Thomas Tuchel has one year left on his deal with Borussia Dortmund, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to envision the 43-year-old staying at the Westfalenstadion beyond the summer.
By all accounts, Thomas Tuchel is not an easy man to work with. It explains why Mainz 05 were not terribly sad to see their successful coach leave out of the blue at the end of the 2013/14 season. Tuchel’s boss with the Zerofivers, Christian Heidel, always took the high road when discussing the rather sudden end to his coach’s five-year tenure, never once saying a bad word about him. Still, local media started to paint the picture of a man with despotic tendencies, prone to bust-ups and tamper tantrums. That picture, of course, is the exact opposite of how fans of Borussia Dortmund have come to know their manager over the last two seasons. Soft-spoken, almost zen-like bar a few hiccups in post-match press conferences, Tuchel has not won the hearts of the club’s fans the same way Jürgen Klopp did, but certainly gave the impression of being up for the task in his first coaching job at a huge club. Especially having carefully navigated the difficult situation following the attempted assassination of the team on their way to the Westfalenstadion on April 11, Tuchel seemed to earn brownie points both with players and fans.
The last few weeks and months and the improved performance of the team in the second half of the season made many forget that Tuchel was a man under fire through much of autumn and winter. Luca Gierl highlighted the friction within the club in February. With that in mind, Tuchel and Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke have stated multiple times contract talks will only take place after the end of the campaign. It was difficult to envision a contract extension for Tuchel at an early stage of his time at the Westfalenstadion, but mostly because Tuchel seemed destined to move to an even bigger club after putting three strong years with Dortmund on his resumee.
Recent events have escalated the situation. Whereas most would have thought Tuchel will go into a lame-duck sort of year and leave in 2018, that scenario now looks almost impossible. In this writer’s mind, there’s zero doubt Tuchel will leave the club following the DFB-Pokal final on May 27, 2017.
One thing readers have to understand is that little to none of the problems between head coach and club have anything to do with what happens on the pitch. Tuchel’s quality is beyond debate, even if his second season wasn’t as good as the first (even taking the upheaval in the squad into account, Tuchel would probably agree with that statement).
No, it’s all about internal affairs. To put it simple, the working relationship between coach and club officials seems severely damaged — way beyond repair.
Problems have been evident since a bust-up between Tuchel and chief scout Sven Mislintat became public (those in the know say the two won’t even be in the same room together).
Tuchel and the club (mainly in person of Watzke) have fought over the prerogative for interpretation on many issues, too, be it the summer transfer strategy, what can and can’t be expected from the team this season. The final straw, it seems, revolves, ironically enough, about Tuchel’s finest hour in the public eye, his emotional response to the disgraceful rescheduling of the UEFA Champions League match against Monaco one day after the attack on the players inside the team bus.
Tuchel’s criticism of UEFA has earned him a lot of praise from sympathetic fans and commentators, but the indirect criticism of his own club may well have pushed things over the edge. Watzke told local paper WAZ on Friday, one day ahead of the uber-important game against third-placed Hoffenheim: “I evaluate everything surrounding the attack on the basis of what we discussed in confidence internally and what was possible.” Asked whether a clear dissent between himself and his coach had come about, Watzke answered after long internal deliberation: “Yes, that’s the case.”
Now, to understand this problem, we’ve to consider Watzke is a proud man who’s done a lot more for Borussia Dortmund than he’s ever received credit for. Without Hans-Joachim Watzke, the club would not exist in its current form. It’s understandable to a degree that he’s hurt by the insinuation that he didn’t have the players’ best interests in heart when agreeing to a game taking place not even 24 hours after an attack on their lives.
For Watzke to put immense pressure on his coach in the final sprint of a difficult season however, with a cup final on the horizon, is not understandable under normal circumstances. The only explanation this writer can come up with is that the club are distancing themselves from their coach already, so letting him go after (hopefully) winning the first piece of real silverware since 2012 doesn’t come as a shock.
In that regard, an article from Watzke’s buddy Freddie Röckenhaus makes perfect sense as well. The Süddeutsche Zeitung writer paints a damning picture of Tuchel’s inability to work with others, full with anonymous player quotes lamenting a volatile coaching style, accusations of the coach leaking internal matters to the public and general dishonesty.
Watzke has used Röckenhaus as a barometer of public opinion before, most notably when gauging how difficult it would truly be to sell fans the idea of a return of Mario Götze last year.
Interestingly, the article that reads like a character assassination on Tuchel ends with an anonymous quote from a source within the club: “We had been warned by Mainz (before signing Tuchel), that it would likely become difficult. We didn’t listen. Everything was fine for half a year. Then it all went as predicted by Mainz.”
The only difference to Tuchel’s departure from Mainz, it seems, is that Dortmund are unwilling to take the high road and wave goodbye to their coach on (seemingly) good terms. Watzke’s interview and Röckenhaus’ hit piece are nothing other than the club’s attempt to win the P.R. battle that is bound to ensue when the final whistle of the 2016/17 season has rung out.
Tuchel, who is 90 minutes away from finishing a second Bundesliga season without a home defeat, will not be with the club beyond May 27, 2017.
It’s an ignoble final chapter for all involved.