Borussia Mönchengladbach won 3-0 at Mainz, Saturday, in the final round of the 2011-12 Bundesliga season. The result left them with 64 points and in a European position for the first time since 1996, when they also finished fourth. In the 16 years in between the one-time German football power was relegated twice and finished no higher than 10th, and it was only 12 months ago that they stayed in the top flight by the skin of their teeth, beating Bochum over two legs in a relegation playoff.
That Mönchengladbach were in a position to contest the playoff at all was seen as something of a miracle at the time—the work of wizard-manager Lucien Favre, who after being appointed on Valentine’s Day 2011 took the last-place side on a run where they lost just four of 14 matches and closed out the season on a six-game unbeaten streak.
Igor de Camargo scored the only goal in Mönchengladbach’s 1-0 win over their North Rhine-Westphalia rivals in the first leg, but after level terms were restored through Havard Nordtveit’s own-goal in the first half of the return fixture it was left to Marco Reus to notch the series winner midway through the second period in Bochum.
Twelve months later, nine of the same 11 players who started that second leg were on Favre’s teamsheet for a 0-0 draw with Augsburg that clinched Champions League qualification, and a week later eight of the 11 started the last match of the campaign against Mainz. We’ve come full circle.
Reus, who scored twice at Coface Arena on Saturday, is the symbol of Mönchengladbach football under Favre. His heroics last spring as a 21-year-old—when he touched the ball at three different locations on the field during the build-up to the goal he, himself would score from 14 yards to secure another year of Bundesliga football for his side—were followed-up by an 18-goal, eight-assist season as a 22-year-old.
In three Bundesliga seasons since joining Mönchengladbach’s from Rot Weiss Ahlen he has established himself as one of the best playmaking forwards in the division and will be part of the Germany squad at Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine next month.
He also won’t be back next season.
Reus, along with Roman Neustädter and Dante, have already been sold ahead of the 2012-13 campaign, and all will be joining a top-three side.
Neustädter, a tall defensive midfielder and a former Germany U-21 international, will be moving to Schalke. Dante, 28-years-old and one of the top centre-backs in German football, will be bolstering the defense at Bayern Munich. Reus, meanwhile, was signed by Borussia Dortmund in January for €17.5 million and will be joining up with his new side in the summer.
Their exists will drastically alter the team that came of age together over the last few months and, against all odds, earned a place in the Champions League. Mönchengladbach may have been able to retain for one more season the group that fought off relegation a year ago, but the side that lines up in Europe’s most prestigious club competition three months from now will have a rather different look to it, at least as far as personnel is concerned.
Stylistically, little will change so long as Favre is at the helm. The 54-year-old former Switzerland midfielder encourages a fluid, quick-passing brand of football. In a country where “efficiency” is often (and sometimes incorrectly) fallen back on as a stereotype, Favre’s teams embody the best elements of the term.
They let the ball do the work, and when they don’t have possession they ensure their position provides an option for a teammate who does. This they learn through Favre’s famously rigorous training regimen which, not unlike that of Pep Guardiola, demands extreme levels of fitness and concentration.
Even so, Mönchengladbach have a challenging summer ahead of them, and in that the next few months represent a seminal moment in their history. This is a club, don’t forget, that won five championships and two UEFA Cups in the 1970s before becoming next to irrelevant in the following decades. A measure of modest investment, at the very least, will be required to ensure they avoid the up-and-down pattern of the last 16 years.
No meaningful signings were made last summer, but Mönchengladbach have dipped into the transfer window in the past. Igor de Camargo was signed from Standard Liege for €3.5 million in 2010, and Juan Arango—who finished second only to Franck Ribery in the assist table this season—was acquired for €3.2 million from Mallorca the year before that. Both players were essentially cast-offs at their former clubs, and both have blossomed under Favre at Borussia-Park.
Mönchengladbach might have been the story of the Bundesliga this season, but it’s something they’ll want to avoid in the next one. For now, for the first time in a generation, the status quo would do quite nicely.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer