Lucien Favre: From Gladbach Hero to Unemployment

In 2009-10, Hertha Berlin’s head coach was sacked by the club only seven matches into the new campaign, in which each of the last six ended in a defeat for the capital side. A season earlier, against all odds, Hertha were in the hunt for the Bundesliga salad bowl until the penultimate matchday.  Ultimately, Hertha earned a fourth-place finish, enough to see them join the Europa League in the end of a one of the most closely fought title races in recent years, with VfL Wolfsburg crowned the champions. But an awful start to the new campaign pushed Hertha officials to a desperate measure of following the footsteps of fellow slow starters Bochum, namely getting rid of the coach who had worked wonders at the club.

Now that very much resembles the current season’s Borussia Mönchengladbach start, with the obvious difference being the manner of the coach’s departure, as the person in question on both occasions was a certain Lucien Favre. The Swiss tactician followed the recent trend of Bundesliga coaches leaving themselves out from debacles, seemingly taking a lesson or two from Armin Veh (Stuttgart) and Jürgen Klopp’s (Borussia Dortmund) decisions to depart last season, by saying he was not the right man to change the fortunes at Borussia-Park. Entering the German football circle in the wake of back-to-back Swiss Super League titles with FC Zürich, Favre’s tenure at Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach followed a similar pattern of a rather sad end to remarkable journeys of accomplishment

Although it’s difficult to compare last summer’s transfers at Gladbach with Favre’s last summer transfer market experience at Hertha, where the financially troubled club had to come to terms with star players’ departure, Favre lost key players from last season’s success story in the off-season in form of box-to-box midfielder Christoph Kramer and Max Kruse, whose movement never failed to be defenders’ nightmare even when he was on a scoring drought. For a moment (or pretty much the whole pre-season), their replacements, Lars Stindl and Josip Drmić seemed more than capable of filling the voids, but before they know the surroundings well, the club was in dire state after losing each of the first five league matches.

All signs were leading to more of the same when Lucien Favre’s side turned a feisty Pokal tie around in Millerntor-Stadion courtesy of four second-half goals, but it was rather the first half’s inept performance against St. Pauli that persisted in league play. Stindl was instrumental in the Cup opener, but less than a week after his heroics, he was nowhere to be found when ‘Gladbach were broke to pieces by a resurgent Borussia Dortmund. But it was the fiery baptism for the youthful pair of Andreas Christensen and Marvin Schulz at the heart of the defense that stole the headlines, of course next to Thomas Tuchel’s scintillating start to life in Dortmund, in the season’s first Topspiel.

Despite all his attempts to fill the side with a new blood, for years the backbone in Favre’s ‘Gladbach lineups has been his veterans. Starting with the one-time Brazilian defensive rock Dante, the services of Martin Stranzl and Roel Brouwers have been invaluable in the club’s rise from relegation favorites to Champions League participants. But with the experienced guys struggling with injuries and retirement plans, Favre believed his instincts (and the early prospect following the Pokal win) to go with his untested defenders against one of the speediest attacking opponent they will ever going to face in the season. A home win against Mainz, who lost to newly-promoted Ingolstadt in the opening day, was taken for granted, but the carnival side deservedly took all the points before another narrow defeat at Werder Bremen left last season’s sensations as the Bundesliga’s cellar-dweller going into the first international break of the season.

With the Bundesliga’s return to action, a Friday night home fixture against Hamburg, the Bundesliga’s laughing stock for the past two seasons,  sounded like a perfect chance for Favre and company to get their act together, but a heavy defeat suggested they instead were in for a season of the sort that Dortmund endured last term. Gladbach’s first Rhein derby defeat in seven years, following a similar start to their Champions League campaign in Sevilla, were the final straws for Favre’s stay at the club. A day after a loss to Köln, the highly regarded coach felt the right thing to do was to leave die Fohlen exactly where he find them four-and-a-half years ago; bottom of the table. It’s became a totally different story once Favre saw the exit door, though, as André Schubert is having a contrasting time in the dugout with five straight wins in the league, along with some solid performances in Europe and a Pokal win over Schalke.

In addition to tightening up the defense, Schubert – still currently serving as an interim coach – is able to get the best out of his attacking options, which is reminiscent of ‘Gladbach’s rise under Lucien Favre. Nothing to take away from Schubert, but one could argue that much of the foundation to the team’s recent form has been laid by the Swiss gaffer, who brought a new lease of life at ‘Gladbach, a yo-yo club living in the shadow of the 70s’ success stories. No one predicted Favre will not be on the touchline for Mönchengladbach’s first home fixture in the group stage of Europe’s elite tournament for nearly four decades – and the first of its sort in Borussia-Park – a scene which stole the limelight from what could have been a special occasion for everyone involved with the club.

Mahmoud Dahoud is certainly one of the emerging stars in the league right now, while Raffael is seemingly behind every Gladbach’s attacking moves after a rather awful start to the season, but they are perfect examples for Favre’s team building over the years. Favre certainly had high hopes for the 19-year-old Dahoud this season, whereas it is impossible to find a better Favre-type player than Raffael, having worked with the Brazilian wizard at three clubs. He was one of the two players Favre signed from his old club FC Zürich when he took the reigns at Hertha Berlin (the other is Swiss defender Steve von Bergen) before joining ‘Gladbach’s long-list of shrewd pieces of business in combination with Max Eberl.

Perhaps a solace for fans following Favre’s departure was Eberl extending his contract at the club, despite Schalke lurking for a while to pursue the sought-after sporting director. Hertha finished rock bottom after Favre left them in 2009-10, apparently joined by Bochum – another club to sack their coach early in the campaign – in the second-tier, but Schubert’s flawless start immediately shrugs off the talks of relegation at Borussia-Park. It was not the first time Favre struggled to chalk up the results, though it was a minor blip considering this season’s five match losing streak right off the bat.

Birthday Boy

The past two years have seen Gladbach grind out landmark victories on Favre’s November 2nd birthday – a comfortable win against Hoffenheim to extend their unbeaten league start to ten matches last term, exactly one year after Max Kruse’s brace at Hamburg sealed a first back-to-back league wins (an impressive run extended to six matches winning streak incidentally) for over a year and a half in this same season – the year the Swiss coach will celebrate his 58th birthday without a club.

There is not much to speculate on as far as to where Favre could head next on his managerial career, which leaves plenty of room for throwing some wild guesses.  With Michael Frontzeck at Hannover under immense pressure from every front – even with the 96ers showing improvement of late – it would be interesting to see if Favre gains a place on Hannover’s wish list, a move which could recall memories of his Borussia Mönchengladbach arrival.

Favre’s stock is certainly damaged by Gladbach’s ugly start to the 2015/2016 season, but a club even of Bayern Munchen’s stature, with Pep Guardiola’s future remaining vague, could still line up for his services, despite Favre’s lack of European football experience that may put a real dent on his appeal to the Bavarians. In the mean time, though, Favre could use the hiatus to analyse what eventually went so wrong after exceeding expectations in his previous posts at Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

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Eskender born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite the geographical differences, he's interested in every detail of German football, if not any kind of football. Wolfsburg's industrious away win at Hamburg started his Bundesliga obsession back in 2005. You can also follow him on Twitter @eskeBMG