Borussia Monchengladbach have gone from being the Borussia in the Bundesliga with momentum to the one struggling for confidence. ESPN’s German football commentator Derek Rae explains why the confirmed summer switch of coach Marco Rose to the other Borussia, Dortmund, has ushered in a host of problems.
It was little more than a month ago, but in the grand scheme of things it seems more like a year. My closing remarks from the world-feed commentary box after Gladbach’s impressive 4-2 win over Borussia Dortmund on Jan. 22 had to do with the changing landscape as regards these two clubs carrying the Borussia prefix.
The Fohlenelf had just overhauled BVB in the table and mercilessly booted them from the Champions League places, a key metric for a Dortmund side constructed to take part in Europe’s premier club competition every year. The force seemed to be firmly with the men from the Niederrhein region, while Dortmund resembled a collection of punchless individuals, overly dependent on the cold-blooded finishing of Erling Haaland and the creativity of Jadon Sancho.
As our cameras lingered on Rose, it was impossible not to focus on his future — and more to the point, his possible Dortmund future.
Since Lucien Favre’s departure from Dortmund in December, all indications had suggested Rose would take over the reins at one of the world’s most emotional clubs. It had become widely known that there was a clause in Rose’s contract allowing him to leave this summer, and the mounting speculation proved unsettling as whispers became louder.
Meanwhile, Max Eberl — Gladbach’s brilliant, long-serving head of sport — returned at the end of January from a month-long sabbatical in the mountains. This four-week break to recharge batteries was tied to his own recently-signed agreement with the club running through 2026. Once back in his office, Eberl immediately had to start putting out fires as Rose-to-Dortmund rumours engulfed scheduled media briefings at the Borussia Park. Bundesliga results were now going the wrong way, and the 2-1 derby defeat at home against FC Cologne was particularly sore.
Even as performances deteriorated, Eberl remained defiant. He was “99% certain” Rose would stay; then, the following week, “98% sure.” Rose clearly felt uncomfortable being asked about the thorny topic of Dortmund, and his body language and tone visibly and audibly changed, becoming more distant with reporters. It turns out that Eberl, as he told Sky Deutschland in a live interview on Sunday morning, learned of Rose’s decision after the Cologne game and before the 0-0 draw with VfL Wolfsburg. It was only on the back of that stalemate in the Autostadt that Gladbach formally announced they’d be losing their coach to Dortmund in the summer.
Reaction from Gladbach fans to Rose’s impending move has been merciless. They might not have the loudest voices among German football fans, but this is an area of the country that really cares, and they feel genuinely wronged by their coach.
Things got even worse on Saturday as the Foals were tripped up at home by second-bottom Mainz. The following day on Sport1’s weekly panel discussion, Doppelpass, 82% of poll respondents said they doubted Gladbach could continue with Rose through the end of the campaign. All parties insist the relationship can and will go on in a professional way, and Eberl himself believes someone seen as a great coach a few weeks ago remains a great coach today.
To his credit, Rose has been honest — in fact, he’s been way more candid than you’d expect from a football person tiptoeing his way through such a minefield. After the Mainz game he took complete responsibility for the defeat, citing his own actions. It’s even worth relaying Rose’s entire quote to ZDF’s Das Aktuelle Sportstudio.
“It’s clear that every bad result causes more restlessness and brings more questions, and I have to live with that and take responsibility for it, as I’m the one who caused the unrest with my decision.”
Rose hadn’t changed his position ahead of the Champions League defeat to Manchester City, saying the underperformance against Mainz was “on me.” He’s also been forthcoming when asked about the possibility of Gladbach stars like Marcus Thuram joining him in Dortmund, insisting that will not happen, speaking in the third person: “When Marco Rose says he won’t take anyone with him to Borussia Dortmund, that means he won’t take anyone with him to Borussia Dortmund. Over and out.”
The problem is that others higher up the BVB chain — Michael Zorc and Sebastian Kehl — make the judgements about new recruits, and “Borussia-hopping” is very common. BVB’s 2020-21 squad boasts several former Fohlenelf: Marco Reus, Mahmoud Dahoud, Thorgan Hazard and Nico Schulz. The Autobahn journey of just over an hour from Gladbach to Dortmund is well-worn.
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If all this drama between the two clubs isn’t enough for you, then consider that on Tuesday, Dortmund will be on that same stretch of road going the other way as they head to the Borussia Park for a DFB-Pokal quarterfinal showdown (Tuesday, 2.30 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPNEWS).
Borussia against Borussia again, Rose against his soon-to-be employers and, of course, the prestige factor is the genuine chance to win a trophy with Bayern Munich already out of the competition. Whereas Gladbach’s form has taken a nosedive since their league win against the other Borussia, Dortmund’s tails are up following their fine Champions League away win against Sevilla FC and the resounding derby triumph over Schalke 04.
It’s like a never-ending boxing match. Round 1 went to Gladbach as they outplayed BVB in January. Round 2 swung to Dortmund with their landing of Rose at Gladbach’s expense. Round 3 is Tuesday, and it should be a lively exchange of punches. Round 4 will be about who finishes where and who, if either, makes the Champions League — at present, it’s a long shot for both.
Meanwhile, the discussion about Rose’s successor is in full swing. Readers in the U.S. will be pleased to know Jesse Marsch, who followed Rose as coach of FC Salzburg, is very much part of that conversation among German pundits. Eberl says he “has a concrete idea in his head” regarding the next step and is doing his homework on prospective candidates. His words on Sport1 from Sunday are instructive in this regard.
“We’re looking for best fit for Borussia Monchengladbach,” said Eberl. “In the last 10 years we’ve developed a team style with ball possession started by Lucien Favre and then refined by Andre Schubert and Dieter Hecking in terms of more activity. Now with Marco Rose, for me the best coach we’ve had to put this active style at the forefront. We found a coach who advocated ball possession, as well as activity and pressing and now, it’s a matter of finding the next coach who matches these two facets of our play.”
Marsch would seem to have attributes in keeping with this profile, but the American is not the only one in the running. Another Salzburg alumnus Adi Hutter merits a serious evaluation, having taken his Eintracht Frankfurt side to the Europa League semifinals in 2019 and now catapulted the Eagles into the Bundesliga’s top four. The style of football is eye catching and significantly, has evolved from Hutter’s earlier days of high-octane pressing without as much finesse, especially in recent weeks with the introduction of twin playmakers behind star striker Andre Silva.
Could Hutter be lured from the Main metropolis to the Niederrhein? From a team potentially in the Champions League to one perhaps not in Europe at all? Then again, respected sporting chief Fredi Bobic has had departure rumours flying around him and who wouldn’t want to work with Eberl, given the chance?
Gerardo Seoane’s work at Young Boys in Switzerland, guiding them to back-to-back titles, has not gone unnoticed either. Erik ten Haag of Ajax Amsterdam is another who must be in the frame if he were to have an interest. Werder Bremen‘s Florian Kohfeldt looks like a potential Plan B option behind the others.
Life is far from dull for Eberl and everyone else in the Niederrhein. Tuesday could represent yet another tumult of excitement in the ongoing story of Borussia against Borussia.