You’d think that following in the footsteps of charismatic Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp would be a daunting task, but there’s one man who has done it successfully not once, but twice. Kevin Hatchard looks at the rise and rise of Thomas Tuchel.
Thomas Tuchel has astutely built on foundations laid by Jürgen Klopp at both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, and in the quarter-finals of the Europa League the two coaches will lock horns in what promises to be a gripping encounter.
Klopp took Mainz – a club where he had spent his entire senior playing career – up into the Bundesliga, securing qualification for the Uefa Cup. Although Tuchel wasn’t his direct replacement (Jorn Andersen succeeded Klopp but only lasted a year), the former Augsburg and Stuttgart youth coach had plenty to prove at Mainz as the shadow of Klopp loomed large.
But Tuchel relished the responsibility and shrugged off the pressure. Using a style which blended aggressive pressing with a willingness to commit men forward in attack, Mainz raised eyebrows across the Bundesliga. They beat mighty Bayern Munich in Tuchel’s third league game in charge and finished the campaign well clear of the relegation scrap in ninth. Tuchel made the Stadion am Bruchweg a fortress, losing just twice there in his first campaign.
The innovative coach impressed his charges with varied training drills. He would divide the training area into different shapes depending on what tactics he was trying to impart, and he would select his starting 11 each week based on the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. It wasn’t unusual for Tuchel to change half his team, even if they had won handsomely the weekend before.
This flexibility in tactics and personnel allowed Tuchel to do what Klopp hadn’t, and that was to establish Mainz as a consistent Bundesliga outfit. Klopp had suffered relegation in his final campaign with Die Nullfunfer, but Tuchel followed up his stellar first season with an even better one. Mainz won their first seven games of the 2010-11 season, and went on to finish fifth and qualify for the Europa League.
The next three seasons under Tuchel saw Mainz finish 13th twice, and in his last campaign at the Coface Arena they ended up seventh and qualified yet again for continental competition. Exhausted, Tuchel decided to take a year off.
While he recharged his batteries, the man who had become one of Germany’s brightest young coaching prospects was linked with a whole host of jobs, including those at Schalke and the relentlessly ambitious RB Leipzig. Tuchel kept his powder dry, and Klopp’s decision to end his stay at Borussia Dortmund opened the door to one of the most attractive football destinations in Europe.
Tuchel comfortably busted the ghost of Klopp at Mainz, and he has used his proton pack once again at Signal Iduna Park. Klopp took Dortmund to two Bundesliga titles, a German Cup and a Champions League final – and did so having taken over a club that was just emerging from financial chaos – so Klopp’s extraordinary work should never be forgotten. However, Tuchel is already beginning to ensure that he doesn’t compare unfavourably to his predecessor.
BVB have banged in over 100 goals in Tuchel’s first season, and the wily tactician has arguably made the team more measured in possession, more tactically flexible and better at game management. Klopp can play heavy metal, but Tuchel can come up with anything from electro-funk to classical.
Dortmund are just five points behind Bayern in the title race and have reached the semi-finals of the German Cup. Star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has flourished in a central role, while Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been transformed from a listless and peripheral figure into a player Dortmund simply can’t do without. Skipper Mats Hummels has knitted together a compact defence, and youngsters like Matthias Ginter and Julian Weigl have responded brilliantly to the responsibility Tuchel has given them.
Tuchel is proving that he is at least Klopp’s equal, and it says a lot about his self-confidence that he described the impending two-legged clash with Liverpool as a “dream draw”. He knows all of the attention will be on Klopp’s return to Dortmund and the love that those on the famed Sudtribune still have for the bespectacled maverick. It’s like Tuchel has a partner who’s still friends with their insanely popular ex, but he’s not self-conscious about it. Frankly, why should he be?
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