The 1997-98 Bundesliga title was won by Kaiserslautern, who became the first German champions to win the league after being promoted in the previous season. Former Bayern Munich manager Otto Rehhagel had taken over the club in 1996 following his sacking by the Bavarians.
After guiding them convincingly back into the top flight during his first campaign in charge, Rehhagel produced one of the shocks of the century as Kaiserslautern finished above Bayern Munich to win the Bundesliga the following season. His hard-working team refused to give up, even in games that looked lost, and won six of their 19 league victories in stoppage time.
Bayern Munich spent big during the transfer window, signing Stuttgart’s top scorer Giovane Elber, as well as French left-back Bixente Lizarazu. Karlsruher duo Thorsten Fink and Michael Tarnat also moved to Munich, leaving a void in their defence. Elber was brought in to replace Sampdoria-bound Jurgen Klinsmann in attack, while Christian Ziege headed for AC Milan.
Kaiserslautern’s title win was greatly helped by the signing of Switzerland international Ciriaco Sforza, who joined from Inter Milan. The midfielder had been nominated for the Ballon d’Or during his previous spell at the club, and rebooted his career after a period of inconsistency with Bayern Munich and Inter.
Borussia Dortmund had two big name exits during the off-season with Paulo Sousa leaving for Inter and Paul Lambert joining Celtic. Neither player was suitably replaced during the transfer window, leading to a poor season in the Bundesliga. Forward Karl-Heinz Riedle also joined Liverpool, but failed to impress as Michael Owen came to prominence at Anfield.
Leeds United striker Tony Yeboah returned to Germany after two seasons in the Premier League. George Graham had taken over at Leeds and had no place for the 31-year-old in his side, shipping him off to Hamburg, who ended up finishing in midtable.
Fresh off their promotion to the top tier, Kaiserslautern started the season with a huge test: a trip to the Olympiastadion to face holders Bayern Munich. Rehhagel’s men produced a shock 1-0 win, but the veteran manager was keen to play down the significance of the victory.
Bayern could only draw their following game, away at Borussia Monchengladbach, but then recorded five wins in a row to put themselves in title contention. They had lost just twice by the time they travelled to the Fritz-Walter Stadion in Kaiserslautern in December, but an own goal from Dietmar Hamann set the hosts on their way to a second victory over the Bundesliga’s most successful side.
Three defeats in February and March put Giovanni Trapattoni’s job in jeopardy, and also handed the advantage to Kaiserslautern, who were quietly picking up points. Borussia Dortmund were nowhere in contention thanks to inconsistent domestic form, which eventually would see them finish 10th despite an excellent European campaign where they went all the way to the Champions League semi-finals before losing out to Real Madrid.
Miroslav Kadlec’s performances at sweeper were crucial to Kaiserslautern’s success, with Rehhagel building from the back. Only Schalke and Bayern conceded less goals than the eventual winners, with S04 qualifying for the UEFA Cup in fifth behind Bayer Leverkusen and VfB Stuttgart.
The other two promoted teams, Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg both avoided relegation, although the latter escaped by just one point, with Monchengladbach even more fortunate to stay up. Goal difference separated them and Karlsruher, who joined Koln and Arminia Bielefeld in the relegation zone on the last day of the season.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
A summer addition from Inter Milan, Sforza returned to his former club and proved to be the missing link in Kaiserslautern’s attack in support of 21-goal striker Olaf Marschall.
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
ULF KIRSTEN - 22 GOALS
Bayer Leverkusen finished in third place and qualified for the UEFA Cup as Kirsten scored one-third of their 66 goals, finishing one ahead of Kaiserslautern’s Olaf Marschall in the race for the Torjagerkanone.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
KAHN; REHMER, VERLAAT, KADLEC, SCHJONBERG, DOWE; BUCH, SCHOLL, SFORZA; MARSCHALL, KIRSTEN
MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER
Stuttgart to Bayern
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
Bayern Munich’s streak of three losses from February 14 to March 8 effectively cost them the title. They only won five times after this, meaning Kaiserslautern were crowned champions even before the last game of the season.