Borussia Mönchengladbach will part ways with coach Dieter Hecking at the end of the season, the club have confirmed. A season which started so positively is on the brink of collapse as the hunt for a successor begins.
After taking just five points from their last seven games, Borussia Mönchengladbach have lost their top four place, a derby and now their head coach.
Following Saturday's dismal display away at local rivals Fortuna Düsseldorf, where the Foals found themselves 3-0 down after just 16 minutes, the club has decided to part ways with Dieter Hecking at the end of the season.
"It is a decision I have taken for the future of the club because I feel like we have to do things differently," said sporting director Max Eberl on Tuesday. "It's a strategic decision."
A strategic decision because the club's long term aims are suddenly in acute danger. After a disappointing ninth-placed finish last season, Gladbach initially capitalized on their absence from European competition in order to focus on a return to the Champions League. But a run of just one win in seven has seen them drop out of the top four for the first time since matchday four, and even Europa League qualification is far from guaranteed.
'A collective failure'
The Foals are in freefall. A team which took the Bundesliga by storm earlier in the season with electrifying attacking football now looks predictable and one-dimensional. Top-scorer Alassane Plea has only scored twice in 2019 and too often looks wasted and isolated out on the left, while captain Lars Stindl has frequently been deployed as a central striker rather than in his preferred role behind the forwards.
Thorgan Hazard meanwhile was dragged off before half-time in Düsseldorf after another drab performance in which his thoughts appeared to be more on a mooted move to Borussia Dortmund than on the pitch. "I could have changed after 10 minutes or after 20 minutes," said a furious Hecking. "After a half like that, it could have been any of them."
Despite Hecking's insistance that his players knew what to expect from Düsseldorf, who had already undone Bayern Munich, Dortmund and Schalke with rapid counter-attacks this season, goalkeeper Yann Sommer - one of Gladbach's more consistent performers this season – was powerless as his defense was torn apart.
"Helpless, lifeless and defenseless," wrote Kicker magazine of a "collective failure" which lacked "running, aggression, body language, ideas, tempo, technique and any threat in front of goal." And it's cost Hecking his sixth coaching job.
"It's a huge disappointment," said the 54-year-old, who arrived in the Rhineland in December 2016 and signed a contract extension in December 2018 which should have kept him at Borussia-Park until 2020. "But when Max Eberl decides to opt for a change of direction, then he's well within his rights and I have to accept that. Hopefully I'll be able to leave as a Champions League participant."
With a tough run-in starting against Europa League contenders Werder Bremen on Sunday and also including home games against RB Leipzig, Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund, it won't easy for Hecking to bequeath European football to his successor.
Gladbach now join a growing list of Bundesliga clubs looking for a new head coach for next season. Bruno Labaddia will leave Wolfsburg after falling out with sporting director Jörg Schmadkte, while Huub Stevens is unlikely to remain at Schalke beyond his current interim spell.
Gelsenkirchen has been touted as a potential destination for the highly-rated Red Bull Salzburg coach Marco Rose, but the Leipzig-born tactician could now also be tempted by Mönchengladbach where, on paper at least, he would inherit a squad which would suit his own attacking instincts.
The offer of Champions League football would be a significant trump card for Gladbach, whoever they target. With no other distractions this season, it was a stated aim that they looked well on course to achieving. But not anymore.