The Bundesliga has been a hotbed of innovation in football for a long time. Be it the youth setup, tactics or sports technology, German clubs leave no stone unturned in pursuit of excellence. The famous mantra ‘Football as it’s meant to be’ is definitely put into practice by clubs in Germany’s top flight, providing pure and beautiful football to its fans and viewers across the globe.
When it comes to tactics, it doesn’t take a football pundit to notice that the managers from Germany are among the youngest in Europe’s top-flight leagues, with most of them being promoted from coaching the youth setup itself. Take Julian Nagelsmann for example, who was promoted as the head coach of Hoffenheim in 2016 at a tender age of 28. He saved the club from relegation and famously led Die Kraichgauer to a Champions League berth in his first full season.
This speaks volumes about how young managers in Germany approach the tactical side of the game, and this is not something new. Be it Jürgen Klopp’s Gegenpressing in the early 2010s which transformed Borussia Dortmund from a mid-table team to eventual winners, or Nagelsmann’s famed 3-5-2 which changed fortunes for Hoffenheim, we have witnessed constant tactical evolution, with the Bundesliga at its forefront.
One such name beginning to make headlines this season is Marco Rose, the current manager of Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Rose had an eventful career as a player. Starting off in the 2. Bundesliga with VfB Leipzig as a left-back, his time at the club was brought to an abrupt end after 5 years when the club went bankrupt in 2000. He spent two years at Hannover before Jürgen Klopp signed him at Mainz, initially on loan and later permanently after they secured promotion to the Bundesliga. It was here that the full-back made a name for himself, stepping up as the team leader when Die Nüllfunfer had to spend another season in the 2. Bundesliga in 2004-05, which ended with promotion. Even after Jürgen Klopp left for Dortmund in 2008, Rose stayed at Mainz.
Rose took his first steps in management after dropping into the Mainz reserves as a player/coach, where he was the assistant manager for the 2010-11 season. A year later, he was managing in the fourth tier of German football, for Lokomotive Leipzig.
Rose’s first signs of resilience and determination were evident at Lokomotive, where he led the club to a successful survival from relegation. The following season, they were relegated to Oberliga with Rose no longer at the helm, signifying the managerial skill the young German brought into the difficult environment of the lower league the previous campaign.
Rose’s spell with Lokomotive didn’t go unnoticed, as Austrian giants Red Bull Salzburg offered him an avenue to further his development as a coach in its famed youth setup.
Rose was quick to get accustomed to the setup at Red Bull Salzburg, taking charge of their under-16 team. One of the best run clubs in football today, Salzburg had found the perfect person to complement their talented academy. In June 2015, after the under-18s coach and the assistant manager of the first team, Thomas Letsch, left Red Bull to join their feeder club, FC Liefering in the Austrian 2. Liga, Rose took charge of the under-18s. He continued to progress through the coaching ranks as he secured the Austrian U-18 Championship in his debut season and was immediately promoted to become the coach of the under-19s.
It was here that the German-made a name for himself. In his only season in charge of the under-19s, Rose defied the odds to win the UEFA Europa Youth league, defeating the favorites Benfica 2-1 in a closely contested final. This victory meant that the ex-Mainz man was now seen as the natural successor to head coach Oscar Garcia Junyent, who left the club to join French Ligue 1 side Saint-Etienne.
Making a Statement
On 15th June 2017, Marco Rose became the head coach of Red Bull Salzburg. It was a job with monumental expectations, as is the norm in the Red Bull football empire, and critics argued that Rose’s meteoric rise might come to a halt here.
They could not have been more wrong. Rose had a debut season which managers can only dream of. His side won the Austrian League by a massive 13-point margin over runners up Sturm Graz. What was even more impressive was their run in the UEFA Europa League, where they surprised everyone by finishing ahead of French giants Marseille at the top of Group I.
But they weren’t done just yet. After defeating Real Sociedad in the Round of 32, Die Mozartstädter were drawn against German powerhouse, Borussia Dortmund. No one gave the Austrian side a chance, but Rose’s men surprised everyone by dumping Dortmund out of the competition, which included a historic unlikely victory at the Signal Iduna Park.
In the quarter-finals, Rose’s side faced Serie A outfit Lazio, who boasted one of the most prolific strikers in Europe in Ciro Immobile. In the first-leg at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Lazio outclassed the Austrians, winning the game 4-2. Salzburg had never progressed beyond the last eight in the competition, a run that looked set to continue.
The second-leg back in Salzburg didn’t begin well for the hosts, as it was goalless at half-time. Ten minutes into the second-half, Ciro Immobile scored for Lazio. Surely this was it; surely Rose’s fairytale run in the competition had come to an end. Or had it?
The very next minute, the Austrians pulled one back. A comeback was a long shot. No, not really. 3 goals in the last 20 minutes ensured that Salzburg had qualified for the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League for the first time in their history. It was a miraculous feat, and that too in Rose’s first season in charge of the side. No one gave them a chance 35 minutes from the final whistle, but yet again, they had the last laugh over the cynics.
Unfortunately, Salzburg were knocked out in the semi-finals by Marseille, suffering heartbreak in extra-time. Still, this season had put the Austrian side on the map from a continental perspective, and behind all that was Marco Rose, whose side’s commitment to attacking football made them such a pleasure to watch, while also getting the expected results.
