Saturday will be a special afternoon for Borussia Mönchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, who returns to his former club Wolfsburg for the first time. There is little room for sentiment though, since both teams need maximum points on the penultimate day of the season.
Despite how his spell at Wolfsburg ended last October, Hecking is likely to have overwhelmingly positive memories of his near four years in charge. The 52-year-old Gladbach boss returns to the Volkswagen Arena with his new club in ninth position, just three points off the European places, while his old one is still battling to avoid relegation.
"I had a great and successful time there and look forward to seeing many colleagues again with whom I have shared some exceptional experiences," Hecking told Gladbach’s website this week.
"I was pleased to see that VfL defeated Frankfurt on Saturday, meaning they've put a little bit of distance between themselves and the relegation zone."
Watch: Highlights of Wolfsburg's 2-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 32.
Five years ago, Wolfsburg had been a good fit for Hecking, whose family lived just 100 kilometres away from the home of the 2009 Bundesliga champions.
In the previous four seasons, the former Gladbach and Hannover midfielder had consolidated Nürnberg's place in the Bundesliga – guiding the Bavarian club to a sixth-placed finish in the 2010-2011 campaign. Before that, prior to a solid three-year stint at Hannover, he had led unfancied Alemannia Aachen to the top flight in 2006.
In December 2012, Wolfsburg needed someone to steady the ship. They had recently parted company with Felix Magath, the man who had led the Wolves to their first-ever Bundesliga title but whose second spell in charge did not go as smoothly.
Hecking arrived at the club shortly after Klaus Allofs left Werder Bremen to become sporting director and together the pair set about building some forward momentum. Bottom of the table in October, Wolfsburg improved to finish 11th that season and they also reached the DFB Cup semi-finals, only to be humbled by eventual champions Bayern Munich.
The club added experience and steel the following summer - in the shape of Bayern midfielder Luiz Gustavo - before gaining a real cutting edge with the signing of Kevin De Bruyne that winter. The on-field improvements continued in 2013/2014 as the Wolves again made the last four of the DFB Cup and were fifth in the Bundesliga.
Watch: See how Hecking's Wolves hammered Pep Guardiola's Bayern 4-1 in 2015.
Hecking’s team did not look back and became more flamboyant in the process. Dutch forward Bas Dost scored 16 goals and Belgian playmaker De Bruyne netted ten to go with 20 assists in the league alone as the Wolves finished as runners-up to Bayern in the 2014/2015 season.
The highlight of their Bundesliga campaign was a 4-1 thrashing of Bayern in January 2015. In Europe, they beat Inter Milan on their way to the quarter-finals of the Europa League. And in May of that year, Hecking won his first major trophy as coach – his club's second – as Wolfsburg spoiled Jürgen Klopp’s last game in charge of Borussia Dortmund with a 3-1 win in the DFB Cup final.
De Bruyne left for Manchester City in the close season, but the Wolves regenerated again with the recruitment of German internationals Max Kruse and Julian Draxler as well as Brazilian defender Dante. Hecking's side then topped their Champions League group ahead of PSV Eindhoven and Manchester United before giving eventual winners Real Madrid a real scare in the quarter-finals.
European exploits took their toll, however, and Wolfsburg finished eighth in the league before Hecking was sacked after a run of one win in seven games at the start of the season. The down-to-earth coach described that decision as "part of this business" and he soon returned to the Bundesliga as Gladbach boss in December.
Despite a recent wobble, during which his new side suffered an agonising DFB Cup semi-final defeat on penalties to Eintracht Frankfurt, the Foals are still firmly in the hunt for a European place.
The sixth-best performing team in the second half of the season, Gladbach will provide a serious test for Hecking's former team, who are hovering only two points above Hamburg and the relegation/play-off place.
"I hope that you’ll understand that I don't want to say too much about our opponents over the next few days before the game in Wolfsburg," Hecking said.
"I'm doing so out of respect for a great club and team, which also used to be my team.
"I'm now the Borussia Mönchengladbach coach – and am so with all of my heart. My club is now Borussia and it's with them that I want to claim all three points next Saturday in Wolfsburg."