Since winning the DFB-Pokal last season, the Germans have continued their rise in stature.
Set in the commercial background of river Maine, Frankfurt is home to one of the most passionate fanbases in Germany. Eintracht Frankfurt have been a part of German football since its inception, as they were one of the founding members of the Bundesliga back in 1962. However, Die Adler have nothing to show for their rich legacy as they have never won a Bundesliga title in their long illustrious history.
Hence last season’s DFB-Pokal win against Bayern Munich meant the world to the club and the fans, as Niko Kovac’s pragmatic and disciplined football inspired Eintracht to script one of the greatest underdog tales in German football for generations to come.
Watch: Bayern Munich 1-3 Eintracht Frankfurt, DFB-Pokla Final
Bayern were clear favourites going into the match in Berlin, but club President Peter Fischer believed in his army and their general, Kovac. What turned out sometime later was a moment to savour for everyone associated with the club for so long. It was like a reward for their loyalty for the crest.
The whole crowd bounced and swayed in delight, in the glory that has been long coming but has finally arrived. The win over the German giants also granted them a ticket to Europe in the Europa League next season.
THE TRANSITION AND DEVELOPMENT
However, what followed shook the foundation of the club with Niko Kovac leaving to join Bayern Munich and veterans like Kevin-Prince Boateng and Alexander Meier departing, who were actually the heart of the club. Haris Seferovic also followed the pack joining Benfica. A new season and a new chapter was about to start in Frankfurt as this time they could not afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Austrian tactician Adi Hutter took charge of the helm replacing Niko Kovac and the Eintracht faithful did not have much expectations from the 49-year old who guided Young Boys to the Swiss Super League title ahead of FC Basel. Hutter turned out to be the perfect man for Frankfurt, reserved, thoughtful and a man of substance.
Hutter’s style of play was way too different from Kovac’s pragmatic defensive approach. Hence the Austrian gradually incorporated his ideas and gameplay with the side. Hutter prefers quick tempo, pressing and likes to bring out the attacking aura of his side, but could only achieve that by playing a three-man backline which even Kovac preferred during his time.
Under Adi Hutter, the German side have become stronger than last season
The season did not start well for the new manager facing a heavy 5-0 defeat against Bayern in the German Super Cup. However things quickly went in contrast as the season progressed, Die Adler won 10 out of their 11 fixtures during November and December, setting the standards for the rest of the season for Hutter’s men. A 1-1 draw against leaders Dortmund in February spoke volumes about the club’s progress in the right direction. It was one of those fixtures where Eintracht went head to head with Dortmund causing them enough problems throughout the match.
The match proved that the Eagles have finally emerged to where they belong and they are no longer a side pushing on the counter and edging out matches in a smash and grab affair.
The progress in play saw new leaders emerging in their ranks, and one of them being veteran Makoto Hasebe who has donned the armband in David Abraham’s absence and has even slotted in the middle of the back three for Hutter. The Japanese midfield has been a vital cog for Adi Hutter this season. Primarily being a defensive midfielder, Hasebe has been heavily involved in building up the play from deep and despite his age, he is an astute game reader and does everything that the gaffer requires.
However, the spark in the side is on the other end of the field, with the likes of Sebastien Haller, Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic forming the holy trinity in German and world football. The Eagles have already crossed the goals tally of last season by a fair margin with seven matches to spare. The trio has been destructive throughout the season scoring 38 goals among themselves in the Bundesliga alone.
Development of players like Luka Jovic and Sebastien Haller is a testament to the club’s transfer policy of nurturing future stars. The Serbian forward who is flourishing under Hutter, failed to make a breakthrough at Benfica. The 21-year-old has shown his true colours only after joining the Bundesliga outfit, and since then he has been on the wishlist of clubs like Bayern, Barcelona, Real Madrid etc. The 21-year-old currently boasts 16 goals along with five assists in the league, sitting second to Robert Lewandowski with 19 goals so far.
THE RESEARCH AND RECRUITMENT
Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, this Frankfurt side was built gradually under the expert supervision of head scout Ben Manga. He joined Die Adler when the club was in doldrums, barely survived relegation. He soon incorporated talented players like Ante Rebic, Gullermo Varela and Marius Wolf, as the Niko Kovac-managed side gained some momentum next season finishing 11th in the Bundesliga and also reaching the DFB-Pokal final where they eventually lost 2-1 against Borussia Dortmund.
