Co-Written with Charlie Gordon
On 24th February, Borussia Mönchengladbach will host Manchester City for the first leg of their last-16 tie in the UEFA Champions League.
The fixture is certainly not one you would have seen in Europe’s elite competition a decade ago. Both sides have come an awfully long way in that time, although they have taken drastically different paths to get there.
Luckily, Sports Gazette’s resident German and Mancunian are on hand to shed light on their respective journeys.
Gladbach: The Favre Effect
The Borussia of the 21st century are worlds apart from the glorious team of the 1970’s when Günter Netzer, Berti Vogts and Jupp Heynckes enchanted German football. In 2007, Gladbach were relegated to the second division and although they returned at the first attempt, the club struggled to build a platform in the Bundesliga.
The fear of playing in the second division was ever-present. But that all changed on 14 February 2011. By this time, Gladbach were bottom of the league, seven points away from safety, and completely out of form. Director of sport Max Eberl drew his last card by installing Swiss manager Lucien Favre.
Favre promoted young goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen to be the number one for the last six games, and with the help of winger Marco Reus, Gladbach were ready to fight. What followed was one of the most intense battles in Bundesliga relegation history, culminating in Gladbach eventually having the upper hand over Bochum in the relegation play-off.
“He came; he saw; he conquered,” ter Stegen said of his coach. Just like Caesar’s Roman Empire, Favre’s Borussia were unstoppable, gaining Champions League qualification just one year after narrowly avoiding relegation.
Then what had to happen, happened: Germany’s rising star, Marco Reus, left the club to join his old love and then-champions Borussia Dortmund for £15m. A bargain for Dortmund but a huge amount of money for Gladbach at the time.
The departure of big stars became a pattern for the Foals and is now deeply anchored in their DNA. Ter Stegen in summer 2014, Mahmoud Dahoud in summer 2017 or Thorgan Hazard in summer 2019; Gladbach simply have to cope with restructuring every once in a while – and since Favre signed, they have coped successfully.
“We’ve made a lot of huge steps in the last ten years,” said Eberl in the Kicker Meets DAZN podcast in September 2020.
Impressively, Gladbach are still a top-level team in the Bundesliga, even after manager Favre left the office after 1679 days in September 2015.
In the last ten years, they have reached the European spots six times. No one equates Gladbach with relegation anymore. This might be the biggest achievement of Eberl and his colleague and general manager Stephan Schippers. Thankfully for Gladbach, both signed contract extensions until 2026 last December.
Eberl, often mentioned whenever Bayern Munich look for a new director of sport, is the father of their success. His calm manner, especially in difficult times, made Gladbach the bright club they have become again.
Even though current manager Marco Rose will leave the club at the end of the season, Eberl will find a perfect replacement. He always does.
Players and managers can be replaced, Eberl cannot.
Manchester City’s transformation through riches
By 2011, Manchester City were poised for a big year after settling into the era of Sheikh Mansour.
In the three years since the takeover of the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, City had shocked the world with an unsuccessful £103m bid for Kaka and signed some of the Premier League’s most coveted talent, while CEO Gary Cook told the media, amid much laughter, that City were going to be the biggest and best football club in the world.
While Borussia Mönchengladbach were busy battling relegation, the money ploughed into City led to a record £195m annual loss.
That significant investment, however, quickly came to fruition on the pitch. Sergio Aguero was the marquee signing that summer, and his unforgettable last gasp winner against Queens Park Rangers in 2012 sealed City’s first league title for 44 years in startling fashion, sparking bedlam which, to this day, remains one of the Premier League’s most iconic scenes.
In the following years, Roberto Mancini would give way for Manuel Pellegrini, who translated more mammoth investment into silverware.
The establishment of City Football Group, £150m state of the art training facilities and a 6,000-seat expansion of the Etihad stadium represented the finishing touches of City’s brand-new infrastructure as the big-money project finally seemed to be coming to a head.
In 2016, the Blues appointed perhaps the most sought-after manager in world football. City writer and YouTuber Adam Booker said: “I realized City were at a real turning point for success when the club announced that Pep Guardiola would be taking over as manager. I never thought a man that managed Barcelona and Bayern Munich would ever consider taking the job.”
After a season-long warm up period, the Spaniard did not disappoint. By 2018, City had posted a record 100-point haul on their way to another league title, while they held off Liverpool the following year with another incredible 98-point season.
City were playing some of the best football the English game had ever seen. However, the trials and tribulations of becoming rich and successful were embodied by a two-year ban from European competition imposed in 2020 for breaching Financial Fair Play rules.
The decision was eventually overturned on a technicality, but the debacle cast a dark light on City who, to an extent, had always been somewhat self-conscious of their newfound riches.
Booker said: “When I became a fan in 2007, I likely would have been slightly ashamed of City for this type of situation. However, in reality it is a normal thing for clubs or corporations of this size.
“Nowadays, some of the magic of being a City fan is lost. We are a global club with fans that have just come on board within the past few years. I try not to be too hard on fans like that, but I definitely felt ‘special’ as a City fan back before the roaring success.”
This matchup comes at the worst possible time for Gladbach who, up to a month ago, were shaping up for a successful season.
Lars Stindl and Jonas Hoffman were, and still are, posting exceptional numbers but Marco Rose’s men have now slipped to eighth in the Bundesliga after not winning any of their last five games.
The German side defied the odds to make it out of a tough Champions League group containing Real Madrid and Inter Milan, but standards have slipped since then.
The home loss against relegation-threatened Mainz this weekend will do little to boost confidence heading into a tie with a City side who have won 18 games in a row.
Needless to say, Pep Guardiola’s men are on fire. Their poor start to the season was a major cause for concern, but the Spaniard has adapted the side to cope without their leading striker, Sergio Aguero, with extraordinary results.
City’s performances over the past three seasons arguably deserved the title of being ‘the best in Europe’, but they consistently fell short in big moments.
The pressure will be on the Blues to finally come good on their promise of European glory, but the momentum is certainly with them ahead of their clash with Gladbach this week.
Watch Borussia Mönchengladbach v Manchester City on BT Sport 2 tomorrow night at 8:00 pm .