Chris Williams –
Thomas Tuchel should be a revered figure in Germany, but for some reason a disturbing pattern has emerged. Is it driven by an agenda, or the result of confusion over his ability? Why are many within the German press sharpening their knives in opposition to the talented coach?
With his rise through the ranks of the youth structure at both VfB Stuttgart and FC Augsburg, Tuchel has followed a traditional German path. Happy to learn his trade from the bottom up, the Bavarian born coach transformed the fortune of 1. FSV Mainz 05 when he took charge of the newly promoted side in 2009. Through a deep understanding of what makes players tick, as well as a vast tactical brain, it was not a surprise that a team of Borussia Dortmund’s stature would come knocking at some point.
When Dortmund did come knocking, Tuchel had big shoes to fill. Hired as the successor to Jürgen Klopp, he took over an exceptionally talented squad. Flattering to deceive, in season 2014-15, it was Tuchel who BVB turned to, in the hope that he would guide their talented squad back to the top. Because he was regarded as one of Germany’s top coaches, die Schwarz-Gelben moved quickly to secure his services once Klopp gave notice that he needed a break from the game in 2015
Thomas Tuchel is a keen student of the game
Although Tuchel had been away on his own sabbatical since leaving Mainz in 2014, he had not wasted his time away. A keen student of the game’s greats, Tuchel looked to the workings of former Bayern München head coach Pep Guardiola—what had made the Spaniard the best in the game.
It was an outside appreciation of what makes players’ think, what makes them tick. Analytical by nature, it is no surprise that the economics graduate had also chosen the field of sports science to investigate further. In Professor Wolfgang Schöllhorn’s theory of ‘Differential Learning,’ Tuchel discovered that players adapt their technique, intuitively, to a never-ending stream of problems—not purely by repetition of training ground sessions.
It was this approach to football that singled out Tuchel as a potential future star within the German game—an approach which a team like Dortmund needed.
His first season witnessed a heart-breaking injury time defeat to Klopp’s Liverpool in the Europa League, as well as a penalty defeat to Bayern in the Pokal Final, but, in a season which had more ups than downs, Tuchel had guided Dortmund back into the Champions League—few were surprised.
Over the summer, Dortmund experienced an exodus of the talent that had filled their changing room—Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gündogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan all left. Captain Hummels left for Bayern whilst the other two swapped Dortmund for Manchester.
These were departures that would decimate any squad, and any coach at any club in the world. Tuchel identified Ömer Toprak, Mahmoud Dahoud and Karim Bellarabi as replacements—he got none. Instead, he was assigned a development project. In came exciting young talents such as Ousmane Dembélé, Emre Mor and Raphaël Guerreiro, as well as more experienced hands to steady the ship—Sebastian Rode, Marc Bartra, Mario Götze and André Schürrle.
Thomas Tuchel is the perfect mentor to a young squad
For a squad that had been ravaged, Dortmund had recovered from the assault. However, it was potential that now filled Signal Iduna Park – with Tuchel at the helm of the coaching staff they couldn’t have wished for a better mentor.
Few expected the Bundesliga season of 2016-17 to start the way it did. Perennial challengers and big names fell away—Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Gladbach, Schalke and Bremen all faltered. A rise of new blood flourished, headed up by newly promoted, but heavily backed, RasenBallsport Leipzig, teams such as Hertha, Köln, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hoffenheim rose in dominance. For a team in transition Dortmund found themselves stuck between the emerging trends.
By the time the Hinrunde arrived BVB were sixth, 12 points behind the leaders, Bayern, and nine points behind newly promoted Leipzig. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though; Dortmund had excelled in the Champions League and it was clear to see that their emerging squad of youth, balanced with experience, was unlikely to be out of this close race for long.
Attacks on Thomas Tuchel followed a distinct pattern
It was strange, then, to see Tuchel criticized by certain elements within the German media. Coaches are not generally asked to rebuild during their second season, so the critics of Tuchel have been harsh—it has also been personal at times. A bizarre attack by ex-international, turned pundit, Thomas Berthold saw a request for Mainz to ‘punch him in the face’ before Matchday 19. Berthold went on to say that Tuchel regards himself as the ‘special one’ and that he ‘eats too much raw food—a preacher of modern soccer, he thinks he is from outer space.’
Whilst unclear, the attack does suggest an emerging pattern—that the quiet Tuchel is arrogant or a figure to be disliked. Not one for preaching to the media, or appearing in countless corporate adverts, it may be that the man who replaced Klopp is at the opposite end of the media spectrum to his BVB predecessor, and some simply just don’t like it.
Contrast Tuchel’s media portrayal with that of Bayern’s Ancelotti. The latter can be found in an almost monthly exclusive with Germany’s biggest football magazines. The Italian gives the soundbites and phrases wanted, Tuchel doesn’t and his treatment, as a result, has suffered.
Thomas Tuchel has actually navigated a difficult start well
Crazy described by some as being in a ‘hot-seat,’ Tuchel has, so far, navigated a difficult start to the Rückrunde well; BVB are back to fourth. What is even more compelling are the displays of emerging potential. Ousmane Dembélé has been incredible—his assist in the recent big game versus Leipzig topping a brilliant performance that had been bubbling under the surface since his demolition of Gladbach in early December.
Dortmund’s other youth players are starting to find their feet, as are their more established stars—Christian Pulisic, Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all indicate that they are ready for the remainder of this season.
As the race for the Champions League heats up, as well as the continuation of the Bundesliga and Pokal, it is Tuchel who is beginning to assert his dominance once again. Be he quiet, or just not comfortable in the constant glare of the cameras, it is those behind the cameras who are starting to look a little foolish.
Dortmund appear to be a force going forward. The continuing maturity of their youthful squad give the impression that men from the Nordrhein-Westfalen have all the elements necessary of a group who can dominate German football in the coming seasons. With Thomas Tuchel controlling this vessel of emerging talent, Borussia Dortmund have everything they need to succeed.
In the country where pragmatism normally leads the way for analysis, it may be time for those ex-players who wish to drive an agenda of personal attack, based on nothing but conjecture, to take a back seat. Let this obvious talent get on with what he does best— leading quietly from the front.
Combining coaching with writing Chris’ time is spent covering football from all angles. Having been a regular at Liverpool FC since the late 80s he also has a passion for the Bundesliga and all things German. Contributing to a number of local, national and international publications he is focused on analysis and the stories behind the goals. He can be found somewhere between the Kop and Yellow Wall. Follow Chris Williams on Twitter: @Chris78Williams