There was never going to be a dry eye in the house as Nils Petersen bid a final farewell to his beloved home Freiburg crowd. In typical fashion, the Breisgau-Brasilianer's record goalscorer, and the most prolific substitute in Bundesliga history, had a decisive impact.
Petersen forged an impressive career in Germany’s top flight during his 17 years in the game. After starting out in the lower leagues with Carl-Zeiss Jena and then Energie Cottbus, where he scored 25 goals in 33 Bundesliga 2 games during the 2010/11 campaign, the forward was snapped up by giants Bayern Munich.
While he would only end up making nine top-flight appearances for Der Rekordmeister, the move was his invitation to mix it with the country's elite. His spell in Bavaria was followed by two seasons with Werder Bremen before joining Freiburg, his home for the next eight years, in January 2015.
Nine goals in 12 Bundesliga outings during the second part of the 2015/16 campaign could not prevent Christian Streich’s side from dropping down to the second tier, but 21 strikes the following season ensured an immediate return to the first division. As Freiburg then went from strength to stength, Petersen continued to play a crucial role, scoring at a consistent rate.
On 19th January 2019, the centre-forward bagged his 38th Bundesliga strike, becoming Freiburg’s leading top-flight goalscorer in the process, and he broke Joachim Löw’s all-time club record a year later, netting his 84th goal in a 2-1 victory over Mainz.
Although the two-time Germany international was effective when included in the starting line-up, he was arguably at his most lethal when coming on from the bench. Of his 89 Bundesliga efforts, 34 came as a substitute, which is a league record by some distance.
His final such goal, which also proved to be the last of his time as a professional, was perhaps his most emotional. With Freiburg continuing their quest for a maiden UEFA Champions League qualification on the penultimate matchday of the 2022/23 campaign against Wolfsburg, Petersen was introduced into the fray after 70 minutes with the score locked at 0-0.
Less than 60 seconds after the substitution, Freiburg were in front thanks to a Christian Günter strike, an effort which paved the way for Petersen’s special moment. Just a matter of a minutes later, the 34-year-old got onto the end of Rolland Sallai’s cross to double his side’s advantage and send the home crowd into raptures.
"It was still 0-0 and there was a lot at stake for us," said Petersen of manager Streich’s decision to bring him on. "It was just nice when Günni scored his goal and I realized: we can put real pressure on Union Berlin and Leipzig again. I didn't expect the ball to stumble over the line at all.”
A humble analysis of a magical night. After the final whistle, the striker was serenaded by an adoring public, and even made his way into the stands to join in the celebrations. While Freiburg were ultimately unable to secure a top-four finish, Petersen’s closing contribution remains memorable, especially as the team still signed off with a second successive top-five finish and a place in European football.
His place in the annals of Bundesliga history is secure.