The 2012 calendar year was one for the record books in German football. In May, Dortmund won the Bundesliga with a record-setting 81 points. More recently, three German teams—Dortmund, Bayern and Schalke—qualified for the Champions League knockout rounds, a first in the history of the tournament's modern form.
Indeed, German football has been on the rise for several years, and it made great strides in 2012. Today we look back on the calendar year and honor the superlatives in the Bundesliga—the best coach, the best player, the best goal—and give recognition to the runners-up.
Note that all awards are given based on performance in the Bundesliga, not the Champions League, DFB-Pokal or international competition, and that honorable mentions will be made in alphabetical order by surname, not in order of merit.
Without further ado, click "next slide" for a rundown of the Bundesliga's best of 2012.
He may be a controversial selection based on both performance and the fact that he spent three seasons in Hamburg earlier in his career, but Rafael van der Vaart was the most important foreign acquisition in Germany in 2012.
Many stars moved to the Bundesliga in the summer, but none have had the impression of the Dutch midfielder. Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Ibrahim Afellay have not yet been able to regularly make an impression in the league.
The decision between Van der Vaart and Szabolcs Huszti was a very difficult one, with each bringing his own unique assets to the fore. And while the Hungarian has been more effective, if inconsistent, on the pitch, the Dutchman has a trump card: his ability to change everything for HSV.
With or without Huszti, Hannover were going to be a modest success in the Bundesliga and Europa League; they have a brilliant trainer in Mirko Slomka and a dedicated staff. Hamburg, on the other hand, have been in a downward spiral since early 2010, and were nearly relegated last season. The club failed to build on success in the Europa League, sold some key players and created a toxic culture of being a stepping stone for talents on their way to stardom.
The merit of Van der Vaart being a 103-times capped Netherlands international and making the move back to his struggling former club cannot be overlooked. Even if money was a factor in coercing him, the ex-Real Madrid man has given reason for others to be proud to wear the HSV shirt. It's no coincidence that earlier in the season, it was Hamburg who ended Dortmund's 31-game unbeaten streak. Van der Vaart assisted two of his side's goals in that encounter.
Even in his current injured state, the Dutchman is a symbol to HSV that they can be much more. At the half-way mark, they stand just two points behind a return to international competition.
Honorable mentions: Ibrahim Afellay, Daniel Carvajal, Szabolcs Huszti, Xherdan Shaqiri
Five years ago, Toni Kroos was named the world's best footballer in his age group at the U17 World Cup. He's since had his ups and downs, but among the top prospects from that tournament—which include Bojan Krkic and Macauley Chrisantus—Kroos has by far been the most successful.
The 2012 calendar year was microcosmic of Kroos' fledgling career. His Bayern finished runners-up on three fronts in May, and he was relegated to the bench for Germany during the European Championship. On the other hand, he has enjoyed steady development in the Bundesliga, which is the only relevant criterion for this award, and has become one of the brightest stars of the German top flight.
Kroos became Bayern's starting playmaker under Jupp Heynckes in the fall of 2011, and had mixed results. As a central playmaker it was his responsibility to score and assist goals. However, he only found the net once before the winter break—and that was in the final matchday.
In 2012, Kroos turned things around. He scored nine goals in the Bundesliga and assisted 10 more, but his contributions are much greater than just his numbers and figures. The 22-year-old was one of the keys to Bayern's relentless monopolization of the ball, and his play brought the best out of Franck Ribery.
Kroos is still not yet the complete article and still has a lot of room for improvement, with his physique, attitude and defending still leaving much to be desired. He has exceptional skill on the ball, however, and time is on his side. Kroos is well on his way to his best season yet in 2012-13, though, he's still nowhere near his peak.
Honorable Mentions: Julian Draxler, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernd Leno, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen
Juan Arango does not always score, but when he does, it almost invariably is a candidate for goal of the week. In fact, the Venezuelan produced so many miracle finishes in 2012 that he easily could have won the award for best goal and cleaned up the honorable mentions as well.
It's hard enough to control a 40-yard pass, but to take down a ball from that distance and turn it into a bullet of a volley is out of this world. To not only keep it low, but to fire across your body and past a goalkeeper from the corner of the box is even more difficult, especially while on the run.
Yet, Arango did the unbelievable as he has so many times. It's these kinds of things that make defenders want to retire. For viewers, it's one of the greatest delights in football: You never know what will happen.
Honorable mentions: Szabolcs Huszti (vs Bremen), Pavel Krmas (vs Mainz), Andre Schuerrle (vs Hoffenheim), Rafael van der Vaart (vs Gladbach)
Jupp Heynckes may have led Bayern to one of the best half-seasons in Bundesliga history, but over the whole of 2012, Juergen Klopp was the better trainer.
When the calendar year began, Klopp's Dortmund were three points behind Bayern in the Bundesliga table. In the second half of the campaign, BVB went undefeated and won an incredible 15 out of 17 matches. Dortmund's tremendous form saw them win the title by a landslide, amassing a record 81 points.
BVB should have collapsed following their demoralizing exit from European competition and an injury that effectively ended Mario Goetze's season at the half-way point. But Klopp steered his team in the right direction with every tough situation he faced. He converted Ilkay Gundogan—who had initially failed as a replacement for Nuri Sahin—into a top class holding midfielder and resurrected Jakub Blaszczykowski's career just weeks after the Polish winger had doubts cast over his future.
Dortmund have had trouble replicating their domestic form in 2012-13, but with all things considered, Klopp has still done very well. With his guidance, BVB adapted to the loss of Shinji Kagawa and seamlessly integrated Marco Reus into the first XI.
Given all the hurdles Dortmund had to overcome in 2012, the fact that they end the calendar year having taken just one point less than Bayern is a testament to Klopp's brilliance. For as long as he remains at BVB, the title holders will be in very capable hands.
Honorable Mentions: Lucien Favre, Jupp Heynckes, Sascha Lewandowski/Sami Hyypia, Christian Streich,
The award for best player was neck and neck between Franck Ribery and Marco Reus until the very end, but the ex-Gladbach and current Dortmund attacker wins it by a hair.
Statistically, very little separates Reus and Ribery: the French winger directly contributed to 27 goals in the Bundesliga (8 of his own and 19 assists), while the Germany international played his part in 28 (14 goals and 14 assists). Reus' numbers are slightly better overall, and the fact that he has more balance between scoring and assisting makes him a more versatile and thus more valuable player.
What pushes Reus from having a slight edge to being a deserved winner is the obstacles he's had to overcome this year. Gladbach had no central playmaker and Reus had to rely on Juan Arango and Patrick Herrmann for help in breaking down opposing defenses. Ribery had Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Mueller to help him. And in the few games that Kroos missed, the Frenchman was ineffective.
Reus had a much better supporting cast after his summer move to Dortmund, but it should be noted that adapting to a new team and a new position is never easy and thus he had more inertia to overcome than did Ribery.
It should be underlined, however, that both Reus and Ribery are worthy of best player. But the award can only go to one and, in a photo-finish, it's the Germany international who takes the superlative.
Honorable mentions: Stefan Kiessling, Toni Kroos, Robert Lewandowski, Franck Ribery