Photojournalist Kai Dambach was on the sidelines at the 2021/2022 Bundesliga season finale Saturday between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and SC Freiburg. The thrilling match coincided with the retirement of Leverkusen longtime Sporting Director Rudi Völler 62. A star player, the German international began his association with Leverkusen in 1994 towards the end of an illustrious playing career that included a Champions League trophy with Marseille, a Coppa Italia championship with Roma, 90 caps with the German national team and appearances in the World Cup final as both a player and coach The beloved Völler has held the Sporting Director position with the Werkself since 2005.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen legend Rudi Völler has been with the Werkself in Leverkusen for the better part of the past quarter-century. But now that he entered his sixties, he has decided it is time to slow down and step away. The final match with Völler as the sporting director finished in a way that only the wild Leverkusen players could bring, with a 2-1 victory over SC Freiburg, a side that needed the win (along with an RB Leipzig loss) on the final day to reach its first-ever Champions League qualification.
Following a humdrum first half, Leverkusen took their spot on the scoreboard first after their forwards left the Freiburg defense in shambles. A flick from Patrik Schick to Lucas Alario was tapped into the back of the net to give the home side the advantage. Freiburg fought back, bringing shot after shot, but could not find a way past keeper Andrey Lunev. They finally managed to equalize in the 88th minute, after Janik Haberer pushed in a confused ball left in front of goal. But just one point was not enough for Freiburg. One more goal was needed to qualify for a Champions League. No time to sit back.
With five minutes of stoppage time, the visiting side crashed the net over and over. With a final free kick, Freiburg goalkeeper Mark Flekken ran forward to offer any help he could. The ball never came his way, and instead the multicolored pill flew back to midfield. Exequiel Palacios saw nothing but grass between him and the goal. The Argentine took a chance, a lazy lob that plopped in the box and continued into the back of the net for all three points.
Leverkusen’s speakers blared the Champions League hymn, a familiar song, while Freiburg were forced to settle for the Europa League next season. Völler took his final bows in Leverkusen’s Nordkurve, and all was well in North Rhine-Westphalia. Well, except for Bielefeld but that’s a conspiracy, of course.
Bayer Leverkusen: Lunev, Sinkgraven (Bakker, 67’), Tapsoba, Tah, Kossounou, Palacios, Baumgartlinger (C) (Aranguiz, 60’), Diaby, Paulinho (Hincapie, 84’), Alario (Andrich, 60’), Schick (Azmoun, 83’)
Reserves: Hradecky, Grill, Lomb, Bakker, Hincapie, Andrich, Aranguiz, Azmoun
Head Coach: Gerardo Seoane
SC Freiburg: Flekken, Günter (C), N. Schlotterbeck, Lienhart, Kübler (Sildillia, 60‘), Höfler, Eggestein (Haberer, 69‘), Grifo, Jeong (Petersen, 69‘), Sallai (Schmid, 79‘), Höler (Demirovic, 79‘)
Reservers: Uphoff, Gulde, Sildillia, K. Schlotterbeck, Schmid, Haberer, Wagner, Demirovic, Petersen
Head Coach: Christian Streich