The 1998-99 Bundesliga title was comfortably won by Bayern Munich, who finished 15 points ahead of Bayer Leverkusen, while Hertha Berlin recorded their highest position in over 20 years by coming third.
With Bayern easing to the German championship, all the drama was at the opposite end of the table, with any of five teams capable of suffering relegation alongside the already-jettisoned Borussia Monchengladbach and Bochum. In the end, both Eintracht Frankfurt and Nurnberg ended up with the same points tally and a goal difference of minus 10, with goals scored saving Frankfurt from the drop.
The biggest change in the summer of 1998 was Ottmar Hitzfeld’s appointment as Bayern Munich head coach, replacing Giovanni Trapattoni. The former Stuttgart forward had been out of work for a year after leaving Borussia Dortmund, but was seen as a stabilising force in Munich after the chaotic management of Trapattoni.
Hitzfeld used the transfer market shrewdly, bringing in Hasan Salihamidzic from Hamburg and Thomas Linke from Schalke on free transfers, and signed Jens Jeremies, Stefan Effenberg, and Ali Daei for the combined price of the outgoing Dietmar Hamann.
Holders Kaiserslautern kept most of their Bundesliga-winning squad together, adding forward Uwe Rosler from Manchester City and Werder Bremen’s Hany Ramzy at centre-back.
Having missed out on the Champions League in the previous season, Bayer Leverkusen were determined not to do so again, and were the big spenders of the transfer window. Left-midfielder Ze Roberto arrived from Real Madrid for a club record fee of 14 million DM, while Adam Matysek and Zoran Mamic were bought for more than 1m DM each.
Borussia Dortmund also brought in some expensive signings, adding goalkeeper Jens Lehmann from AC Milan and Duisburg forward Bachirou Salou at a cost of 8m DM apiece, while 6m DM was spent on Atletico Mineiro full-back Dede. The sale of Jorg Heinrich to Fiorentina helped fund Dortmund’s dealings, leaving for almost 25m DM.
Having led the Bundesliga table for all but two matchdays, Bayern Munich sealed the title with four games remaining as holders Kaiserslautern failed to come close to their success of the previous season. Otto Rehhagel’s side eventually came fifth, qualifying for the UEFA Cup, but missing out on a place in the Champions League due to a worse goal difference than Borussia Dortmund.
Borussia Monchengladbach sat bottom of the table from matchday nine through to the last day of the season, picking up just four wins on their way to 21 points in total. Bochum were not much better and were relegated with two games remaining.
The major drama came as five teams attempted to avoid the third relegation spot, with just three points separating 12th-placed Nurnberg and Eintracht Frankfurt in 16th place ahead of the final round of games.
Stuttgart were in the relegation dogfight on the last day, but an early headed goal from Fredi Bobic ensured a 1-0 win over Werder Bremen, who had no real opportunities all game as Ralf Rangnick’s men guaranteed safety.
Kaiserslautern were looking to earn a place in the Champions League, and levelled their game with Eintracht after 68 minutes through a penalty to put Frankfurt back in the relegation zone.
However, by the 75th minute, the situation had changed once more. Frankfurt restored their one-goal lead, while a pair of quickfire goals from already-relegated Bochum put Hansa Rostock temporarily in 16th.
Frankfurt further extended their lead thanks to goals from Marco Gebhardt and Bernd Schneider, moving them above Nurnberg on goals scored before Rostock went ahead again to escape relegation themselves.
With just five minutes remaining, Nurnberg pulled one back against Freiburg to move ahead of Frankfurt on goal difference, but amazingly that was not to be the end of the drama as Jan Age Fjortoft netted Eintracht’s fifth of the day to ensure their survival. Nurnberg had one last chance in stoppage time, but Frank Baumann hit his shot straight at the goalkeeper and their stay in the top flight was over.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
A new arrival in Munich ahead of the 1998-99 season, Jens Jeremies quickly slotted himself into the Bayern midfield. A hard-tackling defensive midfielder, his performances were crucial as Bayern finished with an excellent +48 goal difference.
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
The General took over Bayern Munich after a disappointing season under Giovanni Trapattoni, and led the club to the title in his first season with a record margin of 15 points over second-placed Leverkusen.
MICHAEL PREETZ - 23 GOALS
Hertha Berlin recorded their best ever finish, partly thanks to the 23 goals of striker Michael Preetz, who earned international recognition from Germany for his prowess in front of goal.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
KAHN; PANADIC, NOWOTNY, GREILICH; JEREMIES, RAMELOW, SFORZA, EFFENBERG, BEINLICH; ELBER, PREETZ
MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER
Real Madrid to LEVERKUSEN
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
With just one minute left of normal time in their home game with holders Kaiserslautern, Eintracht Frankfurt looked relegated. However, Jan Age Fjortoft had other ideas, scoring Eintracht’s fifth of the game to save the club thanks to having a better goal difference than Nurnberg.