Rose’s mantra was clear. “We’re working in a field, in which things must be to the maximum. Maximum attitude and maximum performance. We’ve always got to be at the limit.”
The following season was an opportunity for the young German manager to build on his reputation, and he did just that. Not only did Salzburg retain their league title, but also managed to win the Austrian Cup, which had evaded them the previous season.
They continued to impress on the continental stage too, winning all their games in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League. After sweeping Belgian side Club Brugge aside in the first knockout round, Die Mozartstädter were drawn to face Italian giants, Napoli. I Partenopei had been the unlucky victims of the ‘Group of Death’ in the UEFA Champions League, finishing third behind Paris Saint-Germain and eventual winners Liverpool.
They had been in a similar situation the year before, against Lazio. They had defied all odds to knock them out of the competition. Could they manage a repeat of that this time around?
The first leg was painful, as Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli showcased their technical superiority to win the game 3-0 at the San Paolo. The result bore an eerie resemblance to the game against Lazio the previous year.
Could Salzburg do it again at home? Could Marco Rose pull the rabbit out of the hat yet again?
The second-leg began horribly for the hosts, as a 14th-minute strike from Arkadiusz Milik meant that Salzburg now needed 5 goals to progress. They tried, and tried well, eventually winning the game 3-1 but losing on aggregate. Despite that, the young Austrian side had managed to give the veteran Napoli team a major scare.
On April 3rd, 2019, Bundesliga giants Borussia Mönchengladbach announced that they would not offer an extension to out-of-contract head coach Dieter Hecking at the end of the season after he had failed to win a league game for two months.
For Gladbach Sporting Director Max Eberl, it was not going to be easy to replace the outgoing German, who had brought the club within touching distance of Champions League football that season. Who could succeed him? Someone with a proven track record, but also someone who wasn’t too big for a club of Mönchengladbach’s stature.
The answer was Marco Rose.
Rose was quick to make his presence known in the Bundesliga, as his side began the season in rampant fashion. They currently sit in the second in the table, two points behind leaders Red Bull Leipzig going into the winter break.
Rose spent a lot of his playing career under Jürgen Klopp, so it was only natural that he took inspiration from his ‘rock-and-roll’ style of football while tactically evolving his own teams.
With his high-octane style attracting interest from all over the continent, Rose received a further endorsement from Klopp himself, who recently referred to him as the “most-hyped manager” when talking to Sky Austria last spring.
Rose’s Salzburg set up as a fluid 4-3-1-2 with a diamond midfield in the center of the park. He is one of the few managers in today’s game to still use the central attacking midfielder or the Trequartista. At Salzburg, this spot was filled by either the versatile Xaver Schlager, who could play on the left-wing as well as a deep-lying midfielder or Takumi Minamino, who very recently caught the eye of Klopp himself and signed for Liverpool.
Salzburg’s attack-heavy approach was focused on verticality, looking to play through the opposition rather than around them. Adept on the ball, the back four circulated the ball from one side of the pitch to the other as they looked to exploit any possible gaps that might open up in the opposition’s defensive lines. The key player to do this was the Brazillian centre-back Ramalho, whose vision and range enabled him to find more attacking teammates.
The Salzburg front-three were very fluid, as they would regularly drop back to receive passes from the midfield, dragging their markers with them and creating spaces for their teammates to run into. The furthest two of the midfielders also supported the front three by making late runs to catch the opposition defense completely off guard. This enabled them to maintain constant pressure on their opponents.
Astonishingly, Red Bull only averaged 6.6 opponent passes before a defensive action is completed under Marco Rose. This number ranked as one of the best in Europe. Additionally, they completed 14.32 passes on an average before the opposition managed to dispossess them. A similar impact is still seen on the current Salzburg team.
Due to absence of traditional wingers, Salzburg were reluctant to go wide, but if the need arose, their full-backs Stefan Lainer and Andreas Ulmer would be there for support. As the ball would be played into one of them, it would necessarily drag the opposition full-back out, effectively creating a 3v2 or a 3v3.
Rose’s side was devastating on the break as well and were trained to ‘hunt in packs’, pressing at the most suitable moments to lull the opposition into a false sense of security before catching them unawares.
On the defensive side, their fluid shape meant that Salzburg could adapt to different shapes depending on the opposition. There have been instances where they resembled a 4-3-2-1 or even a 5-3-2 while defending, ensuring that their attack-heavy proactive football doesn’t leave them susceptible to counters.
At Borussia Mönchengladbach, Rose has stuck to his philosophy, albeit with a few upgrades in the personnel available at his disposal. Any avid Gladbach fan will tell you that under the Hecking, the side was painfully boring to watch, with slow build-up and a long wait to find chinks in the opposition’s armour. The appointment of Rose came as a breath of fresh air for the fans of the historic German club, whose attacking philosophy, coupled with consistent performances week in, week out has definitely given them a reason to smile this season.
What’s in store for the future?
The Foals’ fans will be hoping that this title challenge is a sign of things to come, and despite being up against the Julian Nagelsmann-led Red Bull Leipzig, they’ll be hoping for an unlikely triumph. Irrespective of that, the North-Rhine Westphalia based club might have found the guy who transforms them from a sleeping giant to a football team capable of winning trophies again.
As for us, we are witnessing one of the most fascinating managers in world football today and one could only fathom the heights Marco could reach given the splendid start to his managerial career.
After a thorny playing career, Germany’s Rose is beginning to bloom.