Borussia Dortmund are in the middle of a spectacular downward spiral in the autumn of 2017, culminating in one of the most embarrassing games in recent memory, a 4-4 draw with archrivals Schalke 04 in which they squandered a four-goal lead with 30 minutes to go.
Head coach Peter Bosz is under fire and his job security hangs by a thread, but it seems the club’s decision makers are willing to give him every chance to hang on to his post. YWP writer Lars Pollmann disagrees.
Peter Bosz seems like a fine man. At first, I thought he was a bit dull, but maybe it was his lack of experience speaking German in front of large crowds of journalists who were spoiled by the entertainer Jürgen Klopp and the mad professor Thomas Tuchel. The Dutchman has grown on me on a personal level. He seems like the kind of man you’d like to have a couple of drinks with after all, even though he prefers wine over beer. After Tuchel’s successful but at least equally stressful tenure at the Westfalenstadion came to its logical but nonetheless undignified conclusion in the summer, Bosz was the right kind of man to appoint. Where his predecessor divided, he unites. He doesn’t make any demands. He hasn’t groaned once since Dortmund sold budding superstar Ousmane Dembele and replaced him with Andrey Yarmolenko. By all accounts, players like working with Bosz, too. The man Peter Bosz doesn’t deserve to be fired, or anything bad to happen to him. But Borussia Dortmund are a football club that pays the head coach Peter Bosz a lot of money to lead a very expensive team. His tenure, having started better than anyone would’ve dared to hope, has taken a turn into the realms of abject failure. The head coach Peter Bosz has got to go.
Appointing Peter Bosz
Let’s remember back to the summer. It wasn’t Bosz whom Dortmund identified as their number one target. That was Lucien Favre, the former Hertha BSC and Borussia Mönchengladbach manager who led OGC Nice to a sensational third-place finish in Ligue 1 last season. A man with some personality quirks and less than amicable partings of ways in the Bundesliga before, but someone with a pedigree. When Nice blocked the move Favre was said to be more than keen on, and 1899 Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann wasn’t available, either, Dortmund settled on Bosz. In his one year at Ajax the 54-year-old had reached the UEFA Europa League final with a thrilling run in the competition that included eliminations of Olympique Lyon and Schalke. Bosz held talks with clubs, stating later that he’d have left Ajax after the season regardless of finding a new club or not, pointing at differences of opinion with the club’s overly interfering directorial level. That Bosz, like Favre, is represented by Reza Fazeli, an agent with whom Dortmund have very good relations, probably played a factor. Going from Favre to Bosz, though, never made much sense if Dortmund were looking for a certain type of football from their new coach. Especially during his Bundesliga days, the Suisse coach counted on defending in a low block, not applying a huge amount of pressure on the opponent in possession. On the ball, his teams took their time instead of playing wave after wave of counter-attacks, leading them to complete a high percentage of passes and a good quality of shots. Dustin Ward has taken a closer look at Gladbach’s numbers in this piece. Compare that deliberate approach to Bosz’s pedal-to-the-metal style. Dortmund’s high line has been discussed as a weak point ad nauseam. We’ve also talked about the team’s issues to create high-probability scoring chances on the Podcast. Funnily enough, they had more problems in that area during the strong start to the season, in which they overperformed in terms of scoring from smaller chances, which would always result in a regression to the mean over the long term.
The biggest issue with Bosz’s system — and it doesn’t matter if nominally the team are set up in a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3 — is how the midfield is marginalised. Julian Weigl attempted 14 passes in the Revierderby, only Yarmolenko had fewer attempts among starters. It’s not a one-time occurrence, either, as Weigl is a shadow of his former self.
— Finja (@finja_f) 25. November 2017
At his best, Weigl influences the game in a lot of subtle ways. He’s never going to put up a lot of numbers on the stat sheets, but his assuredness in passing and possession allows Dortmund to dictate the rhythm of games, to recycle the ball in their ranks until opponents invariably give them an opening. Naturally, the player deserves some of the blame, and some of his problems can be attributed to a four-month injury layoff over the summer. However, Bosz has got to answer for his inability to build a team around one of his best players and clearly his best defensive midfielder. Asking him to push much higher up the pitch in his first few games back from the ankle injury, Bosz robbed Weigl of his biggest strengths. Still a young player, Weigl’s confidence seems shot and even when allowed to play in his more natural habitat, the Germany international makes simple mistakes and never gets into his rhythm. Building a team around your best players is one of the easiest ways to success for any head coach at any level in any sport. The marginalisation of Weigl, as well as asking Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to contribute in the No. 10 space much more than the Gabonese has ever been comfortable with, indicate that Bosz either doesn’t know how to do that or that he’s not interested in adapting his ideas to the strengths of the team he’s been given control over. Apart from Mario Götze and Nuri Sahin — and those two have come back from long-term or on-and-off absences — not a single player has gotten better under Bosz.
