playing him but it paid off in spectacular fashion.

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From World Cup Winner To Bit Part Player – What Has Gone Wrong For Mario Gotze

With only ten minutes left of their crunch second leg game against Barcelona and trailing on aggregate by two goals, Pep looked at his bench. Sitting there was a player who could potentially turn the game, a baby faced assassin who seems to flourish in these big occasions. Mario Gotze knew his time had come so stripped off and prepared to enter the fray. Having the luxury to remove a player like Thomas Muller and replace him with Mario Gotze is a dream that only few coaches will ever experience. So deep is the pool of talent at Bayerns disposal that they can afford to leave out Gotze from the starting eleven is startling. But with the talent that Gotze has was it right of Guardiola to give him only four minutes or indeed leave him out of the starting line up all together? Whether or not Gotze starting the game would have had any effect on the overall outcome is unknown but arguably he offers slightly more to the side than others. But for one reason or another Pep has never really warmed to the little German.

No love lost between Pep and Gotze (image from Getty)

When Guardiola agreed to take over at Bayern he asked that they sign Neymar. Instead he got Gotze as the board felt he was as good and had the added advantage of being German. In the end, Neymar joined Pep’s former club Barcelona  whilst Gotze traveled across the country from Dortmund to Munich. It’s fair to assume that the relationship between the two has been on rocky ground for some time now. Gotze last year spoke publically about his frustration at the playing opportunities Guardiola had thrown his way that season. Gotze did manage to finish the season strongly and was selected for the Germany squad in a move that ended up securing them the World Cup thanks to his extra time goal. Returning to club football, Gotze must have believed that Guardiola would have been impressed by what he had achieved for his country but instead he found a manager who didn’t seem to care. Guardiola simply didn’t know what to do with Gotze. Talented yes but as a smaller player in a fairly tall squad where exactly would he fit?  In a 4-3-2-1 formation, dropping Muller or Ribery/Robben from wide positions was not an option, nor was the prospect of leaving the towering Robert Lewandowski out in favour of Gotze. Sacrificing one of his central midfield three appeared to be the best bet but that would mean leaving out Thiago, Schweinsteiger or Xavi Alonso. Thiago, who played for Guardiola at Barcelona was a player who the coach specifically wanted and who the board delivered, unlike Neymar. Schweinsteiger is a legend for both club and country and his work rate for both is unheralded. So that only leaves Alonso. At 34, Xavi Alonso appears to have lost none of his tactical awareness of the game with the way he reads it and dictates the play a joy to watch. In a midfield crammed full of talent, Alonso still stands out as the player Guardiola can ill afford to drop. He is their calm through stormy weathers, with a passage range that most great players would be proud off. To say that Alonso keeps getting better season after season is not far from the mark although he has notably slowed over the past decade as time caught up with him. Dropping Alonso for Gotze would mean a change in format and a switch to a more uncomfortable approach. Gotze would be condemned  once again to being  rotation player only for Bayern.

Alonso continues to impress despite his advancing years (image from pa)

To be fair to Pep he has played Gotze more times this season than last. Gotze has made thirty appearances in the league, fourteen of which came from the bench. Injuries to key players like Schweinsteiger, Ribery and Thiago have indirectly handed Gotze a few more starts than usual but as a result Guardiola had to adapt his formation to suit. His preference it would appear is to have Gotze come from the bench, something the player isn’t too happy about. Guardiola doesn’t necessary not like the player, he simply can’t fit him into his preferred system. In fact when Gotze was heavily criticized recently by German legend Franz Beckenbauer for being lazy, it was Pep who jumped to his defence stating that Gotze was one of the best professionals he had ever worked with. He fell short of saying that he was an important member of his squad however, something that would have perhaps made Gotze feel slightly better about his role at the club.

Beckenbauer has been critical of Bayern and Gotze in particular in recent weeks (image from getty)

Where to play Gotze is the puzzling question. Coming off the bench appears to suit Gotze style of play. He is an impact player who can grab the goal that wins the game. Given that a quarter of Bayern’s league goals this season were scored in the last fifteen minutes of the game, it’s not hard to work out why Pep prefers it this way too. Whether Gotze sees it this way is a different matter. With Pep confirming that he will be in charge next season, Gotze has two options – stay and fight for a spot or leave. If he does decide to leave the list of potential suitors will be a long one with clubs in England, Spain and Italy more than willing to add the German to their ranks. Gotze will have to decide if staying in his native Germany is more important at this stage in his career than regular games. He could bide his time and wait for Guardiola to depart at the end of next season when his contract expires but the risks with that strategy are great. Bayern are happy with what Guardiola has done so far albeit missing out on the Champions League final was not ideal. However if he can steer them to Europe’s top club prize next season, a new contract may be offered by the Bayern board if it hasn’t been offered before then.

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