"... And now go out there. You can make a lot of people happy." -- Former Borussia Dortmund president Gerd Niebaum ahead of the 1989 German cup final. How do you become a fan of a certain club? What is it that infects you and when does it hit you? Why is it that football fuels you with more emotions than a lifelong love-affair? And why do we follow the ups and downs of our club? Sometimes when losing everything else we have cared for in our lives, when we have reached a dead-end and have nowhere left to turn to, we head outside, meet up with friends, have a beer and walk into a stadium, and for 90 minutes forget about whatever makes our lives so miserable.
Eight years after Borussia Dortmund's biggest triumph, they hit rock bottom. The 1997 Champions League winners were facing administration. President Gerd Niebaum and general manager Michael Meier had paid the price for the successes during the 90s and their craving for status. Throughout the 90s, Borussia Dortmund spent money on players, luring the likes of Andreas Moller, Stefan Reuter, Jurgen Kohler, Matthias Sammer, Karl-Heinz Riedle, Julio Cesar and Paulo Sousa to Dortmund. Under coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, Dortmund won back-to-back championships and in 1997 lifted the Champions League trophy.
Formation 3-5-2: Samir Handanovic When Samir Handanovic joined Inter last summer, the club's goalkeeping coach, Alessandro Nista, told him that his concentration levels would be tested more than they were at Udinese. But why? The thinking was that he'd have less to do; maybe two or three saves a game. "Some months later, I went up to Nista," recalled Handanovic, “and said, jokingly: 'I have to make five or six saves a game, not two or three.'" It became an in-joke. Handanovic, or Sandanovic as they call him, San meaning "Saint," has made some divine interventions during a hellish season for Inter.
God works in mysterious ways. So too does Silvio Berlusconi, the man who owns AC Milan (and lots of other stuff, too). Three years ago, when asked why he chose Massimiliano Allegri to manage the Rossoneri, the reply was that he had the “physique du role" -- basically, he "looked the part." Some -- including, I'll hold my hand up, yours truly -- were skeptical. But Allegri showed he didn't just "look the part" and that he could do the job, as well. In three years at the San Siro, he guided Milan to first-, second- and, this year, third-place finishes, each time also taking the club into the knockout rounds of the Champions League.
Team of the year: Bayern Munich Ninety-one points, 98 goals, 29 wins, only one defeat, a goal difference of plus-80 and just two games away from becoming the first German club to win the famous treble. This Bayern Munich season will go down in the Bundesliga history book and will stay there for a long time. A Thomas Muller goal in the 43rd minute of Bayern's first league game at Greuther Furth lifted their campaign off the ground. They were unstoppable ever since. It would take several pages just to name all the Bundesliga records Bayern Munich broke this season.
The Premier League was high on drama and plot lines this season, but if it were a wine, some customers might be sending it back to the waiter. Manchester United were deserving champions, but not even their most devoted fans would argue that Sir Alex Ferguson's final team had a "wow" factor. United clinched the crown through hunger, desire and consistency against rivals that spluttered like old lawn mowers. But most of all, they won it because in Sir Alex they had a manager whose thirst for success was unquenchable and who was at war with any sign of complacency.
The stats that tell the story of the Premier League season: How the title was won Alex Ferguson won his first trophy in 1977 and his last in 2013, with that Premier League title. That spans 36 years -- or 29 percent of the codified game's history. Manchester United won their home games against every team from sixth place down, explaining the paradoxically routine relentlessness which created such an uncatchable lead. Robin van Persie's 26 goals were directly responsible -- in terms of equalisers or match-winners -- for 26 of United's 88 points.
And so it’s over. Another season has drawn to a close. It wasn't a vintage one in Serie A, but that can also be said of the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1. From spring onward, if not earlier, the title race felt like a foregone conclusion and was wrapped up with three games to play. In the absence of a consistent challenger for the title, it was often remarked that the biggest threat to Juventus were themselves. The Scudetto was theirs to lose. And considering their mental resilience, quite simply, that was never going to happen.
Can a good player bring bad luck? From looking on Theofanis Gekas' impact in the last years, one might easily think that is possible. The veteran striker, once nicknamed "the Greek God" by Bochum fans when he was the Bundesliga's top scorer in 2006=07, found the net at will when given the opportunity in the past three seasons (2009-12). Unfortunately for his clubs, it didn't really help, as each team was relegated. As a matter of fact, until last week, Portsmouth were the last team that had Gekas on their books in May but didn’t go down.
It ended with just another football match and a team selection that glanced to a future in which Manchester United must do without Sir Alex Ferguson. The club existed before him, of course, but Ferguson has made it what it is today and must live up to in future. His final season in charge ended with a title won as relentlessly as any that preceded it, yet without the quality of his finest triumphs. Perhaps diminishing returns are the price of repeated success; the excitement of those first flushes is replaced by the necessity of meeting expectations and avoiding failure.
AS Monaco clinched the Ligue 2 title on Friday night with a 2-1 home win over struggling former top-flight rivals Le Mans, but the Principality outfit that return to Ligue 1 is massively changed from the side that dramatically exited it two years ago. Since their final day relegation in 2011, the club has revolutionised and only four players that went down with them remain in their current squad. Now under the ownership of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, Les Monegasques are targeting an immediate return to Champions League football under current coach Claudio Ranieri, in time for the 2014-15 season.
Andre Villas-Boas says he'll know from the noise of the crowd; Arsene Wenger from the reaction of his staff. Both managers, however, claim that they'll be completely concentrating on what their own teams are doing rather than listening for the score at the other end of the country. They at least know what they have to do. Arsenal must win at Newcastle to make sure of a Champions League place while Tottenham Hotspur must beat Sunderland to fully exploit any error, with neither side able to let any external information affect them.