Jurgen Klopp had one final wish to fulfill in his last few months as Borussia Dortmund coach – a celebratory parade around the Borsigplatz, a district of the city intertwined in the fabric of this club’s 106-year history.
Dortmund was established here in 1909 and in previous seasons, this has been the place to acknowledge the success and performances of Klopp and his troops. In 2012, for example, thousands lined the streets to celebrate the club’s 5-2 German Cup win over Bayern Munich.
But since the 2013 Champions League final, it has been a barren run for Dortmund. The yellow-and-blacks have suffered a steady decline in domestic competition. This season, Dortmund only just managed to salvage a place in Europe next season from what has been a tempestuous season overall.
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At the winter break, Dortmund were bottom of the table, but the yellow-and-blacks recovered to collect 31 points in the Bundesliga from a possible 54. In that stretch, Klopp’s side have delivered spirited Cup performances against Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich to book a place in the Berlin final.
"Driving around the Borsigplatz is quite cool. It could end up being a hobby," he joked at the pre-match press conference. "The final match isn’t about me, but about the team. We still have the opportunity to achieve something and we want to use that."
In 2014, Dortmund left Berlin with a sour taste in their mouths following a controversial defeat to Bayern Munich. With the scores at 0-0, Mats Hummels’ header crossed the line, but the referee failed to award the goal – and that has seamlessly led to the introduction of hawk-eye for the first time on Saturday.
"We were unfortunate last year when my goal didn’t count," the defender said. "I’m glad that we have now goal-line technology. There will be fewer errors," he opined — a point backed up by Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking.
"A Cup final is simply an awesome game," Hummels continued. "It’s fun to play in this stadium, with great atmosphere against strong opposition."
After a sublime performance on the final day, Shinji Kagawa looks likely to feature from the start for Dortmund. "He’s a fantastic player. We won’t hold him back," Klopp said of the Japanese attacking-midfielder who earned a move to Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson watched on as he ripped Bayern to shreds in the 2012 German Cup final.
A Dortmund triumph would be their fourth German Cup win and consolidate Klopp’s position as the club’s most successful coach of all time.
If you extract the sentimental importance for Borussia Dortmund, this Cup final is perhaps more season-defining for VfL Wolfsburg, the team which has taken the club’s perch as Germany’s second-best club.
How Wolfsburg move on from this season could shape the narrative around the league for years to come. With Max Kruse signed up from Gladbach already, many will expect the Wolves to push Bayern until the end for the championship next season.
"What has already happened for Dortmund, we hope will come to us," sporting director Klaus Allofs told German magazine Kicker. Allofs compliments what Klopp has achieved in recent seasons and believes the Westphalians have found the right model for outside clubs to compete with Bayern.
"For a player, it is important to crown the most important achievements with a trophy," he added.
The Wolves had a more routine passage to the final, finally ending the run of Cup-slayers Arminia Bielefeld, the German third division champions, with a 4-0 win.
Maxi Arnold was influential in the semi-final victory, the German U-21 international’s reputation as a smart, deep-lying playmaker rapidly increasing following a season of impressive performances.
"We want to win, there’s hardly anything more beautiful than this Cup," the 21-year-old midfielder said.
However, Wolfsburg will not have much need for extra motivation — four months ago, 19-year-old midfielder Junior Malanda was tragically killed in a car accident as he prepared to join his team-mates for winter training in South Africa.
The Belgian has never been far from the collective memory of those who pack out the Volkswagen Arena each week. A small, modest photo stands next to the club’s most passionate and vocal Ultras. Wolfsburg will sport a new white shirt on Saturday evening, with a small icon sporting the ‘No.19’ in memory of Malanda.
A first-ever win for the Wolves would be a significant sporting milestone, but perhaps, more rewardingly, it will be a fitting end to what will have been a difficult half-year for the club following January’s tragic loss.