How Eintracht Frankfurt became successful again
Eintracht Frankfurt are in position for Champions League qualification. Ronald Wittek/EPA.

It feels almost like an admission of guilt to acknowledge soccer has become more of a business and less of a sport over the decades, but that doesn’t make it any less the truth. In a world where a club’s financial practices now dictate so much of what can be expected in regards to results, it stands to reason that the most productive organisations are the ones that are, quick simply, organised.

RB Leipzig have quickly ascended Germany’s ranks—from non-existence to Bundesliga title contention in less than a decade—joining Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in illustrating how proper planning and structure directly impacts performances. More specifically, it affects the short and long-term options available, and therefore the extent to which a team is able to perform over the course of a season.

Eintracht Frankfurt have all the heritage to rival that of their Bundesliga rivals considering they were part of the league’s original 16 founding members. The club has won the DFB-Pokal on five occasions—behind only Bayern (20) and Werder Bremen (six)—and looked capable of challenging Germany’s elite in decades gone by, only for that promise to always prove short-lived.

Spearheaded by the shrewd work of sporting director Fredi Bobic—who arrived in June 2016—there’s a feeling that this generation of decision-makers at the Waldstadion are onto something more sustainable. The club has climbed to third in the table after 21 games and are second-highest scorers after league leaders Bayern, with Adi Hütter’s attack-minded vision taking shape in his third season at the helm.

It helps that the likes of Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach are experiencing dips, but Eintracht are looking worthy of a top-four finish in their own right after weathering a winter slump.

Die Adler have recorded as few Bundesliga defeats as any other outfit this term (two), and their combination of being tough to beat at the back but truly scintillating up front is a recipe that could result in a return to the continent’s most illustrious contest.

Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas were both in the Real Madrid side that beat Eintracht the last time they featured in the European Cup (or its successor, the UEFA Champions League) in 1960. A 7-3 thrashing in that year’s final exposed the gulf between the Eagles and those flying at even greater heights, but few might have guessed it would be six decades before they’d pilot back to the competition—provided all goes to plan.

No player among the current crop summarises Eintracht’s new-and-improved business acumen better than Andre Silva, whose 18 Bundesliga goals are second only to Bayern superstar Robert Lewandowski. The Portugal striker was brought to Frankfurt after good-but-not-great stints with AC Milan and Sevilla, but the loss of those clubs has been Eintracht’s gain in two prosperous seasons:

Silva’s success is all the more satisfying due to the sense that bigger clubs might have spotted what Eintracht did, a star-in-waiting swiped from under the noses of those who had lost faith. The forward was 23 at the time of his arrival in 2019 (initially on loan), barely two years removed from a $40 million exit from Porto and with plenty of time to fulfill his promise; he merely needed the right surroundings to prove as much.

It was a similar trust and Hütter’s management that’s got Luka Jovic firing again since he arrived back at the club on loan from Real Madrid, instantly recapturing his best in Germany despite an abject 18 months in Spain:

The case of Jovic further underlines Frankfurt’s stellar business nous under the current regime, the Serb signed for “below €7 million,” according to Bobic, and sold to Real for almost 10 times that sum less than two months later.

Daichi Kamada, Djibril Sow and Evan Ndicka are other examples of young talent thriving in Frankfurt after being signed for relatively low fees in recent years. Said trio are performing beyond the means of their combined cost of less than $20 million, with Sow the most expensive of the three by some distance, joining from Young Boys for a modest $11 million in 2019.

Bobic is hardly the first director to pay special attention to the value in recruiting young players with higher potential for up-market selling, but it’s a key focus that’s developed since he arrived almost five years ago. Back then, Eintracht had finished the 2015-16 campaign in 16th and just evaded relegation thanks to a playoff win over Nuremberg; after four seasons guided by his hand, their prospects are substantially higher.

The keen eye of head scout Ben Manga—who moved from Stuttgart alongside Bobic—should also be praised considering how effective the club has been in identifying great deals during his stay at the club. Very few of Eintracht’s transfers in that time could be deemed outright ‘failures’. Even then, their preference for lower-cost targets has meant those deals that have proved less fruitful don’t represent any great fiscal damage.

But as we’ve already noted, soccer is an industry that’s grown increasingly business-minded in its operations, and the fine work of those at the Waldstadion hasn’t gone unnoticed. DW Sports reported ex-Germany striker Bobic has already rejected interest from Milan, Leipzig and Wolfsburg in recent years, and there’s no certainty of his long-term loyalties as Hertha Berlin are now said to be hovering.

One aspect still separating the Eagles from their more decorated peers is the development of their academy, with relatively little involvement from homegrown players among their first team. However, Bobic has been a chief proponent in amending that ‘weakness’ for the club, helping strengthen academy resources with progressive, forward-thinking methods:

It’s rarely the case that the success of a club can be attributed to any one person, but there can be little doubt that certain organisations in the modern age rely more heavily on the machinations of some brains in particular. Just as Sevilla look smarter with Monchi marshalling their transfer moves, and Michael Zorc has built a revered reputation as director at Dortmund, Bobic is on track to proving his worth as a key orchestrator to his club’s upward trajectory.

Champions League qualification will be bittersweet for Eintracht if their transfer guru is headhunted and snatched away, but those who remain will hope his influence runs deep enough to sustain their higher aspirations should they part ways.