Lucien Favre, the path of the Swiss miracle man at the helm of Nice

A coach is not Harry Potter.

on 4th August 2016 Nice manager Lucien Favre answered in this way a question about the improvement of his team after few weeks at the helm of the club. Just a year later the Saint-Barthélemy manager had led French club to the third place in Ligue 1 and he is going to start a new Europa League campaign, after being knocked out from Champions League. A season ad a little sports miracle. Another one for the Swiss manager. Masterpieces that Lucien has built through passion and work. The same passion that has brought him from Saint-Barthélemy, a small village in Romandy to the Swiss first division. Favre, who was born in 1959 played for Lausanne, Neuchâtel Xamax and especially nine seasons for Servette. In 1983-1984 the attacking midfielder had a short spell in France at Toulouse scoring seven goals in 35 games.

A talented player, who amassed also 24 caps for the Swiss national team, slowed down by a devastating left knee injury suffered in 1985. Due to Vevey Sports defender Pierre-Albert Chapuisat‘s foul Favre couldn’t play for eight months and after rehabilitation Lucien didn’t achieve the previous level again. “I was too afraid,” said the Swiss-born player about the last years of his career which ended in 1991. After retirement Favre had no idea who he wanted to become. He accepted the offer of FC Echallens, an amateur club in Canton of Vaud to be assistant coach of their U14 youth team. That was the beginning of his new life.

I would like to start from young players in order to unde4stand if I was able to teach my ideas,

said Lucien in an interview to French-speaking public TV RTS. After a season as assistant manager Favre coaches another youth team, then FC Echallens first squad gaining a historic promotion to Swiss second tier in 1995.


Lucien Favre

During 1995-1996 season “Lulù”, as he was nicknamed, worked for Neuchâtel Xamax as youth academy director considering football from another point of view. In 1996, Favre was appointed by Yverdon, who played in the second Swiss division. That was a miracle. Again. The club from Canton of Vaud achieved an unexpected promotion to the first tier, showcasing an amazing football. That was “Yverdinho”, as press and fans labelled the side.
Favre built this masterpiece through a massive turnover (in the first season he substituted 14 players on 18) and hard work. He explained his football idea made of ball possession, speed, intensity and organisation every day. As his former player Ludovic Magnin said, Favre indoctrinated him also on a car that brought him home.

Thanks to his good spell at Yverdon, the Saint-Barthélemy-born coach received an offer from Servette, where he had spent almost 10 years as player. With former Yverdon coach at the helm they were able to win a Swiss Cup in 2001 and in 2002 they achieved UEFA Cup round of 16, also beating Hertha Berlin 3-0 at Olympiastadion. Despite pretty good results Favre had troubles with Servette executives and also with some players such as club veteran Sébastien Fournier, and he was sacked at the end of 2001-2002 season. About the misunderstandings with footballers Swiss manager was clear.

You can’t love everyone, especially in football

he said. Servette dismissal was also a demonstration of what Favre is. Good-mannered and extremely shy, he doesn’t want to settle for a compromise and he is not so distant as it seems. After the two-years spell in Geneva,  the Swiss manager opted for a one-season break. He studied the way of coaching of different European managers and in 2003 Favre was appointed as FC Zürich‘s head coach. It was a decisive step for Lucien’s career. He left Romandy for a German-speaking city and started a new experience in a club where he had never played before.

Four years later, Favre would leave Zurich as a football hero.

His team won one Swiss Cup and two Swiss championships, the first one in 2006 by beating Basel FC in the last match and ending a 25-year drought.

Fussball Super League - FC Basel - FC Zuerich

In addition to these trophies, it was incredible how the Swiss coach made his players improve. New training methods, organisation, an offensive football style and a lot of young footballers promoted to regular first team member, as for example Gökhan Inler and Blerim Dzemaili.
The first one was signed from FC Aarau, after watching some highlights on DVD received by Inler’s agent Dino Lamberti and having a one-to-one trial with him, the second one was noticed by Favre in U18 Swiss championship final and promoted to the first team. Dzemaili talked in a enthusiastic way of Favre‘s teachings.

