Out of work since parting ways with Borussia Dortmund at the end of the 2016/17 season, Thomas Tuchel’s future has been the subject of intense speculation of late.
Linked with the Bayern Munich post when Carlo Ancelotti was dispensed with earlier this season, before Jupp Heynckes retuned to temporarily right the Bavarian ship, and mentioned in conjunction with the Chelsea job before the turn of the year, any time a top club appears on the brink of making a managerial change, Tuchel’s name invariably comes up.
Perhaps growing tired of the rumours, the German tactician moved to extinguish links to Bayern, having been among the favourites to take over when Heynckes returns to retirement at the end of the current campaign. He informed the Bundesliga champions of his desire to test himself abroad.
Caught by surprise, the powers at be at the Allianz Arena reportedly pleaded with Tuchel to reconsider, but, it seems, the 44-year-old’s mind has been made up. And Bayern’s loss will prove to be another European super-power’s gain.
In France, both L’Equipe and Le Parisien claim Paris Saint-Germain are smitten with the former Mainz coach, and will appoint him as Unai Emery’s replacement as soon as the season is over.
But if nothing has yet been signed between the thoughtful manager and Ligue 1’s runaway leaders, any major club in need of managerial refreshment should be directing their advances toward Tuchel.
Belonging to a the new era of bright German coaches, linearly Tuchel is sandwiched somewhere between Jürgen Klopp and the new breed of Bundesliga bosses such as Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann and Domenico Tedesco of Schalke.
All came to management earlier than traditionally expected, each borrowing ideas from different schools of thought, to varying degrees marrying pressing, possession and counter-attacking principles.
After a knee injury forced him to call time on his playing career at 25, Tuchel segued quickly into coaching. After impressing in charge of Stuttgart’s under-19 side, he assumed control of Augsburg’s second string, where his work with Nagelsmann, then a promising young defender whose own career would be cut tragically short, helped inspire deeper tactical thought within the 30-year-old Hoffenheim boss.
Tuchel has twice followed in Klopp’s footsteps, first in 2009, assuming the Mainz hot seat a year after the now-Liverpool manger left for Dortmund, then becoming the 50-year-old’s direct replacement at Signal Iduna Park in 2015.
Despite controlling a newly promoted, sub-standrd squad with a shoestring budget, Tuchel guided Mainz to ninth and seventh-placed finishes in his first two season in charge. The latter saw the Rhineland-Palatinate side qualify for the Europa League, only their second ever European campaign – a feat he would replicate in his final season with the club following a remarkable top-five finish.
Style and Substance
His intense, hands-on coaching style, the similarities between his approach and Klopp’s and his ability to work with and develop young players – while at Mainz he gave a platform to the likes of André Schürrle, Ádám Szalai and Yunus Malli – made him the ideal candidate to make the switch to BVB.
While clearly influenced by the likes of Klopp and former Schalke and RB Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick, Tuchel is also a big admirer of Pep Guardiola’s work, borrowing aspects of the Catalan tactician’s juego de posición (positional play) philosophy and implementing it at Dortmund.
Indeed, Tuchel and Guardiola, owing to their mutual admiration and football obsession, met to discuss their theories on the game over lunch at Munich’s Odeonsplatz restaurant while the German coach was on a sabbatical between leaving Mainz and taking over at Dortmund.
Tactically malleable, Tuchel adapts his approach to suit the players at this disposal and expose the opposition’s weaknesses. Like Guardiola – who recommended the 44-year-old for his replacement at Bayern in 2016 – he is demanding of his players and works tirelessly on the training field to ensure his instructions are understood and undertaken.
Tuchel’s teams press high and hard, they aim to dominate the ball and swarm their opponents through effective use of overloads, fluidity of movement in the final third and speed on the flanks. His football is incisive, dynamic and exciting.
There has been an element of revisionist history applied to the 6ft 4ins former defender’s time at the BVB helm, with some criticising his inability to mount a proper challenge to Guardiola’s imperious Bayern side, and for how his Dortmund team were elbowed into third place by RB Leipzig last term.
But in Tuchel’s first campaign at Signal Iduna Park, the 78 points Dortmund accumulated, although ten behind Bayern, would have been enough to win the Bundesliga in all but four seasons of the division’s history up to that point. He was simply unfortunate to find himself in competition with one of the most dominant, in both financial playing terms, sides Germany has ever seen.
The following year’s third-place finish did, of course, mark a regression in respect of competitiveness, but there were mitigating circumstances at play. That summer, Tuchel had the rug pulled out from under him by the sales of Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and İlkay Gündoğan – three key players.
Indeed, the club’s hit-and-miss efforts to replace the outgoing stars caused a rift with recruitment guru Sven Mislintat, now of Arsenal, that will likely preclude Tuchel from being a viable option to eventually replace Arsène Wenger at the Emirates. In light of the players lost, the former Mainz boss deserves credit for preserving Dortmund’s Champions League place.
While his CV may lack for major honours, with the 2016/17 DFB Pokal his only trophy to date, Tuchel is a coach who, given the right environment, can work wonders. Achievement – and, indeed, overachievement – are relative terms; Tuchel’s record in German football cannot be measured by silverware alone.
If it is real change these clubs desire, true progressiveness and modernity, Tuchel is the man for the job.