It took just a few minutes before social media began talking about it, before media outlets began writing their stories, leading off with Germany’s former “it” coach, Jürgen Klopp, rather than focusing last year’s next big thing, a man who was now was trying to give back his job.
On Sunday night, Lucien Favre handed in his resignation. The Swiss was the Bundesliga’s longest-serving coach, having been at Borussia Mönchengladbach for the past four and a half years. Last season, Favre led his side to the Champions League group stage for this first time since the competition’s founding, but on Tuesday, Gladbach opened that tournament with a 3-0 loss to Sevilla. The Foals followed that up with a 1-0 loss at local rivals Köln, completing an unseemly run of five straight losses to open the season, a team’s worst Bundesliga start in 34 years.
Yes, not just the worst start for Gladbach, but the worst start since Nürnberg’s 1981-82 season. Nürnberg ultimately survived, but it sure wasn’t comfortable for Der Club, who finished just three points out of the relegation playoff spot. The comparisons likely reminded Favre that when he came on board in February 2011, Gladbach were rock bottom, and only a playoff victory kept them in the top division.
Despite the horrific start, Favre’s resignation was a surprise; such a surprise, in fact, that Gladbach refused to accept it, with sporting director Max Eberl quoted as saying, “Just as we were before, we’re convinced that Lucien is the ideal coach for Borussia and together with him we would have got through what’s currently a very difficult period.”
Favre stood firm, however: “I no longer feel that I’m the right coach for the club. The time has come and it’s the best decision for the club and the team to make a change.”
Cynics might argue that Gladbach were ready to let Favre go, but his timing could’ve been better. While the Foals form might only loosely be described as “football,” they still need to play four games in 11 days. With Augsburg up on Wednesday and Manchester City coming to town the next week, there’s little time to think about a replacement, much less bring one in and give him time to get the team playing well. Might as well stick with the devil you know.
Crowded schedule aside, there’s reason to believe Gladbach were set to wait out what they might view as a mere blip in Favre’s otherwise outstanding record. Sure, six straight losses, 15 goals conceded, a measly two goals scored … none of that sounds like a blip, but there’s the wider view. Favre saved the club from relegation and took them up to fourth the very next season. He weathered a few setbacks to have them playing in the Europa League last season and then secured that elusive third place finish. He did it all in style, too, gathering up Eberl’s bargain-buys and getting them to play attractive soccer, hitting their opponents hard with swift counter attacks.
That Gladbach had people falling under their spell, particularly last season, when Klopp’s Dortmund fell to pieces, leaving an opening for lovers of hipster coaches and fun soccer. But while Gladbach’s rise may have coincided with Dortmund’s collapse and Schalke’s continued slide into obscurity, the squad’s talents were real. They swept aside Bayern in Munich, rattled an upstart Wolfsburg and ensured Bayer Leverkusen wouldn’t take third with a dominant win. Three wins over Germany’s other top sides, and not a goal conceded.
No wonder, then, that the club’s board didn’t want to accept Favre’s resignation. That dominance must’ve looked like the true Gladbach, whereas the current side seems like an imposter.
Reality, though, suggests Gladbach’s true level lies somewhere in between. It was always going to be difficult (although few thought it would be quite this tough) to recover from the double loss of Max Kruse and Christoph Kramer. While injuries to defenders Martin Stranzl and Álvaro Domínguez haven’t helped, it was Kramer, now back at parent club Bayer Leverkusen, who was the screen shielding a defense that’s looking more fragile by the minute. The loss of Kruse to Wolfsburg, meanwhile, left a hole in the attack that’s yet to be patched up. Again an the injury, this one to Patrick Herrmann, has done Gladbach no favors, but neither has the addition of Josip Drmić’s yet-to-be-realized potential, nor the shifting of Thorgan Hazard around the pitch. The loss of these two key players managed to destabilize a squad that last season managed to disrupt other sides with their cohesion.
Gladbach’s desire for sustained success is also being thwarted by the all-around improvement seen in the league this season. Dortmund, of course, have come back with a vengeance, swatting aside Gladbach 4-0 in their first game and now topping the table with five wins in five. Wolfsburg haven’t lost, despite letting Kevin De Bruyne go, and Schalke has somehow remembered how to win. New additions Ingolstadt and Darmstadt are managing to get points, while even the likes of Köln and Mainz look solid.
When a side that’s meant to be aiming for the top four starts off the season with five straight losses, most wouldn’t be surprised if the team and the coach part ways. But given the factors at play here — key players leaving, injuries, other sides strengthening — it’s also fair for Gladbach feel a little bit betrayed at Favre walking away. Herrmann and Domínguez are due back shortly, Drmić needs patience, the likes of Lars Stindl and Nico Schulz should be given time to settle in. Given Favre’s reputation as an intelligent tactician, he should’ve been able to find a way to put these pieces together and create a winning side, even if it took a few more matches.
Instead, he’s walking away, a move that recalls his departure from Hertha BSC after six straight defeats at the start of the 2009-10 season. Hertha may have been the ones to pull the plug, but they were caught without a replacement, and the side were ultimately relegated after finishing fourth the year before.
Could the same fate be in store for Gladbach? Despite the excited rumors, Klopp will not swoop in to rescue the club. For now, it’s Gladbach’s U-23 coach, André Schubert, who’ll lead the senior side through their midweek match against Augsburg, and possibly through their date with Manchester City at the end of September. With no compelling candidates thought to be in the mix, it’s hard to see Gladbach doing more than struggling toward mid-table safety.
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