No one doubts the start to the season has gone badly for Borussia Monchengladbach. Just rotten, in fact. At this point, the side that finished third in the Bundesliga last term lie bottom, dumped there following Saturday’s 1-0 Rhine derby defeat to FC Koln. And if there were any pockets who still wondered whether things could get any worse, they did when long-time coach Lucien Favre, revered for his role in die Fohlen's revival, resigned from his post on Sunday evening.
The man who entered the club and rescued it from relegation in 2011, from there taking them to Europe and comparing Champions League qualification to winning silverware, has now come full circle it seems. There was something painfully unfortunate about the Swiss’s choice to walk, his announcement arriving as abruptly and stunningly as Gladbach’s collapse this season. There was literally no time to digest his decision; there had been no reason to anticipate it at all. “Going into my sixth season, I'm in no way tired of this job,” Favre said at the end of July.
B Dortmund 4-0 B M'gladbach (BL)
M'gladbach 1-2 Mainz (BL)
W Bremen 2-1 M'gladbach (BL)
M'gladbach 0-3 Hamburg (BL)
Sevilla 3-0 M'gladbach (CL)
Koln 1-0 M'gladbach (BL)
But five games and five losses had triggered the thought in Favre’s mind that he had taken them as far as they could in five seasons at the helm. Some scoffed at his suggestion a minimum 10th-placed finish would be “realistic” and “logical” following a campaign in which his side were believed to have re-entered Germany’s big league. Instead, a 4-0 opening-day defeat at Dortmund, whose situation last season is oddly reminiscent of their counterparts' now, showed where Gladbach’s league truly lies. Only after Favre’s announcement at the weekend that he would be stepping down did it emerge the boss had contemplated the idea of leaving with the board in 2014, and a resignation request is never a good sign. “The time has come to make a change,” Favre stated after getting his way this time, though few at the club share his decision. “That's the best decision for both the club and the team. I no longer feel that I'm the perfect coach for Monchengladbach.”
Still perfectly imperfect
“We had some great years together,” club director Max Eberl said in tribute on Monday, begging to differ. “He was the perfect coach for us and we were the perfect club for him.” At an outfit delivering success greater than and disproportionate to the small financial margins it operates on, Favre was a man who understood and knew how to work around the side’s limitations.
“We all know what happens every summer at Gladbach,” Favre had said – “what” being the need to sell before they bought, or promote from within. Over the years he has worked with Marco Reus, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Dante and Roman Neustadter, who each departed a better player from their time together. Yet that has never unduly bothered him. What enriched him was the chase, the identity they were shaping with the squad he had on hand rather than the catch at the end.
Things get a little different, however, when you oversee the worst start in the club’s history. And the foundations of the deepest faith, even that of one as formerly dedicated as Favre, can be shaken. “Having those doubts is normal,” Eberl defended. “It's very, very sad that a great time has come to an end this way.”
In truth, their false start at Signal Iduna Park might have been attributed as much to fixtures as to football, what with Thomas Tuchel’s troops having regained their fear factor.
Except defeat had not just been to Dortmund. It has been to Mainz and Werder Bremen, Hamburg and now Koln too; sides that finished 11th, 10th, 16th and 12th last term. Meanwhile, their maiden outing in the Champions League saw them slaughtered 3-0 by Sevilla. A dip in form was perhaps to be expected following a summer in which the team lost Christian Kramer and Max Kruse – both key ingredients in the climb up to the Champions League – to fellow domestic contenders for Europe.
The former provided balance and bite in midfield while the latter achieved double figures in front of goal three seasons running, though his other major contribution lay in making those around him play better. Their replacements have proven decent if not encouraging, leaving them exposed going forwards. But the ease with which they have been exposed pretty much everywhere else has been ridiculous. Germany’s second-best defence last term has been shipping goals; soft ones, inexplicable ones.
“One of the best trainers I've ever met”
2010/11 16th (won relegation play-off)
Blame this campaign would have been much easier to come about than points in the table. Some of it directed at the dugout will certainly be fair. Gladbach have played six games this season, and fielded a different starting XI every time. Shoehorning various players, like midfield signing Lars Stindl, into roles they had little experience of playing in previously did little to add continuity. But while several of Favre’s decisions were of a man who was banking on hope, there was still something rather phoney about the debate surrounding the coach's tactical acumen. The club’s board trusted him unreservedly. And if there was a solution to be found this season, you'd have still bet on Favre to find it. From championing a side that had been lauded in the past for being as effervescent as they have been efficient, to coaching them to a 2-0 win over Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in an impressive Ruckrunde that saw them qualify to Europe’s premier club competition last time out, his imprint is all over his old club’s best period in the last two decades. “He is one of the best trainers I've ever met,” Guardiola said, a sentiment repeated far too often and by too many to be just another platitude. Without his rival, chances of the Bundesliga witnessing another monochromatic finish – Bayern leading a procession rather than a title race again in a year the league’s strength in depth has been talked up, perhaps prematurely – increase.
Still, nowhere has Favre left a gaping hole in the heart more than at Gladbach. “I'm still thoroughly convinced that we could have had more success with him. We told him we are 100 per cent convinced he was the right coach for us,” Eberl lamented, a case of their man walking away before being pushed.
Life goes on apart, though, with youth coach Andre Schubert promoted to the senior post in the interim, and a permanent appointment expected soon. Just forgive them if they're not looking forward to the long trudge back without their ideal coach.
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Joe was the Deputy Editor at FourFourTwo until 2022, having risen through the FFT academy and been on the brand since 2013 in various capacities.
By weekend and frustrating midweek night he is a Leicester City fan, and in 2020 co-wrote the autobiography of former Foxes winger Matt Piper – subsequently listed for both the Telegraph and William Hill Sports Book of the Year awards.
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