"Those four years were like a dream," said Lucien Favre as he recalled making history with VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach's next Group A opponents, FC Zürich.
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When Lucien Favre comes to FC Zürich for VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach's second UEFA Europa League Group A match on Thursday, he can expect a warm welcome.
Zürich's days as one of Switzerland's top teams were long passed when Favre took over in spring 2003, and he was under no illusion about what it would take to get the club back on track. However, FCZ had chosen well in the pragmatic, perfectionist Favre, who had won two domestic championships as well as a Swiss Cup by the time he left for Hertha BSC Berlin in 2007.
"I had a fantastic time at Zürich – those four years were like a dream," the 56-year-old said after the group stage draw pitted his Foals against his old side. "A lot of great memories flood back when I think about those days." Greatest of them all, surely, was that day in May 2006 when Iulian Filipescu made it 2-1 deep into added time against FC Basel 1893 on the final day of the campaign to give Zürich their first title since 1981.
Favre's effect on Zürich – and the rest of Swiss football – was a profound one; the Super League had rarely witnessed the level of attention to detail the 24-times capped Switzerland midfielder put into his team's matches. Training sessions and detailed analysis of opponents helped to give Zürich their edge, with defensive awareness and anticipation key elements which Favre drilled into his troops.
"Back in the day, a footballer could have a good career by having good fighting skills and stamina," Favre once explained. "That is no longer possible. If you don't anticipate and know how to react in tight spaces, you are lost."
Just as crucial to Zürich's success was Favre's eye for talent. With a modest budget, he used his scouting network wisely, drafting promising players from the lower leagues and honing the colts in Zürich's youth ranks. Such skills helped him get the job at Hertha and then, in 2011, Mönchengladbach who – like Zürich in 2003 – were very much a side with their best years behind them when he arrived.
He has not led the Foals to a German championship yet, but few doubt that he has made his mark. Despite losing a raft of key players in 2012 – Favre equated the departures of Marco Reus, Dante and Roman Neustädter to FC Barcelona losing Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué and Xavi Hernández – he guided a reconstructed 'Gladbach back into Europe the following season.
When his team take the pitch in Switzerland on Thursday, Zürich will know – as they always did when Favre occupied the helm – exactly what they are up against.