By Kevin Hatchard.
New Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel knows just what a tall order it is to follow in the footsteps of Jurgen Klopp, because he’s already done it.
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When the charismatic Klopp was lured to the Ruhr from Mainz in 2008, his replacement Jorn Andersen lasted just one season, despite leading the club into the top flight. Die Nullfunfer turned to Tuchel, who at the time was working with the club’s Under-19 team.
Tuchel set about changing things on and off the field. He worked hard to foster team spirit, ensuring players ate together and gave each other respect. On the training ground he quickly showed himself to be thoughtful, innovative and hard-working. The shape and dimensions of the training pitch would be constantly varied to encourage tactical flexibility amongst his charges.
Many coaches stress the importance of concentrating on their own team’s tactics and not worrying about the opposition, but Tuchel examined opponents in forensic detail, working out how to nullify their strengths and exploit their weaknesses. Tuchel would vary formations from game to game, sometimes making a raft of changes to his line-up, regardless of the previous result. His clever use of pressing forced opposition players to cough up possession, as they were made to play a risky pass or take on an opponent.
Mainz made a stunning start to that first season, beating Bayern Munich 2-1 in their third game of the league campaign. Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal was in charge of the Bavarian giants, and he was bested on the field and on the tactical chalkboard.
Mainz only lost three of their first 14 league games in Tuchel’s first season, and despite a mid-season wobble, they went on to finish ninth. They missed out on Europe by just eight points.
The following season started in extraordinary fashion, as Mainz equalled a Bundesliga record by winning their first seven games, including a 2-1 victory against mighty Bayern in Munich. Although that early form wasn’t to last, the Carnival Club ended up a startling fifth, qualifying for the Europa League.
Tuchel was linked with a number of bigger jobs, but stayed on for three more campaigns. Mainz finished 13th in successive seasons, and last term he achieved a second Europa League qualification by securing seventh place.
At the end of that campaign he declared himself exhausted, and surprised many by deciding to leave the club for a year-long sabbatical. He was courted by Champions League qualifiers Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen, but remained steadfast in his determination to recharge and spend more time with his family.
As this season began to wind towards its conclusion, speculation grew as to where Tuchel would resume his coaching career. He was believed to be a target of energy drink-funded second-tier club RB Leipzig, and he actually began talks with ailing Hamburg.
Then came the shock news that Klopp was to leave Dortmund at the end of an emotionally-draining season, and talks with Hamburg were broken off. Within days of that tear-jerking announcement, Tuchel was installed as his successor.
While Klopp has worked wonders at BVB, he had clearly run out of energy and ideas, and his replacement could be a pivotal moment in Dortmund’s revival. Tuchel has the tactical chops to mix it with the best, he has the man-management ability to deal with big egos and mould a cohesive unit, and he is young enough to build a lasting legacy.
The King is dead, long live the King.
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