Borussia Monchengladbach can sustain their place in the Bundesliga's top four this season as they prepare to return to the Champions League, according to former forward Rob Friend.
Gladbach will play in the Champions League for the first time in four years after a final-day win over Hertha Berlin sealed a top-four finish in 2019-20, behind champions Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.
Having missed out on fourth spot to Bayer Leverkusen on the final matchday in 2018-19, Gladbach bounced back thanks to the arrival of head coach Marco Rose and shrewd signings, including Marcus Thuram, Breel Embolo, Stefan Lainer and Ramy Bensebaini.
Gladbach have added Hannes Wolf and Valentino Lazaro (both loanees) to a squad boasting captain Lars Stindl, star Denis Zakaria, Christoph Kramer, Alassane Plea, Matthias Ginter, Nico Elvedi and Yann Sommer.
As Gladbach embark on just their third Champions League campaign, not before opening their Bundesliga season at Dortmund on Saturday, Friend is not surprised by the club's success.
"It's a huge achievement for the model of club that they are," Friend, who spent three seasons at Gladbach and helped the club earn promotion to the Bundesliga in 2007-08 before leaving in 2010, told Stats Perform News.
"They've obviously, over the last five-10 years, punched above their weight in my opinion. They've done a phenomenal recruiting job. They really have a nice template of what the club is, the identity. Really strategic recruiting with the right players and maximising them. Selling them at their peak. They have a nice model.
"All credit, obviously it's an entire organisation but the sporting director [Max Eberl], he was there when I was there, has done an outstanding job with everything - scouting, recruiting. Once you get to that level of knowing what club you are, the identity and template to follow, I'm not saying it's easy but you've seen success is slowly built and the base foundation is getting better and stronger.
"It's no surprise in terms of how stable they are. Once in a while reaching the Champions League. When I say once in a while, the top five or six clubs in the Bundesliga, it's very competitive. We all know the top two and after that, you have the big spenders like Leverkusen who can spend, you never know with Schalke. But based on the years and the base Gladbach have built, it's no surprise they've now reached the Champions League. The question is can they sustain the top four in the league and I believe they can because they have the right base."
Rose has played an instrumental role in Gladbach's success after being lured to Borussia-Park by Eberl last year.
After winning back-to-back league titles and the Austrian Cup with Salzburg, Rose replaced Dieter Hecking and he oversaw Gladbach's best start to a Bundesliga season since 1976-77, having topped the table through 14 matchdays following a memorable victory against Bayern.
While Gladbach were unable to maintain their place atop the table in pursuit of a first Bundesliga crown since 1977, they returned to Europe's premier club competition as Friend hailed the 44-year-old coach.
"He's in the new group of modern young coaches," ex-Canada international Friend said. "With him, he's had the opportunity to learn and not get thrown into a big club as an inexperienced coach. He's allowed himself the right steps to learn. Rolling into the Bundesliga with a club who are very stable. He has the ability but he has provided himself the ladder and learning opportunities. Smart enough to know Gladbach are a very stable club.
"For example, the Hamburgs, Stuttgarts and Schalkes, they've very unstable. You look at the rotation of coaches. For a young coach to walk into one of those environments is risky. Any coach walking into a club like Gladbach with the stability they have, definitely sets you up for success. It's the path to get there where he has honed his skills."
All eyes will again be on Gladbach midfielder Zakaria, who has established himself as one of the Bundesliga's finest talents.
Zakaria's exploits since joining Gladbach in 2017 have reportedly attracted interest from Premier League champions Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Bayern, Dortmund and Inter.
Friend believes the 23-year-old Switzerland international - who is contracted to Gladbach until 2022 - could command a similar fee that saw Kai Havertz swap Leverkusen for Chelsea in an initial £72million (€80m) deal.
"He's obviously the big name they throw around in terms of who is going to make the next move," Friend said. "Overall the Bundesliga, let's probably remove the top two in Bayern and Dortmund. You look at what Kai Havertz did at Leverkusen. Close to €100m move. That just shows you don't have to be a top club to achieve those transfer fees.
"I think if you're Gladbach you're looking at a player like that. He has a pretty hefty price tag on him. As these players move on, whether it's Havertz, Werner etc it will be important that they have the success with the price tags they have on them. When I was playing, maybe you had a guy moving for five-10m outside the top two clubs and it was very important they had success in those leagues to substantiate the price tags that league is demanding.
"He certainly comes with a price tag that would eliminate most clubs. I know Gladbach won't stop him from moving but it will come with a major transfer fee and certainly there would be clubs watching who would be willing to pay. The rest is a bit of luck. Make sure he has a strong season and stays healthy."
Friend played with two highly rated prospects during his time at Gladbach - German duo Marco Reus and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Attacking star Reus spent three years at Gladbach before returning to boyhood club Dortmund in 2012, having been released six years earlier, while goalkeeper Ter Stegen emerged from Gladbach's youth system in 2010 and was eventually snapped up by LaLiga giants Barcelona in 2014.
Friend added: "By day one in training, you saw he [Reus] was something special. What stood out was his character. At the time, he maybe seemed like a hotshot with his character but he absolutely knew he had it from day one. An 18-year-old with that kind of confidence is almost a differentiator. He had the talent but the confidence, he didn't really give a s***. He knew what he wanted. There was no doubt he had the talent but it certainly takes more than that.
"With Ter Stegen, I would say even more so. He was 17 or so when I was there. Third or fourth keeper when he first started coming into practice. We would joke in the changing room and call him Oliver Kahn as a joke because he presented himself very confidently, his chest was out, his head was high as an 18-year-old kid coming into practice. I was blown away with the confidence he had, especially as a goalkeeper. He had so much confidence and work ethic. He was always the first one there and last to leave training."