Bundesliga expert Chris Mayer-Lodge examines Eintracht Frankfurt’s rise back to the top table both at home and in Europe in recent years...
When Eintracht Frankfurt placed the club's future in the hands of former Germany striker Fredi Bobic in summer 2016, the club had not long survived a relegation play-off with Nuremberg. By the time he stepped down at the end of 2020/21, the Eagles were soaring after three top-eight finishes, their trophy cabinet swelled by a DFB Cup and their pride likewise by reaching a UEFA Europa League semi-final.
“Fredi Bobic has played a major role in Eintracht's recent sporting and economic success,” acknowledged Philip Holzer, chairman of Frankfurt's supervisory board. “He has set the course for a systematic improvement of the squad through many prudent and successful personnel decisions, and has done a top job.”
Bobic rightly takes a sizeable amount of credit for Frankfurt's return to prominence. Eintracht were German champions in 1959 and European Cup runners-up a year later, losing 7-3 to a Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskás-inspired Real Madrid. Founding Bundesliga members in 1963 and 1967 Intertoto Cup winners, they picked up silverware at regular intervals in the 1970s and 1980s (four DFB Cups and the 1980 UEFA Cup), which was around the same time an eagle was incorporated into the club's crest, giving the team their eponymous nickname.
They then flitted between Germany's top two divisions, and were relegated again at the end of 2010/11, but bounced straight back at the first time of asking. Since dicing with the drop in 2015/16, Eintracht have never finished lower than eleventh in the 18-team German top tier.
The signs were there in Bobic’s first of five seasons, cracking the whip when a team coached by Niko Kovač reached the 2017 DFB Cup final and suffered a narrow 2-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund. The following year, Eintracht went one better by beating the mighty Bayern Munich 3-1 to return the trophy to Frankfurt for the first time in 30 years.
The game was Kovač’s final hurrah in the Frankfurt dugout before taking over at Bayern. Bobic deemed Adi Hütter the ideal candidate to pick up the mantle following league title wins with Austria’s RB Salzburg and Switzerland’s Young Boys. “His CV is impressive, he has proved through his work at several clubs that he knows how to get the most out of limited resources," the Frankfurt chief said at the time. “That’s why he’s a perfect fit at our club.”
Bobic’s crystal ball didn’t disappoint. Hütter’s Frankfurt accounted for the likes of Lazio, Shakhtar Donetsk, Inter Milan and Benfica on their way to the 2018/19 Europa League last four, while securing another campaign of European football after finishing seventh in the Bundesliga, only four points outside the UEFA Champions League places.
Top-level performances inevitably attracted interest from elsewhere, but Bobic rose to the challenge of replacing key protagonists while remaining competitive as a team and financially viable as a club. Sebastién Haller arrived from FC Utrecht for €12.5m, and was sold to West Ham United on the back of a 20-goal season. Luka Jović cost €23m before moving to Real Madrid 40 goals in 93 senior games the richer while his former employers were a handy €40m better off. Continental journeyman turned Frankfurt single-season club record scorer André Silva generated a net gain of €20m when sold to RB Leipzig last summer, while the current value of Filip Kostić - who Bobic had previously brought to VfB Stuttgart - has soared some 600 percent.
Shrewd operators behind the scenes - the aforementioned players joined Frankfurt as rough diamonds before receiving the patented Bobic-era polish - Eintracht have been able to raise their game on the pitch. Bobic left the club last summer on the back of a fifth-placed finish - their best since the 1993/94 campaign - and with a third season of European football in the bag. Hütter followed stage left, switching to Borussia Mönchengladbach, but their respective successors have only continued the good work.
Fresh off two years in the role at Leipzig, new sporting director Markus Krösche replaced Portugal international Silva with Rafael Santos Borré, who had successfully rebuilt his reputation at River Plate after underwhelming spells in Spain with Atlético Madrid and Villarreal. He’s also managed to tie down Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Kristijan Jakić - now a Croatia international - to a permanent deal and snare prodigious Borussia Dortmund winger Ansgar Knauff on an 18-month loan - all the while rebuffing advances for prized asset Kostić.
Oliver Glasner stepped into the dugout with the sort of modest but promising CV shared by his sporting director, playing staff and predecessors. The former centre-back led Wolfsburg to a Champions League return in only his second season in Germany, having previously transformed the fortunes of Linzer ASK in his native Austria, guiding the club back to the top flight in 2017 and overseeing a fourth-placed finish in only his third campaign at the helm.
“In our situation with a high fluctuation of personnel around the team, we consciously plumped for a coach with Bundesliga and international experience,” explained Frankfurt board spokesman Axel Hellmann of Glasner’s appointment. “We soon recognised that he is the best fit for our team. We're convinced he'll continue the success he started at Wolfsburg in Frankfurt.”
Glasner’s Eagles are certainly on the right flight path. Eintracht could yet finish the 2021/22 campaign in the Bundesliga’s top seven, and are two games from a first European final since beating Gladbach over two legs in the Europa League's forerunner, the UEFA Cup, some 42 years ago.
“We have achieved something historic,” enthused Hellmann following Eintracht’s headline-grabbing 3-2 quarter-final second leg win in Barcelona, where they were followed by some 30,000 travelling fans as the team sealed a last-four berth in style.
“We did it in a way that only we can. Everyone knows Barca are a much better team, but we didn’t just match them - we beat them. There’s no other club capable of building so much momentum. Anything is possible.”
*Don't miss Chris Mayer-Lodge's in-depth analysis of Eintracht Frankfurt on whufc.com on Thursday ahead of our UEFA Europa League semi-final first leg at London Stadium.