Can Gladbach maintain their Bundesliga title challenge?
Background image: Flor!an, CC BY-SA 4.0
When Mainz won promotion to the Bundesliga in 2002, there was one coach’s name on the lips of German football fans: Jurgen Klopp. But the enigmatic Liverpool boss wasn’t just winning titles and developing players in the Bundesliga. He was building Germany's next generation of coaches.
A hero Rose up
A key member of that promotion-winning Mainz team was defender Marco Rose, then on loan from Hannover but soon to join the club permanently. Rose spent six years playing under Klopp, an experience he says shaped him, laying the groundwork for his open approach to coaching and communication.
Now, the young coach is in charge at Borussia Monchengladbach. Die Fohlen haven't been a force in Germany or Europe since they won five Bundesliga crowns, two DFB Pokals, a German SuperCup and two UEFA Cups in the 1970s while finishing runners-up in the Champions League once and domestically twice. They've won a single Pokal [199/95] in the interim. Now, under Rose, they top the Bundesliga after eight games.
With a solid defensive base led by World Cup-winning centre back Matthias Ginter and an exciting forward line bursting with pace and creativity, Die Borussen established their credentials as title challengers with a series of thumping scorelines: 3-1 over Mainz, 3-0 against Hoffenheim and the 5-1 Augsberg evisceration.
What’s going on here? Have we another footballing miracle on our hands, the German version of Leicester City? Is Marco Rose set to close in on his one-time mentor, who twice captured the Bundesliga with the other Prussian side, Dortmund?
Well, no. Last weekend’s tie against BVB was a sign of things to come. Dortmund came off 1-0 victors in that tie. While Gladbach still top the table, they're balanced precariously, like a tipsy mountaineer staggering about the icy tip of Zugspitze.
Winning isn’t everything
Many an unlikely Icarus has rushed to the top of their league before crashing and burning when their feathers melt in the brilliance of the season's second half. Remember Hull City in 2008? Joint-top of the Premier League after nine games, they fell sharply away, only avoiding relegation on the season's final day.
Gladbach’s fall won't be nearly so dramatic but it’s difficult to see them in first place for much longer. Upcoming games against Eintracht, Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen present tough tests. Their form is likely to take a battering running that mini-gauntlet, especially when attempting to navigate European ties in between. Things will get worse for Marco Rose soon but all is not lost.
Just because Gladbach don’t stand much chance of winning the league doesn’t mean good things aren’t coming their way. Despite what Gabe Paul may have said on the topic, there’s a lot to life outside the top spot. Rose is developing as a coach, leading an exciting new team to previously unknown heights. The Foals are holding their own in Europe, pulling in money through additional support and sponsorship deals and building the club as a real competitor in German football.
Whether the fairy tale lasts or fizzles out remains to be seen. But the true rising star in this story is not the club but the manager. That man Rose, at the head of all this, owes his success not only to Klopp, but also the corporate juggernaut with the odd-tasting bubbly energy drink. Rose joined RB Salzburg from the depths of the German league system, initially acting as a youth coach before stepping up to take charge of the first team.
Red Bull gives you wings
Say what you like about Red Bull’s corporate homogeneity and erasure of traditional footballing cultures; they sure know how to develop a coach. How many other teams on the continent would allow a relatively unknown coach to progress from the under 16s to the first team in less than a half-decade? Regardless, the approach benefitted Salzburg, Rose and ultimately Gladbach.
On a side note, American Jesse Marsch is making Rose's success at the Red Bull Arena look mundane with his work in the Champions League. Perhaps a Red Bull-style approach to investment in coaching and off-field staff will become the norm in future years. If Rose can buck the odds and guide his team to victory in some of their upcoming fixtures, it’d certainly present a strong argument for doing so.