Gladbach smiling, Bayern hiring

THE EUROPEAN landscape has barely changed this season: PSG, Juventus, Barcelona, Ajax, Benfica, Liverpool and City all at the top. The once exception among the top leagues is Germany, where Borussia Mönchengladbach lead the Bundesliga and Bayern Munich are struggling to hit their best form. Bayern’s recent 5-1 defeat in Frankfurt proved to be the final straw for the Bayern politburo and just 24 hours after their worst league defeat in a decade, coach Niko Kovač was dismissed. It was no great surprise, for the rumblings have been getting louder that Kovač was just “two games away from the sack”.

Bayern have lost two of their last four league games and also produced two scrappy performances that yielded four points. It was not a major crisis, but for a club like Bayern, where expectation is astronomical and internal politics can determine the shape of a managerial career, there was a sense of inevitability about Kovač’s departure. Asked about his future, he commented: “My feeling is not important. Those who make the decisions are the ones that you should ask.” He knew.

Hard to please

Bayern may be in something of a transition, but Kovač’s approach did not endear him to the grim-faced suits high in the stand. It did seem as though the jury had been out on him since day one. When did Bayern last totally take to a manager? There were stories that Carlo Ancelotti was unpopular with some key players, resulting in the inevitable “he’s lost the dressing room” comments. Bayern’s management were also sceptical about his tactical approach. Pep Guardiola, who left in 2016 after three Bundesliga titles, had a rocky relationship with the club’s medical department and after he left, some players criticised his regime. Guardiola failed to win the Champions League with Bayern despite reaching three consecutive semi-finals. In 2019, Bayern went out of the competition at the last 16 stage, their worst showing since 2011.

The team that lost to Eintracht Frankfurt on November 2 included five players over the age of 30, but defensive mistakes and the loss of Jerome Boateng to a red card didn’t help. Frankfurt’s direct style exposed the Bayern back line but players like Thomas Müller, who supposedly wants to leave the club, and Philipp Coutinho, had poor games. Müller, Joshua Kimmich and Alphonso Davies were all played out of position and the general standard of passing was sub-optimal.

So embarrassed were Bayern they closed the public training session at Säbener Straße the day after that crushing defeat. The session was led by Kovač but later in the day, he was shown the door. Bayern are currently in fourth place, but it is looking like a far more interesting Bundesliga campaign. It’s too early to assume that Bayern are in some sort of decline, but their current placing is the lowest they’ve been after 10 games in 10 years and their 18 points is their least impressive total from a possible 30 since 2010.

It’s difficult to write Bayern off even in their most distressed state, especially as their next coach will undoubtedly inspire a new boss bounce. The club has a winning culture, picking up 14 major trophies in the last 10 years, including the UEFA Champions League. With Kovač gone, they are looking for a new man. There are a number of contenders, with José Mourinho, Massimiliano Allegri, Arséne Wenger and Ralf Rangnick all mentioned as possible successors.

Who is next for Bayern?
Ten possible candidates for the Kovac succession: Top l-r: Erik Ten Hag, Ralf Rangnic, Massimiliano Allegri, Jose Mourinho, Xabi Alonso. Below l-r: Mark van Bommel, Arsene Wenger, Miroslav Klose, Mauricio Pochettino, Jupp Heynckes.


If they are going to make it eight successive titles, Bayern will need to fight hard in 2019-20. At present, Borussia Mönchengladbach are enjoying their time at the top, winning four out of their five away games and seven of their 10 games. Gladbach have adopted a “high press” style that is fast and furious and usually operates in a 4-3-3 formation that exploits the flanks to over-run opponents. It works well against most sides, but they’ve lost to RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund. Gladbach host Bayern on December 6, a game that will provide some indication of where both clubs stand and, most importantly, if Die Fohlen can mount a serious and sustained title challenge. German fans will be only too aware that last season, a lot of people thought Borussia Dortmund were going to end the Bayern reign.

Gladbach have one of Europe’s most talked-about coaches in Marco Rose, a Jürgen Klopp disciple who was successful at monied Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, winning the Austrian Bundesliga in 2018 and 2019. Gladbach also bought well in the summer, using some of the € 25 million received from Borussia Dortmund for Thorgan Hazard. They hired prolific crosser Stefan Lainer from Salzburg (€ 10 million), Breel Embolo from Schalke (€ 10 million) and Guingamp’s Marcus Thuram (€ 9.5 million). Thuram, son of French World Cup winner Lilian Thuram, has scored five goals in the Bundesliga this season and has formed a good on-pitch relationship with Alassane Pléa. Also making a strong impression is Denis Zakaria, who cost the club € 10 million when he joined from Young Boys Bern in 2017. The 22 year-old Swiss international has been compared to Paul Pogba and Toni Kroos, so he could be the next big sale.

