Thomas Tuchel could guide Borussia Dortmund to a third-place finish and a German Cup trophy, but that doesn't guarantee he returns next season. Here's why.
It was a crazy weekend in the Bundesliga where it rained goals: Hoffenheim beat Werder Bremen 5-3, while Bayern Munich came from 4-2 down against second-place RB Leipzig to win 5-4 thanks to two stunning goals after the 90-minute mark. But in terms of intrigue, Augsburg was the place to be; this was where Borussia Dortmund, chasing third place and a direct spot in the Champions League group stage without needing the qualifiers, drew 1-1 with the relegation-battling host.
Things have unraveled quickly for Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel, who only a few weeks ago masterminded a dramatic German Cup semifinal win over Bayern Munich to put the side within touching distance of its first trophy since 2012.
If the team, which was eliminated by Monaco in the Champions League, finished third and won the cup, it would represent a successful season, on the pitch at least. But it was made clear in an interview given by Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke that it’s not just the sporting side that concerns him. Watzke disagreed with how Tuchel publicly handled the fallout from Dortmund’s bus bombing last month; that Tuchel criticized UEFA for making Dortmund play the quarterfinal less than 24 hours later and implicitly suggested he had nothing to do with the decision to play.
“As always, it is not only just about the sporting side, but also about strategy, communication and trust,” Watzke told WAZ.
The leakier an organization, the less happy it is, and last week, negative stories about the coach emerged. This has become a political battleground, and it’s one that Tuchel is unlikely to win. German media outlets have reported that Lucien Favre and Laurent Blanc have been approached to replace the German coach.
The draw at Augsburg still gives Dortmund a slight edge in the race for third. It’s level on points with Hoffenheim with one game to go, with a superior goal difference (thanks in part to Bremen pulling back three goals when 5-0 down against Hoffenheim). Two more wins, against Bremen next week and then Eintracht Frankfurt in the cup final, and it has to go down as a successful season, especially after Dortmund sold the spine of its team–Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan–last summer.
Under Tuchel this year, Dortmund has, at times, played some wonderful football. Tuchel challenges his players but also improves them–just look at the development of the likes of Julian Weigl (injured against Augsburg and out for four months) and Ousmane Dembele, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is on course for the most prolific season of his career.
Watzke and Tuchel may not see eye-to-eye, but any director of a top European club should be alert to the opportunity this brings. Tuchel could be available this summer and he would improve most teams in the world. He has been linked to Barcelona. He would be a perfect fit for Arsenal. Whoever makes a move for him will be getting one of the most talented coaches in the game.