Patience is not a virtue often afforded to football managers, but following the exodus of key players from Borussia Dortmund it’s one that Dormtund’s hierarchy and fans alike need to afford Thomas Tuchel…
Now in his second season in charge, Thomas Tuchel has the opportunity to make his mark on Borussia Dortmund’s long-term future. The 42-year-old head coach, who succeeded Jürgen Klopp at the end of last season, has the challenging, yet stimulating task of rebuilding one of Germany’s leading clubs following the loss of several key players.
This close season has seen Dortmund’s squad ravaged by the vultures of richer European clubs in the pecking order. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has left the Dortmund parish for Manchester United, Mats Hummels has re-joined FC Bayern München and Ilkay Gundogan has teamed up with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
At this juncture, last season looks to have been a luxury for Tuchel. If Dortmund hadn’t finished seventh in Klopp’s final season, the club could have been a genuine challenger in the Champions League. Tuchel’s vision of positional play and precise combination play was marvellously implemented, the development of this team on a rapid trajectory in such a short timeframe.
But this summer’s transfer window couldn’t have gone much worse for Tuchel and Michael Zorc, the club’s sporting director. CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, a straight-forward talker in the media, said earlier in the year, that Dortmund had no intentions of selling, irrespective of the price. Each exit has hurt the club from the Ruhrpott in their own different way.
The loss of Gundogan and Mkhitaryan deprives Dortmund of their most perceptive, adaptable players. However, the departure of Hummels, the club’s captain, and the cornerstone of the recent success, will almost certainly have hit the dressing room harder. In the market that Dortmund are shopping in, the German centre-back, who served the club with class for eight years, is practically irreplaceable.
Potential by the bucketload
The market that Dortmund are shopping in, however, is for Europe’s brightest talents. The decision to fork out 12 million euros on 22-year-old Portuguese left-back Raphael Guerreiro before the European Championship will almost certainly be a masterstroke given his country’s overall success and the role he played in the triumph.
In the signing of French winger Ousmane Dembele, who joined from Rennes for around 15 million euros, Dortmund beat off challenges from most of Europe’s biggest clubs. Turkish youngster Emre Mor is perhaps one for the future, but looked bright in his cameo appearances at Euro 2016.
First-team reinforcements were confirmed in the arrival of Bayern München’s Sebastian Rode and Barcelona’s Marc Bartra. Dortmund fans expect further signings, especially with the challenges of a return to the Champions League in mind. German international Andre Schürrle is close to completing a 30 million euro switch from Wolfsburg, and re-unite with Tuchel, his former coach and mentor at Mainz.
Meanwhile, there is also Mario Götze, whose return to the club he left in 2013 to join Bayern was confirmed on Thursday. Götze has been a shadow of his old self over the last three seasons, his development stalling markedly since his switch to the German champions.
There’s little doubt that Dortmund have creative problems to address, but there’s no guarantee that Götze will turn his career around. Christian Pulisic and Shinji Kagawa have shown enough to earn a chance. Schürrle meanwhile doesn’t answer the definitive questions for Tuchel ahead of the new season. Considering the kind of value Dortmund have found in Dembele, Guerreiro and even Mkhitaryan a couple of years previously, both transfers appear to be at odds with the club’s overarching transfer strategy.
Patience in a results-driven business
Aside from the decimation of his squad, Tuchel’s preparations haven’t started well. After a short training block in Dortmund, the yellow-and-blacks will head to China for the International Champions Cup, where they will meet Manchester City and Manchester United. Finding the balance between the club’s marketing efforts and what is best for pre-season is complex.
Close season training schedules are planned with painstaking detail, personalised for the demands and physical condition of the individual – and that is amplified further after a European Championship and Copa America this summer. The Dortmund coach seemed less than enthused by the prospect of a trip to the Far East.
“We’ll play our first match right after our arrival, but sadly have to wait a long time for the second, and the jet lag will hit us at one point,” said the Dortmund coach, quoted by ESPNFC. “We have to compensate for it and cope with it like we did during our tour of Asia last year. But this tour is longer, and we can’t waive it. That’s not possible.”
Tuchel’s frustrations are understandable. He has lost experienced campaigners who appeared to be committed to the club. More so, Dortmund’s competitors like Bayer 04 Leverkusen, FC Schalke 04 and VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach have emerged stronger with improved quality and depth. Bayern München, the champions for the previous four seasons, look untouchable at the top of the league following the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti.
Given the overhaul of important players, it seems unrealistic to expect the current squad to meet the expectations of previous seasons – generally to finish in the top three positions which guarantees Champions League football. The Bundesliga doesn’t always afford coaches time in a demanding, results-driven business, but that is something Dortmund and Tuchel need to be in a position to compete next season.