Gladbach last won the Bundesliga in 1977 and since their golden era when they went head-to-head with Bayern Munich, they have experienced some tough times. They were relegated from the Bundesliga in 2007 but won promotion back to the top flight in 2008. In the past eight years, they have not finished below halfway in the table. However, Gladbach are not in the same financial league as Bayern Munich so a title win would be comparable to Leicester City’s 2016 Premier League win. The club describes itself as conservative and stable rather than rich.

Although there is a sense of realism about what can be achieved, coach Rose is aware that the German Bundesliga is a different proposition from the Austrian league. “I know what the expectations of me were –  here comes a guy from Austria, who worked at Salzburg, let’s see how he does in the Bundesliga. If results don’t come fast then there’s a lot of pressure. But I believe it is already clear that there is a certain plan behind how we play football. We are being rewarded with results right now and that means we all believe in the plan at this early stage.”

Did Bayern ever truly believe in the Kovač plan? He wasn’t the first choice for the club, but his performance at Eintracht Frankfurt, including a DFB Pokal final win against his future employers, was enough for Bayern to hire him. Who will replace him? Over the next few days and weeks, the Bavarian public will be looking for the footballing equivalent of smoke from the Vatican.



Photos: PA



Great Reputations: Borussia Mönchengladbach 1974-77 – mythical rebels

IT’S part of popular football culture that Bayern Munich have always been the dominant force in German football. Certainly, Bayern is the country’s most high-profile club and undoubtedly the most successful football institution from the Bundesliga. In recent years, only Borussia Dortmund have challenged Bayern on a sustainable basis, but the first club to grapple with the slick Bavarians was a team from North-Rhine Westphalia, a club from a small city of 250,000 people.

Borussia Mönchengladbach were not only a fine football team, they also represented the alternative to the Bayern machine, which was so indelibly aligned to the West German national team. The explanation that has often been used to summarise the creative tension between Bayern and Gladbach has been “radicalism versus rationality” or “establishment versus rebels”. Furthermore, it has been suggested that it was a clash of playing styles – Bayern’s technical professionalism built on possession football against Gladbach’s free-for-all ethos that relied on swift counter-attacks.

Bayern were, apparently, masters of the 1-0 win, while Gladbach would go all-out in search of goals. The statistics do not support this argument. In the period 1968-69 to 1976-77, Bayern scored more goals than Gladbach in six of the nine seasons. Moreover, they conceded more goals than their rivals in six campaigns. Any accusation that Bayern were safety-first seems to hold little water. More likely, Gladbach offered an antidote to Bayern’s insatiable appetite for headlines and drama.

Borussia Mönchengladbach 1975 mit Meisterschale und UEFA-Cup, Trainer Hennes Weisweiler, Henning Jensen, Walter Posner, Lorenz Günther Köstner, Hans Jürgen Wittkamp, Jupp Heynckes, Christian Kulik, Dietmar Danner, Hans Klinkhammer, Frank Schäffer, Horst Köppel, vorn: Ulrich Surau, Allan Simonsen, Calle del Haye, Berti Vogts, Torwart Wolfgan Kleff, Torwart Gregor Quasten, Uli Stielike, Rainer Bonhof, Herbert -Hacki- Wimmer, Roger Roebben – HM Borussia Moenchengladbach 1975 with Bowl champions and UEFA Cup Hi v left team manager Hennes Weisweiler Henning Jensen Walter Posner Lorenz Günther Goswami Hans Jürgen Wittkamp Jupp Heynckes Christian Kulik Dietmar Danner Hans Klinkhammer Frank Schäffer Horst Köppel front Ulrich Surau Allan Simonsen Calle DEL Haye Berti Vogts Goalkeeper Kleff Goalkeeper Gregor Tassels Uli Stielike Rainer Bonhof Herbert Hacki Wimmer Roger Roebben HM.

As a number of chroniclers of German football have said, Bayern were no more “establishment” than the team from the city that gave the world Josef Goebbels. For part of the 1970s, Bayern versus Gladbach included the sideshow Guenther Netzer versus Franz Beckenbauer. Netzer was a long-haired free spirit and a discotheque owner, but he was also a committed businessman, not unlike Beckenbauer.

