In the 1970s, Mönchengladbach once fought it out with Bayern Munich for German league dominance. But the end of that decade marked a long period of decline. Now, however, they are quietly coming back.
Mönchengladbach can raise their hands after recent successes
The pressure was intense in Mönchengladbach last April. The once-proud club, a team that won five Bundesliga titles from 1970 to 1977, was on the fringes of dropping into the second division.
Hiring former Dutch coach Dick Advocaat in the fall of 2004 -- the first time in the club's 115-year history that it had had a foreign coach -- had turned out to be a disaster. Called the "General," Advocaat's strict measures only resulted in mediocre performances by the players.
Something had to be done, and Advocaat was given his marching orders. Now someone had to be found who could save the army. The Gladbach management went with a man who was a force behind the success of the team of the 1970's: Horst Köppel.
Berti Vogts: Successful defender and German national coach
The offensive-playing midfielder stood side-by-side with the likes of Jupp Heynckes and Berti Vogts, now coaches with experience both in the Bundesliga (Heynckes) and the national team (Vogts). Köppel's resume is a little thinner, his biggest success as a coach was a German Cup victory with Borussia Dortmund in 1989.
Relegation held off
But the move paid off. It wasn't necessarily done in spectacular fashion over the final five weeks of the season. A 2-0 victory and three goalless draws sufficed to keep Gladbach, a team that has only played one year in the second season, in the top division. The team finished with 35 goals as a whole for the season.
Bayern Munich (red) squeezed Gladbach in the season's opening match
At the beginning of the 2005-06 season, little was expected of the team. They travelled to Bayern Munich for the first-ever Bundesliga match in the new Allianz Arena. Even one man up, Gladbach were no match for Bayern who effortlessly won 3-0. For Gladbach fans it was a pitiful start of the season.
But something has changed since then. In their last eight matches, they have taken all three points four times and tied three times. One of the victories came against Bremen in which Köppel's club could put a desolate first-half behind them to win. The timing couldn't have been better. After a 2-1 loss to hated Rhineland rivals Cologne, people were calling for Köppel's head.
"We are not going to talk about the coach," team manager Peter Pander said after that game. "We want to win as many games as possible and then everything will take care of itself."
Back to the 1970's
Gladbach's (white) victory against Bremen turned mediocre start around
The victory against Bremen started a three-game run that should have been a four-game winning streak. The Colts are defeating the teams they are supposed to beat; those that frequently have to battle relegation. In week seven, they beat Bielefeld. In week eight, they squeaked by Mainz 1-0.
On the ninth match day, they led 89 minutes in Stuttgart -- not necessarily one of the teams they are supposed to win against. In that last minute though, captain Jeff Strasser scored an own goal to ruin an otherwise satisfactory day.
Despite that small setback, Gladbach are starting to reach heights that might make many in the club dizzy -- they are fifth-place. However, manager Pander cautions that the impressive performances in the past few weeks are no cause for premature rejoicing.
"Nobody should forget that this is just a snapshot of the moment," manager Pander cautioned in the Rheinische Post newspaper.
Yet he also said that nobody would have thought that Mönchengladbach would have been playing for fifth-place in October. In May 2006, such a finish would mean a spot in the UEFA Cup. It's not exactly the glory days of the 1970's, but it is a long way off from the relegation fight in May 2005.