Why this looks like the end for Thomas Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund are facing the very real possibility of needing a new head coach in the summer - and not because they can’t keep other clubs at bay. The relationship between Thomas Tuchel and the club from North Rhine-Westphalia is strained to the point of no return as months of sparring finally approaches a knockout decision.
Tuchel guided Dortmund to the best runners-up finish in Bundesliga history, scoring more goals than any other team
Brought in to take a stagnating Dortmund team to the next level in 2015, Tuchel broke records in his first season in charge. The now-43-year-old guided BVB to the best runners-up finish in Bundesliga history; his team scored more goals than any other while going unbeaten at home in the league (still the case as his second season ends). They also made the German Cup final.
It was a start beyond expectations. Dortmund were building something.
The first sign of choppy waters can be traced back to the relationship between Tuchel and chief scout Sven Mislintat, the man who discovered Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Robert Lewandowski.
An article in German magazine Spiegel documents a fall-out over the recruitment of Spanish talent Oliver Torres. Mislintat negotiated the deal, Tuchel then changed his mind and Torres never signed. Though played down externally, it seems internally that both Borussia chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke and sporting director Michael Zorc effectively sided with their chief scout. Since then, Tuchel and Mislintat seem to have had a strained working relationship.
Then three cornerstone players – Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – all departed. Watzke had previously made it clear that all three would not leave together. Tuchel’s frustration over this reversal has been well documented – he called the decision risky, a word sure to displease any chief executive.
Further frustrations over transfers have bubbled under the surface, most bizarrely this season over the arrival of Alexander Isak. German media claimed Tuchel only found out that the Swedish teenager was arriving after he'd signed, which Tuchel awkwardly confirmed in a press conference the following day. Curiosity over communication grew.
Journalists covering the team daily have long felt a tension building. In German, reibungspunkten are ‘points of friction’ and a collection of these – some minor, some major – has started a fire just three games before the end of the season.
The decisive spark came when Borussia Dortmund’s team bus was attacked on April 11. Cast in the shadow of predecessor Jurgen Klopp, Tuchel was often seen as lacking emotion, but his humane reaction to the decision that his team would play just a day after the attack won him sympathy with many.
The coach’s criticism of UEFA’s decision was, however, also a criticism of Watzke, and so contrasting statements appeared. The pair’s disagreement spilled out in public over the ensuing week. Tuchel’s disappointment in how the situation was handled continued, yet Watzke insisted that Tuchel had the chance to say he didn’t want to play the game, but never did.
A day before Dortmund’s crucial Bundesliga game against Hoffenheim to effectively decide who would take third (and therefore an automatic Champions League qualification spot), Watzke admitted in an interview with local German media that there had been a disagreement between himself and the head coach about the decision whether to play the Monaco game or not.
I am pretty sure that if any of the people that made that decision had been sitting on the bus, that match would not have been played
Dortmund won the game against Hoffenheim, but it was an ill-tempered, distracted affair. Die Schwarzgelben delivered, but what happens when the fixtures runs out?
Many head coaches rallied round Tuchel, and it was actually former boss Klopp who said: "I'm pretty sure that if any of the people who made that decision had been sitting on the bus, that match would not have been played.”
Whatever the rights and wrongs of that call, the fact remains: if a team doesn't stand together around such an incident, it provides little hope of a united front in calmer waters.