Max Eberl oversaw an exciting period of development at Borussia Mönchengladbach - © Anke Waelischmiller/SVEN SIMON via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Sven Simon
Max Eberl oversaw an exciting period of development at Borussia Mönchengladbach - © Anke Waelischmiller/SVEN SIMON via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Sven Simon
bundesliga

Max Eberl: two decades of turning Foals into thoroughbreds at Borussia Mönchengladbach

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The reactions of players who had crossed his path in over two decades at Borussia Mönchengladbach spoke volumes about the impression Max Eberl had made with the Foals.

The 48-year-old brought down the curtain on a 8,428-day-and-14-hour allegiance with Gladbach, taking a step away from the game after more than two remarkable decades.

Over the course of his 23 years with Gladbach, Eberl made his fair share of big decisions, many of which modelled the club into the kind of an era which had not been seen since their 1970s heyday.

Watch: Eberl's emotional farewell to the Foals

The former Bayern Munich, Bochum and Greuther Fürth player ended his playing career with the Foals before becoming coordinator of their youth academy in 2005. It is arguably there that he honed his talent for unearthing gems, since when he moved into a new role of sporting director in 2008, numerous players have gone from low to high profile, such as Marco Reus, Juan Arango, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Granit Xhaka to name but a few.

But it was not only his eye for talent that should take pride of place on his CV, Eberl also managed to guide the club from choppy waters into the calm of being an established Bundesliga club again, and one who would challenge perennially for European football.

Since his first full season until 2020/21, Gladbach averaged 52 points a season. In the previous 12 campaigns, their average was 39. Their average finishing position in the Bundesliga was seventh – including six top-six finishes – a significant rise on their previous average of 12th, with just two top-six finishes. Indeed, since 2009/10, Gladbach rank fourth behind Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen for total points (668).

Gladbach also qualified for the UEFA Champions League four times, reaching the group stage on three occasions, and they played in the UEFA Europa League three times. In 2020/21, they emerged from a group including Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk to reach the last 16 – perhaps the crowning masterstroke of Eberl's career as the club's sporting director.

During those years, he worked with just seven coaches: Hans Meyer, Michael Frontzeck, Lucien Favre, Andre Schubert, Dieter Hecking, Marco Rose and Adi Hütter – only Freiburg had fewer, underlining a continuity on the bench which was one of the keys to the Foals' new-found consistency.

The other key was the aforementioned eye for talent, with Reus being arguably the standout scoop, though it very nearly did not happen.

"I remember how Hans Meyer asked me about signing Marco Reus," Eberl recalled. "'Max, don't you think 800,000 euros for a Bundesliga 2 player who's scored four goals is a lot of money?'

"If a Hans Meyer says something like that, then you could be unsure. But I was totally convinced by Marco. My gut told me that we would buy potential here, even if 800,000 euros at that time for Gladbach was a lot of money."

And so it proved. Reus' stock grew exponentially at Gladbach, whom he helped steer clear of relegation in 2011 before firing them to a fourth-placed finish 12 months later. The Foals reluctantly cashed in on their prized asset that summer, as Reus returned to hometown club Dortmund, 36 goals better off - his transformation from skinny BVB outcast to Bundesliga megastar complete, thanks to Eberl's intuition and insistence.

Max Eberl saw talent in Marco Reus where the opinions of others were somewhat blurry. - RHR-FOTO / Dennis Ewert via www.imago-images.de/imago images/RHR-Foto

Another Eberl coup snapped up from relative obscurity, Juan Arango went on to enjoy cult status after joining Gladbach from Mallorca in 2009. Even Lucien Favre, head coach at the time, admitted to having his doubts, but the Venezuelan repaid the club's faith with some unforgettable strikes.

His maiden Gladbach goal came in trademark spectacular fashion - on his Bundesliga debut no less - and was the first of 25 goals in 144 Bundesliga appearances. He was also one of the league's best providers during his five-season spell at Borussia Park, creating 48 goals at an average of almost one every three matches.

Had it not been for Manuel Neuer, ter Stegen would arguably have been Germany's number one goalkeeper for a generation. Although Eberl was not behind his signing – ter Stegen joined the club's academy at the age of four – he nudged Favre to launch his career as the second-youngest goalkeeper ever after Uwe Kamps to wear the gloves for the Foals' first team, at the age of 18 years and 345 days.

"He's one of the biggest goalkeeping talents in the whole of Germany," announced Eberl long before ter Stegen was thrown in at the deep end, winning over the fans immediately in a 5-1 win over local rivals Cologne in a Rhine derby. That came after ter Stegen had helped Germany's U17s win the European Championship in 2009, conceding just two goals in five games on the way to glory.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen (c.) and Juan Arango (r.) both saw their careers explode thanks to Max Eberl (not pictured). - imago sportfotodienst/imago/Sven Simon

A call from Barcelona could not be resisted, with Eberl again capitalising on one of the talents he helped nurture through to world class status, as he also did with Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka – one of the many to pay tribute to Eberl following his earth-shattering announcement he was leaving his role with Gladbach.

Eberl signed Xhaka from FC Basel in 2012, the Swiss midfielder moving onto Arsenal four years later for a significant profit.

"I have a great deal of respect for what Max has built in Gladbach," Xhaka told Sport1 in 2020. "He's a great guy, both as a person and as a manager. He's very open and direct, willing to help and always there for the players. On paper, he's a sporting director, but he's more than that – I really respect him as a person. He knows football inside out and has made numerous very good decisions."

It worked in Gladbach, but Xhaka is convinced Eberl would be a hit anywhere he goes. "He could do a job wherever he is," he said. "He knows the football world perfectly and has a nose for what a club and a team needs."