Obviously, Dortmund have been in similarly dire situations before, even under Bosz’s two predecessors. Tuchel’s BVB wasn’t much better for large stretches of the autumn of 2016, and Dortmund were in the relegation zone over the winter break of Klopp’s last season. The difference: You never had the feeling that the guy on the sideline didn’t have a clue of how to get out of the slump. It’s probably unfair to compare a first-year head coach to Klopp, who had reached God-like status in Dortmund by the time his team forgot how to play football and pick up results. Funnily enough, the two men communicated the respective crises in a similar way, often failing to find an explanation other than “we stopped playing football in the second half” of the latest defeat — or 4-4 draw. Much like Bosz is doing now, Klopp called for perseverance in the hope that, eventually, the teams quality would be too big for them to keep failing. Given how Klopp had proved his style worked over many seasons and picking up two Bundesliga championships, a DFB-Pokal and a UEFA Champions League final berth, his words carried a lot more weight than those of Bosz, who’s never won a trophy and is on his third job since January of 2016.
Perhaps the most damning account of Bosz’s apparent shortcomings in charge of Dortmund are the collapses the team have suffered in second halves of an astounding number of games during the recent run of rotten results. Since September, Dortmund have won one second half, against third-division side Magdeburg in the cup. They’ve conceded 17 goals in the second halves of the other 11 games in that timeframe, including four against Schalke on Matchday 13. Bosz has been adamant that it’s not a question of fitness, going as far as declaring his team are in a better physical state than at the start of the season. Without the required data on intensive runs, sprints and more, it’s difficult to dispute the Dutchman’s words with 100 per cent accuracy, but everyone who’s watched the games will feel Bosz’s reaching quite a bit. Going by the eye test, Dortmund have looked dead in the water after 60 minutes in many games, with dropping intensity levels leading to even sloppier defending than usual. The team’s second-half collapses have also been informed by Bosz’s in-game decisions. Often enough, Dortmund start well — take the Stuttgart and Schalke games as an example — only to be undone in the second half. Opposing coaches take a while to figure Dortmund out, make simple adjustments and Bosz seems unable to match with a countering move. He’s been outcoached, badly, too many times.
Lack of Alternative Options
I could point to a number of other problem areas — take a look at Jens Schuster’s timeline on Twitter for instance — but I think my point is clear. Peter Bosz should be relieved of his duties as head coach of Borussia Dortmund. However, right now the club would likely fire the coach for the sake of firing the coach. There’s no viable alternative option available to them at the moment. Favre and Nagelsmann are still not free to leave their current clubs. Neither are half-baked solutions like Cologne’s Peter Stöger or Eintracht Frankfurt’s Niko Kovac. There’s no way of knowing whether their clubs could be persuaded to let their coaches go for a fee. You don’t want to be Everton, who fired Ronald Koeman only to find Watford unwilling to sell them Marco Silva for a world-record transfer fee for coaches. Seeing as Dortmund saw David Wagner, Hannes Wolf and Daniel Farke leave the club over the last two years, there’s also no realistic internal option available. Both under-19 head coach Benjamin Hoffmann and under-23 head coach Jan Siewert have the required Fußballlehrer license to theoretically work as high as the Bundesliga, but they would be nothing more than absolute band-aid solutions in case results under Bosz get even worse. With only a short winter break coming up in Germany — the Bundesliga kicks off again on January 14 already — waiting for the culmination of the Hinrunde to give a new coach a fresh start could also be a problem, seeing as there will barely be two weeks of training between the holidays and the match against Wolfsburg on Matchday 18. In more ways than one, Dortmund are caught between a rock and a hard place. If there’s a way out, I struggle to see how Peter Bosz can be a part of that.