The long read: What Borussia Dortmund did next...
There are things only Thomas Tuchel can see. Literally. Borussia Dortmund's coach, the man chosen by the club to follow the iconic, still hugely popular Jürgen Klopp, is perched high above his new team, watching a training exercise from a cherry picker.
Down on the pitch, under both Tuchel's watchful eyes and a glaring sun, the players work out. Their coach is not the only one who's looking on intently. About 30 fans watch the exercise from the sidelines, waiting for the session to end so they can collect some autographs and talk to a few of the players.
At first, and apart from that cherry picker, it all looks, sounds and feels reassuringly familiar. It was a lot like this when, almost exactly three years ago, FourFourTwo first travelled with Dortmund to their winter training camp to research a cover story that caused quite a stir. No German club had starred on our cover before and most would have expected Bayern Munich to be the team to buck the trend.
But there was a distinct buzz about Borussia back in early 2013. A buzz you could sense during that training camp. The intensity of the coach, the enthusiasm of the players and the almost palpable love of the fans combined to create the impression of a club clearly going places.
A few months later, Borussia upset Real Madrid to reach the Champions League final – suddenly they had caught the imagination of a whole continent. This was particularly true in the UK, where Klopp's gung-ho side became many fan’s second team. In some cases, even their first. In October 2014, the BBC reported Dortmund were now "attracting more than 1,000 fans from England to every home match".
It's a staggering figure, even when you take into account the massive size of Borussia's ground and the fact that the club are, as specialist magazine Sports Venues 2016 asserted in December, the second-best supported sports team in the entire world (only the NFL's Dallas Cowboys draw more punters to an average home game.) There are no two ways about it, since FFT last rubbed shoulders with the men in yellow, Dortmund have managed to become one of the most recognisable football brands on the planet – without winning anything of importance. That's quite an achievement and ample reason for us to go back and find out what has happened in those three years. And why.
Initially, Dortmund seem like pretty much the same club as in Klopp’s heyday. But look more closely and you realise that hardly anything is the same. For starters, the training exercise the coach is watching from up on high is not one of those intense pressing drills Klopp used to oversee, when the players' wheezing and panting would be accentuated by booming instructions and shouts of encouragement from the sidelines.
We are playing beautiful football. Everybody's in love with what we're doing
Instead, the players are passing the ball around so rapidly that you can easily lose track of what’s happening. They do this in a space about a quarter of the size of a regulation pitch. Since the squad has been divided into three different teams, the man with the ball never knows where the next tackle will be coming from and has almost no time to pick out a team-mate among all those moving bodies.
It's a possession football exercise. A Thomas Tuchel exercise. "To some degree, we changed our style when the new coach came in," left-back Marcel Schmelzer tells FourFourTwo the following day. He joined the club 10 years ago as a 17-year-old and was arguably the most unsung of all Klopp's heroes. "We now have the ball a lot more often and for a lot longer," Schmelzer explains.
"We put so much pressure on the other team that they often drop back and close down space around their own penalty area. During these training sessions, we try to find solutions for such situations."
READ ON: To discover more about Tuchel, Pep Guardiola and BVB's superstars