Lucian is for me like a father. What I learnt from him is the basis of my successive achievements

Blerim said a in a interview published on German magazine 11 Freunde.
Two players, who were with Favre in Zürich (defender Van Bergen and Brazilian striker Raffael), accompanied the Swiss-born coach in his new spell in Germany. In autumn 2007 Lucien became Hertha Berlin manager with the aim of restoring the prestige of Bundesliga’s “Old Lady”. He succeeded in it thanks to good ideas and with few money. In the first season at the helm, Favre avoided Hertha’s relegation, in the second one the Berlinese club clinched the fourth place in the league earning Europa League qualification. Another miracle made of good players (Croatian defender Simunic, Hungarian midfielder Dárdai and Ukranian striker Voronin), great organisation and intensive work on tactics. It’s the triumph of “polyvalence”, as Favre repeated over and over again in a decent German during his spell at Hertha. A concept explained by Swiss coach in an interview published on local newspaper Tageszeitung: “It’s not a matter of having footballers able to play in every position, but players able to perform well his favorite role in every formation”.

In Berlin, Favre’s masterpiece was a match against Bayern Munich on 14th February 2009. They defeated Bavarian side led by Jürgen Klinsmann giving them a tactical lesson and securing the temporary first place in German first division.
Despite the fourth place in Bundesliga, the 2008-2009 season was the swansong of the Swiss manager in Berlin. In summer 2009, Hertha executives decided to sell some key players (for example Simunic, Voronin and Pantelic) and most of chickens came home to roost, especially the tense relationship between Favre, executives and some players as team captain Arne Friedrich. In addition to it, Hertha Berlin had a poor season start losing six matches in a row. The club sacked Favre on 28th September and one week later he accused Hertha Berlin president in a press conference, which took place in a hotel. That was the end. The Swiss coach would manage again almost one year and half later.
In February 2011 Borussia Mönchengladbach appointed Favre to save the team which lied at the bottom of the Bundesliga table. At the end of the season Fohlen avoided relegation after play-offs against Bochum and Lucien began to work alongside sporting director Max Eberl on ‘Gladbach’s reconstruction.

The key principles of Favre’s play were the same as in Berlin and in Zurich: organisation (4-4-2 with double pivot as main formation), ball possession and speed. What changed were the players. Many of them came from Borussia youth academy, like Marc-André ter Stegen and Patrick Hermann, some others (Reus, Xhaka, Kramer) were signed by duo Favre-Eberl. The Swiss manager was really good in mixing them with club veteran Stindl and his pupil Raffael. The result of Favre’s work is one of the best teams in Borussia Mönchengladbach recent history. The former Hertha Berlin coach shaped his side day by day working hard on every single player and on every single detail of Fohlen‘s play.

Trainer Lucien Favre Borussia Mönchengladbach am Spielfeldrand gibt Thorgan Hazard Borussia Möncheng

It was a long way to the top with some setbacks, like the eighth place in 2012-2013 Bundesliga season. With Favre at the helm, Borussia Mönchengladbach qualified twice for Champions League securing a third place in 2015, the best club result since 1986/1987 season.
A great moment that Lucien Favre lived only for a while. At the beginning of 2015/2016 campaign the Borussians had a poor start, including five defeats in Bundesliga. Due to these results Favre, surprisingly resigned. Borussia executives tried to convince Swiss manager to come back because they believed in Lucien’s work. He didn’t change his decision, leaving Mönchengladbach at the end of September. Team and fans were shocked but almost immediately they fell in love with Favre’s successor, the youth coach André Schubert who brought the team to Champions League group stage.
After his escape from Germany Favre didn’t accept any offer until summer 2016, when he signed for French team Nice. In the French Riviera, the Swiss manager had the chance to build again something good in a ambitious club. In his team he had promising and interesting players as Balotelli and Cyprien and his pupil Dante.


The third place in the first Ligue season has been stunning. A little masterpiece that needed passion.

Because coaches are no Harry Potter.