BERLIN (AP) — Hertha Berlin’s long link with Pal Dardai will end on Saturday when he leads the team from the sidelines for the last time.
Hertha will also bid adieu to three players and two assistant coaches against Bayer Leverkusen, but Dardai - who is making way for under-23 coach Ante Covic - will receive the biggest send-off after 4½ years as coach and an association going back to 1996.
Dardai, who made a club-record 286 Bundesliga appearances for Hertha over 14 years, saved the club from relegation as coach and established a tough but unspectacular team capable of upsetting any of the rest.
Dardai has been enjoying the relative calm around the club since it was announced on April 16 that he would not continue. Hertha had lost its previous five Bundesliga matches.
“These four weeks were a dream. Even my wife said, ‘You don’t need a break. You look good again.’ That’s how it is without the media,” said Dardai, whose bid to qualify for European qualification was disrupted by a host of injuries.
Hertha is 10th with nothing but pride at stake on the final day of the season, in contrast to Leverkusen, which is fifth and fighting for Champions League qualification.
Dardai, who had complained that expectations had grown too high at the club, expressed his gratitude to Hertha for the chance to coach in the Bundesliga.
“I’m grateful for these experiences. I even got money for it,” Dardai said. “It’s a gift from life and I’ve shown that I can do the Bundesliga. Pal Dardai is now a whole other type of coach than four years ago.”
A defensive midfielder in his playing days, Dardai brought his uncompromising style to management, too, starting in the club’s youth setup. After taking over from Jos Luhukay in February 2015, Dardai saved the team from relegation and was given a permanent contract.
Dardai was also coaching the Hungarian national team, but he gave up that position to focus on the club. He brought tactical discipline to the side and convinced the underperforming players to up their game. Dardai led Hertha to a seventh-place finish in 2016, sixth in 2017 and a spot in the Europa League, and 10th last year.
A win over Leverkusen on Saturday would ensure Hertha’s best second half to the season since 2008-09.
“Then you couldn’t write anymore that Hertha played a bad second half to the season. Then you have something less to write about,” Dardai told journalists, a frequent target.
Instead of the usual 10 tickets for a game, Dardai ordered 30 for Leverkusen’s visit.
“This time I was cheeky,” Dardai joked. “The manager (Michael Preetz) was nice. I got everything I asked for and I didn’t have to pay for them this time.”
Hertha will also bid farewell to players Fabian Lustenberger, who is leaving after 12 years, Julius Kade, who is joining city rival Union Berlin on a free transfer, and American goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann, who did not have his contract extended.
Klinsmann, the son of former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann, will not be in the stadium on Saturday because of “personal reasons,” Preetz said.
Assistant coaches Rainer Widmayer and Admir Hamzagic are also leaving.
Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP