Four-time Bundesliga champions Werder Bremen have been relegated from the German top flight for only the second time in the club's history, slipping into Bundesliga 2 at the end of a difficult 2020/21 campaign.
bundesliga.com pays tribute to the Green-Whites, who have featured in more Bundesliga seasons than any other club, and looks at some of the men and moments that have shaped Werder's rich history.
First Bundesliga steps: Founding fathers
Bremen were one of the original Bundesliga teams, coming 10th in the inaugural 1963/64 season, and will forever be part of the league's history, though not necessarily for reasons they would like: Bremen goalkeeper Klaus Lambertz conceded the division's first-ever goal to Borussia Dortmund's Timo Konietzka in the opening minute of play.
The very next season — the year of the city of Bremen's 1000th anniversary — the club's so-called 'Team without stars' were crowned Bundesliga champions. They have since won Germany's top division three times, a feat bettered only by Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Their seven runners-up finishes are bettered only by Bayern, and they missed out on the 1982/83 and 1985/86 titles only on goal difference.
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Coaching icon: Otto Rehhagel
Younger fans will remember the German for his remarkable, wholly unexpected success with Greece at UEFA Euro 2004, but long before that footballing miracle, Rehhagel was turning ordinary teams into world-beaters, and he started at Bremen.
In a 14-year spell from 1981 to 1995, Rehhagel made Bremen the northern German football powerhouse — taking that mantle from arch-rivals Hamburg — and made Werder the most tenacious challengers to Bayern.
After taking over late in the season they won promotion back to the top flight after their only previous relegation, Rehhagel won two Bundesliga titles (1987/88, 1992/93), finished runner-up four times, claimed a pair of DFB Cups (1990/91, 1993/94) as well as the 1991/92 UEFA European Cup Winners' Cup.
There were other stunning European successes, such as the 5-1 demolition of Diego Maradona's Napoli — the reigning champions — in the 1989/90 UEFA Cup, and he also guided Werder into the freshly rebranded UEFA Champions League group stage — the first German club to do so — in 1993/94.
He oversaw the development of the likes of Rudi Völler, Karl-Heinz Riedle, Dieter Eilts and Mario Basler, taking their fledgling promise and turning them into world-class players. While his EURO-winning Greece side were chillingly pragmatic, Rehhagel's Bremen were doted with a healthy dose of panache. "In this business, there is only one truth," he said. "The ball has to go in the net."
Greatest achievement: the 2003/04 Double
Rehhagel's departure for Bayern in 1995 led to a slight dip in fortunes until Thomas Schaaf, who played his whole career at Bremen and was a cornerstone of 'King Otto's' side, took charge late in the 1998/99 season to save his beloved club from relegation.
Schaaf would then orchestrate a famous 1998/99 DFB Cup final win over Bayern, and end up emulating his former boss with 14 successive years on the Weserstadion bench. However, he is best known for putting together a brilliant side that were undisputed top dogs in Germany in the 2003/04 season.
Mention his exciting, unstoppable attacking trio of French playmaker Johan 'Le Chef' Micoud, Croatian forward Ivan Klasnic, and Brazilian goalgetter Ailton, who would finish the season as the Bundesliga's leading scorer, and you will bring a nostalgic lump to the throat of any Bremen fan.
After claiming top spot in the table on Matchday 16, they never relinquished their grip thanks to a 23-game unbeaten run, scoring more goals than any other side, and clinching the title in style thanks to a 3-1 win at Bayern with two games of the season to spare.
Bundesliga 2 outfit Alemannia Aachen were then beaten in a thrilling 3-2 DFB Cup final win, and Bremen had the first — and to date, only — double in their history. "It was more than something special," said Schaaf, who returned to try unsuccessfully to save them on the final day of the 2020/21 campaign. "The way we did it, the football we played… it was exceptional."
Iconic player: Claudio Pizarro
There have been a few who were the darlings of the Weserstadion: Ailton, Micoud, Diego, Miroslav Klose, Wynton Rufer and Mesut Özil to name only a small number of those who have shone for the Green-Whites. Pizarro, though, is different.
The Peruvian brought the curtain down on his career as Bremen escaped relegation via the play-offs in 2019/20. It spelled the end of an era not only for the club, but also for the freescoring forward, who was in his fourth spell in Bremen.
Brought to northern Germany from his native country as a total unknown in 1999, Pizarro soon made a name for himself in Bremen before also representing Bayern Munich with distinction and — for a single season — Cologne in the Bundesliga.
The club's all-time leading scorer, second only to Robert Lewandowski in the division's all-time goalscoring chart for foreign-born players, and 14th on the Bundesliga's all-time appearance makers' list, Pizarro has made his mark on the league and Bremen, which has also left its mark on him.
"It's my second home," he said in April 2020, nearly 21 years after his arrival from Allianz Lima. "I feel very happy in Bremen, my family have always been very happy in this city. My first two children were born in Bremen. I'll always be grateful for the affection and warmth that I've experienced here every time I've come to Werder. Because of that, I've always felt at home here."
All-time Bundesliga seasons record-holder
Since the start of the Bundesliga in 1963, Bremen had missed just a single season, making them the record holders with 57 top-flight campaigns played.
Their only previous relegation came in 1979/80 when — after a difficult decade — Werder ended second-from-bottom of the division having won just 11 and lost 20 of their 34 matches.
Under Kuno Klötzer and then — from April 1981 — Rehhagel they roared back at the first attempt, setting a Bundesliga 2 record of 30 wins and eight draws in 42 second-tier outings.
"We want Bremen to do more than just try to stay up when we're back in the Bundesliga," team manager Rudi Assauer said amidst the promotion celebrations. His ambition was justified as they finished fifth on their return to the top flight. Bremen fans can now only hope history repeats itself in 2021/22.
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