When a club finishes third from the bottom in the table, and only survives being relegated by winning its promotion/relegation playoff series by a goal over the third place finisher in Bundesliga 2, change is inevitable. Needed. Welcome.
The 2015/2016 Bundesliga season for fans of Eintracht Frankfurt wasn’t in any way memorable, except in the case that the team did survive relegation, if by the barest of margins. The club from Germany’s fifth biggest city (and second largest metropolitan area) finished 16th in the table on 36 points, their worst finish of the last four seasons following their bounceback promotion from Bundesliga 2 following the 2011/2012 campaign.
To avoid being relegated, the club won three of its last four matches of the season under new-hire Niko Kovač to finish three points ahead of Stuttgart, who were automatically relegated. Like another traditional club, Hamburger SV, did in the previous two seasons, Die Adler narrowly won their promotion/relegation playoff, beating 1.FC Nurnberg by a single goal
Change at Frankfurt actually began in early March, when Kovač was hired to replace Armin Veh as head coach. Kovač, 44, spent more than a dozen seasons playing in Germany for five different clubs, and had been an assistant at Red Bull Salzburg before taking over the national team coaching position of his native Croatia in 2013. Thus he had never before been a head coach at a club, but fashioned a 5-1-5 record over the last three months of the 2015/2016 season, enough to save Die Adler. Considering that Frankfurt were 4-8-11 under Veh, the record under Kovač was quite an improvement. And more change was inevitable.
An Offseason of Change
Early on in the summer transfer window, Eintracht Frankfurt have been relatively busy, if unable to conduct much attention-getting signings. After acquiring forward Branimir Hrgota from Borussia Mönchengladbach and attacking midfielder Danny Blum from Nurnberg, have announced two new signings and a loan deal with an option to buy over the last days — bringing in defensive midfielder Omar Mascarell from Real Madrid, left back Taleb Tawatha from Maccabi Haifa and swinging a loan deal for Fiorentina striker Ante Rebić.
Mascarell, 23, has been with Real Madrid since 2010, but has only appeared once for the senior squad of Los Blancos. During the last two seasons, he has been on loan, in England with Derby County and back in Spain with Sporting Gijon. The 5’11” Spaniard has only one season of first-division football, but with his Real Madrid pedigree of over 75 games with Real’s reserve team and what Sporting Director Bruno Hubner described as his “great vision” Eintracht may have gotten a bargain. Mascarell inked a three-year deal.
The 24 year-old Tawatha is an Israeli-Bedouin who also holds a Sudanese passport. He signed for three years with Die Adler after appearing in over 150 matches for Haifa since 2009, scoring ten goals. The Israeli international has five senior caps under his belt after working his way up the nation’s youth system. The 5’9″ back is a ball-winner and able to help in attack while also having the experience of competing in both Champions League and Europa League contests with Haifa.
Rebić is a native of Split who has ten caps for Croatia. His career began with hometown side RNK, where he scored 17 times in 54 matches. The 6’1″ striker signed wa five-year deal with Fiorentina in August, 2013, but has only played in a total of 27 matches since then with Fiorentina and while on loan to RB Leipzig and Hellas Verona. The 22 year-old does have the backing of Kovač, who named him to the Croatian 2014 World Cup squad.
Of course there have been players moving out from last season’s squad, including the popular Sonny Kittel, gone to FC Ingolstadt and rough-and-tumble defender Carlos Zambrano, who was signed by Rubin Kazan. Stefan Reinartz, who came over after a long career at Bayer Leverkusen, retired after being limited to 15 matches by injury last season. Injuries were a huge problem for Frankfurt again last season, as they suffered the 3rd most injury days lost per player in the league, averaging almost two months absence per player. Veteran defender Bamba Anderson, with Die Adler since 2011, missed the entire season.
Frankfurt is also undergoing summer change off the pitch, too. The club has a new shirt sponsor, Krombacher, and will for the first time in the Bundesliga era abandon their red and black home kit for a white and black style, with Nike as the manufacturer. The new jersey “combines cutting edge technology in sports equipment with a sustainable production process. The entire jersey is produced from recycled polyester. Using recycled polyester also increases the energy efficiency of the production by 30 percent.”
Back on the pitch, Kovač will be hoping that several of his new, unsung signees will provide energy and efficiency to Die Adler’s performance. The club has gotten younger, and hopefully a healthier season will keep Eintracht Frankfurt fans from another season of frustration.