The Barcelona players realized it as soon as they ran outside to warm up, whistling on their pitch in front of the Eintracht Frankfurt team that would swell to 30,000 inside the Nou Camp when the game started. “I strongly believe it affects the outcome,” says Axel Hellmann.
Hellmann is the spokesman for the board of directors in Frankfurt. He could be seen smiling smugly, drunkenly the next moment, and who could blame him. Barcelona failed at their own stadium, the second Europa League semi-final in three years for his club.
Sporting director Markus Krosche said: “To win is often impossible for a team like Eintracht Frankfurt. “It’s a big day for Frankfurt, a big day for German football. To win as a German team in Barcelona is unusual. These are memories you will never forget. “
22-year-old winger Jens Petter Hauge’s face lit up as he watched it all over again. “I will remember that night for the rest of my life,” he said. “The atmosphere in the dressing room, the feeling at Camp Nou afterwards when we celebrated with the fans, was amazing.”
For the club’s goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, the experience is called appealing because he was the man standing between places in Paris Saint-Germain’s infamous 6-1 loss to Barcelona in 2017. It was a special situation for me,” he admitted.
“But this is another game, another Barcelona.”
Frankfurt took a three-goal lead before a belated comeback put a strain on nerves. Trapp added: “Barcelona is the clear favorite. “But we all believe.” It takes more than that. “It’s one thing to believe and another to get there and actually do it,” Hauge continued.
What makes the Eintracht Frankfurt story so remarkable is that this really shouldn’t have happened. Star striker Andre Silva was sold last summer. They are ninth in the Bundesliga, their only win at Barcelona that night in eight games. Europe was their salvation.
“Usually in the Bundesliga, especially at home, we have a lot of opponents playing deep so we have to find a solution in the last third of the pitch,” explained Krosche. “There are closed spaces and it’s not so easy, opponents play in transition.”
In the match against Barcelona, and even before that against Real Betis, the situation was completely different. “There’s more space. The opponents are more attacking so we can play on top and that’s much easier in football than finding a solution in the last half.”
Learning the counter-attack from coach Oliver Glasner’s side seemed ideal for beating the best. In October, they inflicted the first of two home defeats for Bayern Munich this season. “He has a clear plan and is very good at analyzing opponents,” added Krosche.
Hauge agreed. “We showed that we can beat anyone. We won in Munich, we won in Barcelona. His system works well against difficult teams.” Trapp respects that. “He always has a plan. It’s good to have a coach who knows what he’s doing. He instills confidence.”
This is the sillier reason for Frankfurt’s success in Europe, but there are people at the club who believe there is a more romantic explanation. After all, Eintracht Frankfurt featured in the most famous European Cup final of them all in 1960.
It is remembered as a distinct victory for Real Madrid, 7-3 thanks to three goals from Alfredo Di Stefano and four from Ferenc Puskas. But Frankfurt’s role in that famous game is only part of the reason why European nights are woven into the city’s fabric.
“It starts with the history of the club,” said Hellmann. “Eintracht Frankfurt, going back to the 1950s, is an international club. It’s an open city, a financial hub, so a lot of people from abroad feel welcome and at home. Frankfurt This is deep in our DNA.
“In 1951, we were the first club after World War II to play in the United States. The Germans were not welcome at the time but we were building bridges all over the world. That’s inherent. in our club structure International competitions are warmly accepted by the fans.
“A lot of things come together to form the club’s unique DNA. Eintracht Frankfurt is more than just a football club. We have 52 teams in different sports, with more than 100 nationalities. representation. We have over 100,000 members. There are no borders here.”
Trapp notes that when Frankfurt plays in Europe “it’s something special here”, with Krosche pointing out “supporters love competition and live competitively”. Giving 30,000 to Barcelona is remarkable but in keeping with that tradition.
Fifteen thousand fans used to come to Bordeaux to see their team. Similar numbers have reached Milan and Rome in the past. This is part of the Frankfurt fan culture. “Fans are going everywhere, making the impossible possible,” Trapp said.
As they prepare to face West Ham in the semi-finals, there are glaring similarities between these mid-range clubs with huge backing and aspiration for more. The West Ham owners are childhood fans. Hellmann has been a member of Frankfurt since the age of three.
The difference is that Frankfurt’s fans keep control of their club through the 50 plus one rule common to many Bundesliga clubs. While rivals in the Premier League dream of being taken over by billionaires, Frankfurt – the Eagles – wants to grow in a different way.
Hellmann said: “We believe that football is more than just a sport and more than a business, it’s a living community. “That’s one of the reasons why 50 plus one is such a good rule of thumb because it gives fans the opportunity to run their own club with their decisions.
“The more emotional part is that they are getting into football, pricing policy, seating. I believe this is a healthy and balanced concept in football. You can combine money and passion. That is the club culture of Eintracht Frankfurt.
“I would say that the title and position in the league is not the most important thing. The most important thing for the people behind the club is that they feel pride and dignity and they feel legit. This is the highest goal you can have.
“We all want to win, we all want to win titles. But this is not the highest goal you have in sport. The highest goal is to do this in the right way. , with fair play, with fan participation and full regional recognition. That’s our philosophy.”
Growth is still possible.
“Six years ago, when we once again avoided relegation, we decided to invest in infrastructure after 15 years without investment. We took over the stadium owned by the city so the source New revenue has appeared.We invest in the young division.
“The club is on another level right now.”
Trapp reiterated that sentiment has been witnessed for himself since returning from PSG during his second stint at the club.
“When I left Frankfurt it was a club fighting to not be relegated. The facilities here are much better now than before, the infrastructure, everything. Other than that, the goals. changed. You aim higher now for different goals. This club has grown.”
Of course there are limitations. The Silva deal is not the first or the last.
“It’s not that easy,” explained Krosche. “On the other hand, when you’re successful everyone is happy. This is what you do. But when you achieve something great like we had in the Europa League, it’s only natural that our players will attract interest from other teams.
“At a club like Eintracht Frankfurt, you have to decide if a player has to leave or you can convince him to stay. It’s not easy because the impact of the coronavirus is huge on the revenue of the club. It was a big challenge for us to handle this situation.
“One of our sources of revenue is transfers. If the player’s growth is faster than the club’s growth, we have to find the right number. That’s part of our story. Finding new players and developing them. This is part of the business and we have to be prepared.”
But in the meantime there is potential for glory.
“It’s all about us,” Hauge said. “We need to create our own story and make sure the next generation of Frankfurt fans will remember our name.”
The Norwegian is from AC Milan but he has never experienced anything like this before. “Here, it’s something else,” he added. “The fans are amazing, even when we have a hard time in the game, I still have 55,000 people supporting me.”
West Ham won’t let many people into the London stadium on Thursday night, but that won’t be the end of the adventure with the return leg at home in Frankfurt. Before that, it was against Sevilla and the first European final in 42 years.
“If we get to this, I can promise you a lot of people will join us in Seville,” added Krosche.
“I don’t know how many people will stay in Frankfurt.”