Five years ago this week, Thomas Tuchel was giving testimony to a German court. He was a witness in the case against the man accused of planting and detonating bombs targeting the Borussia Dortmund team bus as it carried Tuchel, the club’s then manager, and his players from their hotel to a spring 2017 Champions League match against Monaco. The horrific events that night which mercifully had no fatalities, had, Tuchel testified, affected the team deeply.
They certainly had an impact on the Dortmund performance in the match, which was delayed only 24 hours, a rapid rescheduling that Tuchel and some of his bosses at the club disagreed over. He had argued that the players, one of whom, Marc Batra, was treated in hospital for injuries caused by shattered glass, could not possibly be ready to play so soon.
Monaco won the tie. Tuchel’s time as Dortmund manager ended that summer, after two years in the job. When he returned to the city to give evidence in the trial, the judge asked if Tuchel felt he might have stayed on at the club if the bombing, and the tensions that followed, had not taken place. “I presume I would, yes,” he replied.
As Tuchel prepares to face, as a Bundesliga opponent for the first time, some of the Dortmund players who were on that bus with him, he has reason again to reflect how random events impact even the most carefully planned career of a very meticulous professional, as Tuchel certainly is.
He will be taking charge of Bayern Munich, where he was appointed as new manager a week ago. It’s a resonant debut: a meeting with his former employer with perhaps the destiny of the Bundesliga title at stake.
Bayern 2 PSG 0 – in pictures
Until last September, Tuchel was manager of Chelsea, the club he had guided to a Champions League title 15 months earlier. He was sacked there after a change of ownership at Stamford Bridge brought about by an UK government anti-Russian sanctions policy following the military invasion of Ukraine. The owner who had hired Tuchel, Roman Abramovich, was obliged to sell the club.
Might Tuchel still be at Stamford Bridge but for those developments? Given the high turnover of coaches at Chelsea, it is hard to give a definite answer. You could equally well ask: Under what circumstances might Tuchel still be at Paris Saint-Germain, the club who recruited him after he left Dortmund and fired him less than six months after he guided them to their first ever European Cup final? Perhaps only exceptional ones. PSG rarely keep a coach longer than two seasons.
Bayern are no better when it comes to managerial churn. When they named Tuchel as their sixth different manager within seven years a few days after a defeat to Bayer Leverkusen left them trailing Dortmund in the Bundesliga race, it was a recruitment coup they were delighted with. But it followed an admission of failure.
The manager Tuchel replaced, 35-year-old Julian Nagelsmann was barely a third of the way through a five-year contract when he was sacked. Nagelsmann had cost Bayern €25 million in compensation when he was headhunted from RB Leipzig.
But under Nagelsmann, the chase for an 11th successive league title had begun to look in jeopardy. As Tuchel was available and certain to have tempting job offers this summer, Bayern pounced. Tuchel was told he “has to win every game,” by the Bayern sports director Hasan Salihamidzic.
To look at the German league table and at Dortmund’s form is to suspect Salihamidzic may be right. Dortmund lead the defending champions by a point, and have won 10 and drawn the other of their 11 domestic matches in 2023. Bayern have dropped points in half their Bundesliga fixtures in the same period.
Tuchel faces a tough start. He faces Dortmund, then a German Cup quarter-final against high-flying Freiburg three days later and on April 11, a trip to Manchester City in the Champions League.
His first line-up will command close attention for what role, if any, it has for Sadio Mane, Serge Gnabry or Leroy Sane, talents whose potential Nagelsmann was deemed not to have maximised. There will be scrutiny on how minutes are given to Thomas Muller, the club legend who was taken off at, or before, half time in three of Nagelsmann’s last six league games.
Photographers at the Allianz Arena will train their lenses on Tuchel’s touchline interactions with Edin Terzic, the Dortmund coach masterminding a surging challenge from Bayern’s perpetual chasers. Terzic has the best points-per-game record in this, his second spell as manager since … well, since a certain Thomas Tuchel was managing Dortmund.