Mönchengladbach - As Jupp Heynckes bid farewell to German football in the very same place his incredible journey began almost 50 years ago, it was only fitting that he should sign off with one of the most spectacular games of the season.
It was 1965 when Heynckes made his Bundesliga bow for Borussia Mönchengladbach as a player and, on 18 May 2013, his old club played their part in a 4-3 thriller against the club he has coached to a record-breaking 23rd national title this term, FC Bayern Munich.
The 68-year-old had just finished giving the usual marathon of television interviews when he presented himself for the obligatory press conference and, as he began delivering his statement, the emotions finally got the better of him.
"My thanks go to the fans for this wonderful farewell, which shows me...” he began, before his voice began to waver. Heynckes needed several seconds to compose himself as his eyes welled up with tears. He then proceeded to complete his sentence following a supportive pat on the shoulder from Borussia’s press officer Ingo Aretz. “It shows me that this is my home." The congregation of journalists broke out in a touching round of applause.
The press conference was also being screened live inside the Borussia Park and the many fans who had remained showed their appreciation with such volume that Borussia forward Patrick Herrmann, who was giving interviews in the stadium’s catacombs, wondered what all the commotion was about until he too saw the moving scenes being played out on the big screen.
Heynckes’ career has come full circle, ending where it began in city of his birth. In 1,011 Bundesliga games as player and coach, he won the title four times on the pitch with Borussia and a further three times with Bayern from the touchline.
Heynckes visibly enjoyed his final Bundesliga trip. The evening before the game, he accepted an invitation from Borussia to a barbecue evening with the heroes of the 1973 team who won a legendary cup final against 1. FC Köln. Then came his last appearance as a Bundesliga coach. Celebrated in equal measure by the Gladbach and the Bayern fans, Heynckes appeared relaxed as he waved to the fans while a selection of images from his Mönchengladbach years were shown on the screen.
The game had hardly begun as Heynckes would have hoped. Barely had he taken his place on the bench and Bayern were 2-0 down, and after ten minutes, they were already chasing a 3-1 deficit. “It looked like we were probably still in celebration mode,” joked Heynckes. His team was unmoved, though, and took control of the game, deservedly triumphing 4-3 and adding another best mark to a record-filled campaign - namely the best ever second half to a season.
Hunger for more
Heynckes then invited his team to an evening meal of Sauerbraten, including "the odd glass of beer“. He did not want to discuss his future - there will be time for that after the DFB Cup final at the start of June. Between now and then, the gentleman of German football has two more major appointments. In a week’s time, there is the UEFA Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund and, seven days later, the DFB Cup decider against VfB Stuttgart.
Tobias Gonscherowski reporting from Mönchengladbach