The man behind the Bayern Munich blog, RedRobbery, makes his debut on the Bundesliga Fanatic with our latest installment of the 2010/11 Season in Review. This time, we feature Gladbach’s incredible roller coaster season.
This Bundesliga season featured many remarkable stories: a young Dortmund team won the title in a dominating fashion, a seemingly ordinary Mainz shocked the league by winning the first seven matches, highly praised teams such as Schalke, Bremen and Wolfsburg struggled terribly – all those stories are now somewhat overshadowed by one of the most unexpected comebacks in BL history. Here is Borussia Mönchengladbach, or: The condemned live longer, 2011 edition.
Before the season started, the vast majority expected Gladbach to have nothing to do with relegation battles. Under new coach Michael Frontzeck, they had played a solid 2009/10 campaign. During the offseason, they got rid of mostly unimportant players. The biggest names that left the club were a decrepit Oliver Neuville, a disappointing Roberto Colautti and Rob Friend whose outstanding first year in Germany (18 goals in 33 BL matches) turned out to be a fluke. Borussia’s signings on the other hand looked promising: Mo Idrissou, regularly one of Freiburg’s best players over the last years, Anderson, arguably the best defender of the 2. BL season, and Igor de Camargo. Everything was set for a good season, admittedly not as great as Idrissou hoped (he dreamt of Champions League football at the time) but a single-digit position in the league wasn’t an unrealistic goal to aim for.
And it started well: the first match of the season against Nuremberg only ended in a tie but that was mainly because Raphael Schäfer, the opponent’s keeper, had a great performance. It was the second match that caught the attention of football fans, that brought Gladbach the deserved first win, that surely was the most entertaining game of the season: a 6-3 win in Leverkusen.
The enthusiasm did not last very long. After a week of regeneration thanks to international fixtures, the following month turned out to be a disaster: 13 goals conceded in 3 consecutive losses against Frankfurt, Stuttgart and St. Pauli. Since Frontzeck hardly changed the lineup (only Marx and Neustädter rotated in central midfield), it can only be guessed what the reason for that sudden collapse was. Dropping new signing Mo Idrissou for Raul Bobadilla first seemed to help a bit as Gladbach got a point each against Schalke and Wolfsburg. However, another three losses in a row showed that the problem was more than just a striker.
A wild 3-3 tie at home against Bayern and a new starting keeper (Christofer Heimeroth replaced Logan Bailly who never managed to live up to the expectations he raised with a great first season in Germany) were enough to boost the morale of the team for the upcoming derby in Cologne. The convincing 4-0 victory was a reason to celebrate as they handed the last place over to the local rival. The turning point of the season? Not at all. You might argue that they were unlucky having to play against Mainz and Dortmund right after that joyous win, you probably wouldn’t be that wrong. Unlucky or not, Gladbach ended the first half of the 2010/11 Bundesliga season with 5 consecutive losses.
This would have been the perfect moment to make some changes. Sack Michael Frontzeck and give the new coach a couple of weeks to get to know the squad and, if needed, sign one or two new players. For some strange and unknown reason they did not sack the coach but at least managed to add some new players to the team who proved to be valuable pieces in their miraculous escape at the end of the season. Regulars Raul Bobadilla and Michael Bradley left Gladbach along with Marcel Meeuwis and Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker while Havard Nordtveit and the experienced Mike Hanke, Martin Stranzl and Michael Fink joined the club.
Now you’re waiting for the fairytale-like Hollywood story of the coach nobody believed in anymore yet he managed to realize a comeback of epic proportions, aren’t you? Unfortunately, I have to disappoint you. While they indeed won two of the first three matches after the winter break, those were followed by a half-time collapse against Stuttgart (2-3 loss after leading 2-0 at half time) and a 3-1 defeat at legendary Millerntor.