Things gathered pace in the transfer market for Die Adler as Manga brought in some extremely talented players to the fold. Eintracht are not a club which can flex their financial muscle like Bayern and Dortmund and even they are not in the same league with the likes of RB Leipzig, Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg. With their club record signing being French forward Sebastien Haller from Utrecht for a meager sum of £6.03m.
Manga then added depth to the squad with players like N’dicka; the French versatile defender joined Frankfurt from Auxerre and is tipped to be the next big thing in French football. Young Dutch fullback, Jetro Williams also joined Frankfurt from PVS Eindhoven for £4.50m. Former Golden Boy nominee Almamy Toure joined from AS Monaco for peanuts adding steel to the backline.
Like most Bundesliga clubs, Frankfurt wants to buy young talented players at a cheap rate, develop them and sell them at a higher profit. Their development line has been very active for a few years now. But the club has not allowed that to get in between of their core and have added experience whenever required.
Austrian centre back Martin Hinteregger joined the club in January and is one of the crucial members of the core, despite the 26-year old being on loan from Augsburg. They have been smart with their loan deals as they did the same for Ante Rebic, allowing the Croatian winger to prove his worth at the club and then signing him with a purchase clause added to his contract. They have done the same with Filip Kostic who has been brilliant for the Eagles this season, on loan from relegated outfit Hamburger SV. Mexican versatile defender, Carlos Salcedo also joined the fold from Chivas.
The club probably made the biggest bit of business when they signed Luka Jovic from Benfica on a loan deal with a £6.03m, option to buy. They also added more depth in their frontline by signing Porto’s Gonçalo Paciência for £2.7m. Paciência is a player characteristically similar to Haller and if the Frenchman intends to leave Frankfurt in near future, Hutter’s got a replacement ready.
Jovic, on the other hand, has been the apple of their eye banging in belters for the Eagles and attracting interest from the biggest clubs in Europe. The Serbian has thrived playing off Haller, using his technicality, strength to get past defenders. Haller was the man to hold possession and create space for the Serbian as both the forwards complemented each other very well and also get constant assistance from the likes of Ante Rebic and Filip Kostic, via their timely through balls.
Luka Jovic has been banging in belters for the club since his arrival
With Kevin Trapp leaving the club to join PSG, Eintracht roped in Lukas Hrádecký from Danish side Brondby. Since then Hrádecký has gone on to become one of the best goalkeepers in Germany eventually departing to join Bayer Leverkusen as the Eagles again raided Brondby to sign Frederik Rönnow and Kevin Trapp also returned to the fold after limited opportunities in the French capital especially due to Gianluigi Buffon’s arrival.
With Rönnow set to become the first choice keeper soon in future, the Frankfurt faithful will be hoping that he lives up to the stature of their previous goalkeeper from Brondby. The Eagles are also keen to renew Trapp’s loan deal and sign him permanently for free when his contract with PSG gets over in 2020.
THE UNPRECEDENTED JOURNEY
This period of play has been remarkable and one to cherish for a lifetime for the Frankfurt faithful, as the DFB cup victory gave them the ticket to feature in the Europa League and Hutter’s men grabbed that opportunity with both arms. They have thrived in the competition so far, winning each and every group match despite being drawn in a group alongside Marseille and Lazio- being the only German club to do so.
Frankfurt were fearless in their journey to the quarterfinals beating experienced clubs like Shakhtar Donetsk in the round of 32. Then came Inter Milan, it was one of those historic nights which saw a 13,500 tickets allocation oversubscribed ahead of their crucial Round of 16 away fixture, as club president Fischer was simply mesmerized by the passion and enthusiasm of the supporters. Luka Jovic assured the travelling fans went home with smiling faces as Hutter’s men progressed to the quarterfinals as Jovic will face his former team, SL Benfica. The Eagles have been fearless in their journey so far and now they feel they can go all the way through but they are well aware that the road will only get tougher from here.
The Eagles have turned their DFB cup win into an inspiration to achieve more, which once was thought as a perfect climax has been the beginning of a new triumph. The fearless daunting nature with a more than able general in Adi Hutter, Frankfurt’s modern day football model proves that football is a lot more than just splashing the cash around in the transfer market.