For casual Bundesliga supporters, it might be a shock to the system to see former champions Werder Bremen flirt with the prospect of relegation this season.
Bremen are currently third bottom and if results go against them on the final day they could be demoted from Germany’s top division for the second time and subsequently ending a 40-year top-flight stay.
It wasn’t long ago they came close to lifting European silverware. That run came during the 2008/09 season when long-serving boss Thomas Schaaf took his side all the way to the Uefa Cup final.
During that season, which came after being eliminated from the Champions League, they knocked out European royalty AC Milan, then Saint-Étienne, Udinese and rivals Hamburg in the semi-finals.
However, the final proved to be a bridge too far against an equally impressive Shakhtar Donetsk, managed by the wily Mircea Lucescu, who prevailed 2-1 in Istanbul.
Schaaf boasted a squad laced with talent and a good blend of experience and youth – looking back it was an impressive collection of individuals. Here’s what became of them after that agonising defeat.
Goalkeeper: Tim Wiese
Wiese began his career at Fortuna Köln in 1999, whom he joined from Bayer Leverkusen’s youth team, before signing for Werder Bremen in 2005 after a four-year spell at FC Kaiserslautern.
He’d spend seven years in Bremen, winning six international caps with Germany in the process, and making 266 appearances for Die Werderaner whilst keeping 81 clean sheets, before ending his playing career at 1899 Hoffenheim.
Following his retirement, the 6ft4 former goalkeeper incredibly transitioned into the world of professional wrestling and he made his debut with industry leader WWE in 2016 before making a one-game footballing comeback in 2017 with German eighth division side SSV Dillingen.
Right-back: Clemens Fritz
A mainstay with Die Werderaner since joining in 2006 it seemed Fritz would end a 17-year playing career at the close of the 2015/16 season but he signed a one-year contract extension and remained an important member of the team until finally calling it a day in 2017.
Fritz, who was part of Germany’s team that finished as runners-up at Euro 2008, has previously turned out for Rot-Weiß Erfurt, Karlsruher SC and Bayer Leverkusen.
Centre-back: Per Mertesacker
It was in Bremen where Mertesacker established himself as one of Germany’s best central defenders; joining Werder after representing the national team at their World Cup tournament in 2006.
He’d represent the club on 219 occasions, scoring 16 goals before joining Arsenal in 2011 and it was while playing for the Gunners that he’d become a world champion. He hung up those massive boots and retired from the game to become manager of the Arsenal academy in 2018.
A regular presence in the Werder defence between 2005 and 2012, the former Brazilian international, who made over 170 league appearances for the club, has since turned out for Bundesliga rivals Wolfsburg and later Schalke 04. He finally left Germany for Monaco, for whom he was remarkably sent off in two of his first three league appearances, before hanging up his boots in September 2020.
Despite only making four international appearances for Brazil during his career, Naldo was unquestionably one of the Bundesliga’s finest foreign defenders down the years.
Left-back: Sebastian Boenisch
A graduate of Schalke’s esteemed academy, the Polish full-back spent five years at Werder – accumulating 55 league appearances – before relocating to Bayer Leverkusen and then 1860 Munich, whom he joined on a free transfer in October 2016 before leaving at the end of last season. He is currently without a club, aged 34.
Although he featured for Germany at youth level – even helping a star-studded squad including Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng and Mesut Ozil to the Under-21 European Championship in 2009 – he elected to represent Poland in senior international football.
Right midfielder: Peter Niemeyer
The former FC Twente midfielder swapped east Netherlands for north Germany in 2007 though his time there would be brief, enjoying just four seasons in which he only made 55 appearances in total.
He most recently represented Darmstadt 98, plucky underdogs of the 2015/16 and 2016/17 Bundesliga seasons, in the second tier of German football, having previously served Hertha Berlin.
Central midfielder: Torsten Frings
A dominant figure of German football during the 2000s, the Würselen-native played for Werder on two separate occasions – firstly between 1997 and 2002 before big moves to Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. He then returned in 2005 where he remained until 2011 when he tried a couple of seasons in MLS with Toronto FC before a short spell managing Darmstadt 98.
Overall the combative midfielder, who was capped 79 times by Germany, made 447 appearances for the club scoring 51 goals and creating a further 60.
A true club legend and cult hero to boot.
Central midfielder: Frank Baumann
Baumann captained Werder during the 2008/09 campaign in what turned out to be his final season of professional football.
The midfielder arrived in 1999 after five seasons with FC Nürnberg and ultimately made 364 first team appearances, scoring 21 goals and providing a further 22 assists.
Since retirement, he’s become the club’s sporting director.
Left midfielder: Mesut Özil
Another to arrive from Schalke, the Gelsenkirchen-born playmaker started to make waves at Werder.
He quickly attracted the attention of a host of European powers – including Manchester United – after a stellar showing at the 2010 World Cup, eventually opting to join Real Madrid.
It was in Spain where his tag as the “assist king” began to be established (81 in 159 matches), and that has only grown since leaving for Arsenal, impressing Arsene Wenger enough to smash Arsenal’s transfer record in 2013.
Attacking Midfield: Diego
The man who assisted Mesut Ozil’s winning goal in the DFB-Pokal that same season, Diego’s talent was admired up and down the Bundesliga, as he combined flair with efficiency in the west German city, notching an impressive 54 goals in 132 appearances.
The Brazilian was recruited by Juventus in 2009/10 but never truly settled and was eventually replaced by Andrea Pirlo. Following a tough spell in Turin, Diego returned to Germany to play for Wolfsburg for four years.
Nowadays, the Santos academy graduate can be found playing in his native Brazil for Flamengo following spells with Atletico Madrid and Fenerbahce.
Striker: Claudio Pizarro
Between 1999 and now, Pizarro has played for four different clubs and two of those on more than one occasion.
After initially leaving Werder to join Bayern Munich in 2001 he’d return on loan from Chelsea for the 2008/09 season before completing a permanent return in 2009.
But history repeated itself in 2012 when he returned to Bayern before arriving back in Bremen in 2015. The Peruvian once again left the club in 2017 to join FC Koln before, yes, you guessed it, coming back to Bremen for another spell with the Werderaner for the 2018/19 season. But that proved to be his final stay as he called it a day following the 2019/20 season.
After graduating from Werder’s academy in 2006 the forward struggled to establish himself in the first-team, leaving for FC St. Pauli three years later.
After then representing Freiburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg, he returned to Bremen in the summer of 2016 before leaving for Fenerbahçe three seasons later.
So much was expected of Hunt when he broke into the Werder team more than a decade ago.
Eligible to represent England through his mother, he was pursued by the FA but Hunt ultimately chose to play for Germany with whom he made only three appearances between 2009 and 2013.
After leaving Bremen in 2014 he spent one season at Wolfsburg before joining Hamburg in the summer of 2015, where he remains.
The former FC Porto forward has become something of a journeyman since departing Bremen in 2010 after joining them in 2007.
Since the 2011/12 season, he’s represented eight clubs across seven different countries, including spending time in Turkey with Besiktas, Greece with AEK Athens and Croatia with Hadjuk Split. He would join Academica in his native Portugal before retiring.
Rosenberg enjoyed two seasons at Ajax before Werder signed him in January 2007 and the Swedish centre-forward remained in Bremen for more than four terms – scoring 53 goals in 165 first-team appearances – before joining Premier League outfit West Brom (2012-14) and then returning to boyhood club Malmo in 2014, where he captained until hanging up his boots.