Bayern’s captain, short-haired, clean-shaven and upright, always appeared very much part of the system, slightly aloof but eminently respectable and always listened to. At the same time, Bayern had a figure every bit as outspoken and noticeable as Netzer in Paul Breitner, described by Brian Glanville as a paradox, “a rich Bavarian Maoist”. Gladbach, conversely, had Berti Vogts in their team, a player who looked more like a buttoned-up bank clerk than 1970s icons Netzer and Breitner. In truth, both clubs had conventional and unorthodox individuals.

Both teams had won promotion to the Bundesliga in 1965, Bayern topping the southern regional league and Gladbach winning in the west. They both had young teams and this, to some extent, was the root of their rivalry. It was also how Gladbach acquired a new nickname – the youthfulness of their squad led them to be tagged, Die Fohlen – the foals.

While Bayern won their first title in 1968-69, Gladbach secured the next two, the first team to retain their crown since the Bundesliga was formed. Netzer was now in prime form and his performances for the national team – notably in the European Championship of 1972 – brought him to the attention of the rest of Europe. Gladbach lost their title in 1972, needless to say to Bayern, but Netzer was named player of the year. In 1973, with Real Madrid already agreeing to sign Gladbach’s star man, he came off the bench in the DFB Pokal final to score a dramatic winner as his team beat 1.FC Köln. Again, he was Germany’s top player as he moved to Madrid.

Gladbach’s coach, Hennes Weisweiler, had guided them from the regional leagues to the top of German football, but with some people expecting the bubble to burst, the 1974-75 season saw them reach a new high before their long-time manager also departed.

Weisweiler adopted a fast and furious adaption of the Dutch Total Football with an exciting front three that included the Danish duo of Allan Simonsen and Henning Jensen, and the prolific Jupp Heynckes. Gladbach soon got over the loss of Netzer as Rainer Bonhof cemented his place in the team and became renowned as a free-kick specialist. Weisweiler’s team won the title by six points, beating off the challenge of Hertha Berlin. Bayern, who had won their first European Cup in 1974, had slumped to 10th. Gladbach also lifted the UEFA Cup, beating 1.FC Köln in the semi-final before trouncing FC Twente 5-1 on aggregate in the final. The cognoscenti were talking in glowing terms of Die Fohlen as the new successors to a now Cruyff-less Ajax Amsterdam.

Weisweiler moved to Barcelona and in his place came Udo Lattek, a coach who had won two European Cups with Bayern Munich. In 1975-76, a more cautious Gladbach – they scored 20 fewer goals in Lattek’s first season – retained the Bundesliga title ahead of Hamburg and Bayern. The problem for Gladbach was that Bayern had just notched up a third successive European Cup, achieved in a very uninspiring and machine-like manner against a popular and flamboyant St.Etienne team.

In 1976-77, Gladbach had the chance to put that right. In the Bundesliga, the title was clinched on the final day with a 2-2 draw with Bayern after Heynckes and Uli Stielike has given them a 2-0 lead.  But it had been tight – Schalke and Braunschweig both finished one point behind and Frankfurt were only two adrift. Lattek’s experience in Europe paid off for Gladbach as they reached their first European Cup final, facing Liverpool in Rome.

Although Lattek’s side had been crowned German champions just four days earlier, they had struggled to score goals in 1976-77, netting only 58 in 34 league games. Heynckes, their top marksman, was not 100% fit and there was a mood of realism in the Gladbach camp. “It will be hard for us, but it will not be impossible for us to win,” said Lattek, aware of the rising power of Liverpool.

With Gladbach appearing nervous and lacking confidence, Liverpool went ahead, but Simonson equalised early in the second half. At times, Gladbach looked as though they would go on to win, driven by the excellent Bonhof, but Liverpool scored two more goals, in the 64th and 82nd minutes to win 3-1.

And with that ended the Gladbach era. In 1977-78, they finished runners-up in the Bundesliga on goal difference to 1.FC Köln and year later, they were wallowing in mid-table. Lattek left in 1979 after a second UEFA Cup was won by the club and was berated for having allowed a fine teamto become stake without succession plans – a criticism that was aimed at him from his time with Bayern Munich.

Gladbach have never had it so good. Their golden age belonged to a different time, an era when success could be achieved by smaller, perhaps less fashionable clubs. With five Bundesliga titles and four European finals, providing a host of players that would form the backbone of the West German team that won the 1972 Euros and 1974 FIFA World Cup, Borrusia Mönchengladbach were one of the European teams of the decade.

Photos: PA