Cologne – In just four and a half years, Lucien Favre has lifted Borussia Mönchengladbach from the nether regions of the Bundesliga into the UEFA Champions League.
The Swiss tactician has earned acclaim from all quarters for his achievements with the Foals, playing some enterprsing football and bringing something of the glory days of the 1970s back to the club. During pre-season, bundesliga.com caught up with the former Hertha Berlin boss to find out how happy he is with the side's 2015/16 season preparations and his long-term ambitions.
bundesliga.com: Lucien Favre, your work is regularly commended by your fans, players, coaches and pundits. How much pride does that give you?
Lucien Favre: I think it's a great honour if it's what other coaches, players and the fans think. Looking at all the other big leagues, you have Jose Mourinho in England and Luis Enrique in Spain who both won trophies last year, whereas I didn't, so that makes it even more of an honour. But of course I'm not solely responsible for Borussia's success. It was only possible through teamwork.
'I'm very happy, but things move on now'
bundesliga.com: Last season was Borussia's best in decades. How highly does qualifying for the Champions League rank among all your other achievements, such as winning the Swiss title twice with FC Zürich?
Favre: [Sporting director] Max Eberl said that qualifying for the Champions League was as good as winning a title and I see it the very same way, but I also don't want to overlook the fact we reached the Europa League twice in recent years. All of this is pretty incredible for a team who, just four years ago, were at rock bottom. In that time you won't find any side who have gone through anywhere near as big a transformation as Borussia. So yes, I'm very happy, but things move on now.
bundesliga.com: So are you happy that 'only' a top-ten finish is the target you have been set this season?
Favre: Sorry, but it's no surprise at all for me – in fact it's only logical (smiles). Look, Bayern München, VfL Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen are going to be there or thereabouts again, and then there are Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund who I expect to be much stronger this season. We, on the other hand, have lost two German internationals in [Max] Kruse and [Christoph] Kramer, who is even a World Cup winner. Wolfsburg haven’t lost a single key player, for example. So like I've said, it's good that we're being realistic, but above all it's logical.
'I'm in no way tired of this job'
bundesliga.com: Do you fear the moment when you feel you've gone as far as you can with Borussia?
Favre: No. Going into my sixth season at Borussia, I'm in no way tired of this job. In fact, I'd have been happy to keep going at the end of last season without any break at all (smiles). Having said that, you do have to keep asking yourself 'Are you fit enough? Are you still getting through to the team? Are you still improving them, or do you maybe need a fresh challenge?' If you drop only one single per cent, then that's the beginning of the end. That can't happen. Far from it, I'm focused more than ever on the coming six months. I'm totally focused on Borussia up to the winter break, and only then will I move onto the next few months.
bundesliga.com: You've lost Kruse and Kramer but signed Josip Drmic and Lars Stindl. What will these changes mean?
Favre: I'll only be able to tell you that next year. Drmic is 22 and wasn't a regular at Leverkusen. He's still got a lot to learn, but he has something special. Stindl played out on the right in his last six games for Hannover and that seemed to work very well there, but we've already got [Patrick] Herrmann, [Ibrahima] Traoré, [Fabian] Johnson, [Andre] Hahn and [Thorgan] Hazard there, and they're all very good players. So we're going to have to find out where Stindl can help us out best. In our friendly against Porto, he even played as a forward. We'll have to see.
'We're not in the Champions League for a postcard'
bundesliga.com: Do your experiences in the Europa League stand you in good stead for coping with the Champions League?
Favre: Yes, thanks to our squad rotation we learnt how to cope well with the added strain. But let's not forget that we're not in the Champions League just to say we were there and pick up a postcard. We want to give a good account of ourselves. That's important for the club, for our fans and not least for the Bundesliga and German football. We want to get good results, even if we know we're going to be in the fourth pot of seeds.
bundesliga.com: ...which means you're likely to get some pretty fearsome opponents...
Favre: Can you imagine a group with the Premier League champions, the Spanish runners-up and the team who came third in Serie A? That would be Chelsea FC, Real Madrid CF and SS Lazio! It really could happen. That's the sort of calibre we've got to expect. But we'll give it our best and I see a slight advantage over the Europa League that we will be playing some games on Tuesday and then again on Saturday, which means we would have more time to recover. I think that's very important, but that's not the only thing…
bundesliga.com: Go on...
Favre: We're all really looking forward to the upcoming season, but for Borussia, 2016/17 is already very important, and 2017/18 is even more important. How we do this year in the Champions League does not determine the future of Borussia Mönchengladbach, it's what we do today to prepare for the future that matters because we all know what happens every summer at Gladbach.
bundesliga.com: By that you mean that you always expect to lose top players every year?
Favre: Yes. So the chance for Gladbach to continue to be an established force in the Bundesliga depends on the way we bring through our youngsters and the way we spot top talent all around the world. There's no other way. We've made progress here and we know that our opponents don't like coming to the Borussia-Park because they know how hard it is for them. Even away from home, our opponents struggle against our style of play, but what would happen if we only come ninth this season?! That would be acceptable, but not in the long term. Just look at Stuttgart and Hamburg – they show how quickly things can go awry. So once again, we've already got to think towards 2018 and that's why I'm pleased with the signings we've made. We've got some very young but very good players with a lot of potential.
bundesliga.com: What do you expect to happen at the top of the table this season?
Favre: I actually think Bayern have a pretty good chance of winning the league this year (smiles). No, seriously anybody who wants to win the league has got to beat Bayern. I reckon Wolfsburg have a chance – they've strengthened what was already a good squad with Kruse and the Peruvian [Carlos] Ascues. Dortmund are certainly going to be dangerous, and Leverkusen too of course. [Admir] Mehmedi and Kramer are top signings.
bundesliga.com: And Borussia?
Favre: Last season, we benefitted from Dortmund's weak first half of the season, and then profited from Schalke's poor second half of the campaign. But let me say something more general about the Bundesliga: the Bundesliga is probably the most attractive league in the world today. The proof is that every Saturday so many English people come across the Channel to watch the Bundesliga. That may be down to the extremely high ticket prices in the Premier League, but first and foremost it shows how attractive the Bundesliga is and what quality it offers in every aspect. Whether it’s the games or the atmosphere in the stadiums, or even the infrastructure – it’s all top notch. A great job has been done by everybody involved here in recent years.
Interview by Andreas Kötter