On the face of it, it is one of the most desirable coaching positions in football. Under your command are some of the world's most valuable players still under 23. You get to supervise the breakthrough of perhaps the game's most exciting 16-year-old. When spectators are allowed back into stadiums, you will be the conductor of one of the most rousing and fervent crowds there is.
But some ambitious, talented head coaches have looked at the job of managing Borussia Dortmund and paused. Granted, the club baulk at paying megastar salaries to their coaches, but any success at Dortmund all but guarantees a status where you can name your price in the next job.
Ask Jurgen Klopp, whose seven seasons at the Westfalen stadium came to an end in 2015, or Thomas Tuchel, who took over at wealthy Paris Saint-Germain in 2018, a year after leaving Dortmund.
The third different head coach of the post-Klopp era departed Dortmund on Sunday, Lucien Favre sacked after 11 games and a 5-1 home defeat to Stuttgart.
A caretaker, Edin Terzic, has been promoted from Favre’s support staff for the rest of the season with the advice that, should he thrive, the position might be his longer-term, although Marco Rose, currently coaching Borussia Monchengladbach, is the leading candidate for the role in 2021/22.
Terzic, 38 and thrust into his first senior job, has a minimum target of making sure Dortmund remain in the Bundesliga’s top four. He made a winning start, with a 2-1 win against Werder Bremen on Tuesday and victory on Friday night at sixth-placed Union Berlin would open up a comforting cushion of four points above fifth-placed Wolfsburg.
Although he has spent much of his career at Dortmund, in various coaching positions, Terzic felt it appropriate to make some introductions when he was presented. He is a Dortmunder and supporter of the club since boyhood, born 30 kilometres east of the city. He first experienced the percussive roar of the Westfalen stadium as a nine year old fan. “From that moment my heart was won,” he said.
His young heart would certainly be broken a few times by his mid-teens. Dortmund, Champions League winners in 1997, Bundesliga champions in 2002, were on the verge of bankruptcy when Terzic was enrolling at his local club dreaming of a playing career – one that would peak at fourth-division level – and by the time they began their stirring renaissance over the last decade, he was working at the club, reporting to an inspiring young head coach, Klopp.
Two of the principal factors that have established Dortmund among the Champions League heavyweights are, first, Klopp and, second, an astute understanding of the transfer market. Both factors present a challenge to any head coach.
Klopp’s achievements alone – two Bundesliga titles, a European Cup final – set a daunting standard; the bond with supporters he developed is inimitable. Tuchel was often stalked by comparisons between his own cooler, technocratic persona and Klopp’s vibrant charisma; Favre, a likeable but sometimes rather professorial figure, was no Klopp either.
Terzic has at least studied up close the special Klopp chemistry. He worked in the Dortmund academy during Klopp's time in charge. He was later taken as a part-time analyst for the Croatia national team by their then coach Slaven Bilic and when the much-travelled Bilic was appointed head coach at Besiktas, and West Ham United, Terzic worked with him. Ironically, Bilic was sacked as manager of West Bromwich Albion barely 48 hours after Terzic was promoted at Dortmund.
Bilic would envy the squad his former assistant has taken charge of. Dortmund have a wealth of young talent, epitomised by the 20-year-olds, Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho – both valued at over €100m ($122m) – but it is conditioned by the certainty it will be someone else’s talent before long.
Haaland, Sancho, Gio Reyna, 18 and Jude Bellingham, 17, chose to be at Dortmund partly because they knew they would be offered first-team opportunities, partly because they saw how good a launchpad Dortmund is. Recent graduates include Christian Pulisic and Ousmane Dembele, whose sales to Chelsea and Barcelona yielded Dortmund a profit of €180m.
Those sorts of sales keep Dortmund among Europe’s elite. There will be many more. The club are already projecting how far striker Youssoufa Moukoko, whom Favre last month gave a first team debut the day after Moukoko’s 16th birthday, might soar.
Terzic’s task to keep all the prodigies focused on where they are now. Dortmund, who under Favre twice finished second to Bayern Munich in the league, letting a genuine advantage in the title race crumble in 2018-19, do not expect the caretaker coach to win the Bundesliga, but they want no more 5-1 collapses.