Victory in Saturday’s DFB-Pokal final would cast a positive glow on a tumultuous season for Borussia Dortmund, although even lifting the trophy may not altogether banish the lingering sense of disharmony at the club.
Thomas Tuchel will lead his side into the showpiece against Eintracht Frankfurt in Berlin but the coach might have more on his mind than simply ending Dortmund’s recent hoodoo in the competition.
For the latter part of 2016-17, Tuchel has been at loggerheads with chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, a disagreement stemming from the re-arranged Champions League quarter-final first leg against Monaco at Signal Iduna Park in mid-April.
Following the bomb attack on the Dortmund team bus which left defender Marc Bartra hospitalised with a fractured wrist, it was agreed that the game would be replayed less than 24 hours later.
What a match, so thrilling, what an atmosphere, such a feeling.. Really HAPPY and PROUD!
Tarde increible la de hoy..FELIZ!
DANKE Familie!! pic.twitter.com/wYYti6jV1I
— Marc Bartra (@MarcBartra) May 20, 2017
That decision was taken much to the displeasure of Tuchel, who made no secret of his disapproval.
Dortmund lost that game 3-2 and were eventually dumped out 6-3 on aggregate, Tuchel claiming afterwards that neither he nor his players had been consulted – an allegation subsequently denied by Watzke, who was left irritated by his coach’s comments.
Since that tie, the relationship between the pair has deteriorated to the point that Tuchel’s future has come under intense scrutiny. He has been strongly linked with replacing Arsene Wenger should the Frenchman choose to end his long stint at Arsenal while Lucien Favre, who guided Nice to third in Ligue 1, is reportedly in the frame to succeed Tuchel.
Watzke has confirmed the pair will discuss the coach’s future once the season is over but should Tuchel depart, it would be a sour end to what has been a largely successful campaign.
With Bayern Munich dominant again in the Bundesliga, the best Tuchel and Dortmund could realistically hope for was automatic Champions League qualification and perhaps some silverware by way of the Pokal.
— Borussia Dortmund (@BVB) May 20, 2017
The first leg of that “double” has been achieved courtesy of a third-place finish, with Frankfurt – who ended 2016-17 in 11th – standing in their way of a two-fold triumph at Olympiastadion.
Victory on Saturday would bring an end to an agonising run of three successive final defeats – two of those to Bayern, either side of a loss to Wolfsburg in the 2015 edition.
At times this season, Dortmund have shown glimpses that they could, under Tuchel, recapture the glory days of the Jurgen Klopp era and challenge Bayern’s hegemony. The clearest evidence of that was provided in the Pokal semi-final, as Dortmund overcame the champions 3-2 and ended the Bavarian giants’ designs on a domestic double.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembele were among the goalscorers that day and they stand as just two examples of the frankly frightening plethora of talent at Tuchel’s disposal.
The likes of Julian Weigl, Mario Gotze, Christian Pulisic and Dembele are all 24 or under and with spearhead Aubameyang leading the way with 39 goals in all competitions this season, Dortmund possess a vibrant forward line to be feared the world over.
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) May 23, 2017
Few could argue against Tuchel being the right man to lead this group of players forward as they approach their peak, with Dortmund’s youthful squad seeking the right balance between devastating attack and foolhardy recklessness.
And Dortmund and Watzke would be wise to remember they have reaped the benefits of managerial stability in the recent past.
Klopp spent seven years at Signal Iduna Park – a tenure virtually unheard of in modern-day elite football management – and it took him three of those to build a side capable of toppling Bayern and winning the league, before going one better with the double in 2011-12.
If Tuchel delivers Pokal glory on Saturday, it would be the perfect time for Watzke to swallow his pride and take the first steps towards reconciliation with his coach. Otherwise, it could spell the end for Dortmund’s exciting new era before it has even begun.
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