Sporting director Max Eberl thought that enough is enough and finally did what everybody expected him to do two months ago: he sacked Michael Frontzeck. At that point, Gladbach was seven points behind Wolfsburg and Lautern, 15th and 16th. Their goal difference was by far the worst of the entire league mainly due to the 56 conceded goals.
So who would be willed to take over in this situation? As you can guess there were tons rumors, some realistic, some absolutely ridiculous. At first it seemed like the retired Hans Meyer was about to try saving one more club but, since he wasn’t really keen on returning, the club wasn’t willed to pay the high salary Meyer was asking for. In the end, the solution was quite a surprise: Lucien Favre, the man who closely missed Champions League qualification with Hertha Berlin after a long fight for the Bundesliga title just two years ago. Nobody expected him to perform miracles in Gladbach, he was supposed to put together a strong team that can achieve immediate promotion from 2. Bundesliga.
Favre switched keepers again, giving Bailly another chance as #1 keeper. Results were positive immediately as Gladbach beat Schalke and Hoffenheim, got a point in Bremen and closely lost a match in Wolfsburg, however that wasn’t because of Bailly but because of the much improved defensive work (they only conceded 9 goals in the 11 matches under Favre, just as much as in the two matches against Stuttgart alone). The Belgian keeper turned out to be prone to errors, he cost the team valuable points with an avoidable, embarrassing own goal at home against Lautern. After a loss in Munich, Favre remembered that he still had an ace up his sleeve: Marc-Andre ter-Stegen, an 18-year-old talented keeper.
What’s a better opportunity to test your young, unproven keeper than an important match against the rival? Gladbach beat Cologne 5-1 and ter-Stegen impressed. The miracle was within reach when a late Andre Schürrle goal led to an almost cruel loss in Mainz. With matches against Dortmund, fighting for the title, and Hannover, fighting for Champions League qualification, coming up, most apparently rightfully stopped believing in the team.
But they did the impossible: Two goals, one scored by Mo Idrissou, the other scored by Marco Reus, were enough to secure two surprising 1-0 wins and incredibly valuable six points. After 17 weeks, Gladbach suddenly wasn’t last anymore. The last opponents were Freiburg and Hamburg, teams that played for nothing at that point of the season. The miracle was not within reach now, it was almost a compulsory task. Of course (you might have realized it by now, the aforementioned Hollywood story is about the new coach) they beat Freiburg and while Hamburg could not be beaten, the tie was enough to avoid direct relegation thanks to the other Borussia: Dortmund precipitated Frankfurt into ruin with a 3-1 win.
All or nothing, two matches for survival – what sounds like a terrible fate for Bundesliga clubs was more than Mönchengladbach could hope for just weeks ago. VfL Bochum and promotion-trained coach Friedhelm Funkel (Lucien Favre’s unsuccessful successor in Berlin, by the way) were waiting. To fit into this story, those matches had to be dramatic. Let me tell you: they were.
The first leg was played in Gladbach and while the hosts were the better team in this match, they didn’t manage to beat Bochum’s keeper Andreas Lüthe who showed some world-class saves. Until added time or, to be more accurate, added time of added time. Igor de Camargo scored a beautiful goal after 92 minutes and 14 seconds. Since referee Günter Perl only announced 2 minutes of added time, Bochum coach Funkel was furious, obviously forgetting that Perl wasn’t obligated to end the match exactly after those 2 minutes.
While the second leg was not a thriller like the first, it was still an exciting match. Havard Nordtveit’s terrible own goal made Gladbach fear that there won’t be a happy ending in this story but Marco Reus who played through an injury scored the valuable away goal and secured his club a spot in the 2011/12 Bundesliga season.
The two faces of this great comeback surely are the young and talented Germans Marco Reus and Marc-Andre ter-Stegen. If you still have not heard of those names, you will hear them very regularly from now on. As for Lucien Favre, the man who brought back success and confidence, one can only imagine what he’ll be able to accomplish with this team in the near future. Who knows, maybe he can make Mohamadou Idrissou’s dream of Champions League football come true.
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