Standing on the touchline, bellowing from behind a grin as broad as the Rhein, Jürgen Klopp has, for seven years, been the essence of German football. His bespectacled face, framed by casual stubble and Dortmund yellow, the emblem of ‘the new’ in German football, lighting the pilot flame behind the inferno that propelled a club on the brink of bankruptcy in 2005 to the Champions League final in 2013.
A pioneer of the ‘gegenpressing’ system that saw him rule over the Bundesliga for two years from 2010 to 2012, Klopp looms large. Brash and effusive – the studded bracelet of the heavy metal enthusiast to the conventional manager’s expensive timepiece – Klopp spent 18 years at 1. FSV Mainz 05 as a player and a coach before moving to Dortmund after failing to land the HSV Hamburg job for wearing a tracksuit to the interview.
The path he took served him and Dortmund extremely well, and now it is time, seven years after the twice-German manager of the year first took charge at the Westfalonstadion, for another Mainz 05 protégé to emulate Klopp and reignite the yellow flame at the heart of the Südtribüne: the legendary Yellow Wall.
Thomas Tuchel, like Klopp, earned his first managerial break on the banks of the Rhein at Mainz 05, building on the foundations left by the now-internationally acclaimed manager, who was promoted with Die Nullfünfer from the second tier of German football to the Bundesliga in 2003/04 – just Klopp’s third season as a full-fledged manager.
But it was Tuchel who took Mainz 05 to a new level. After the 2008/09 season, when Jörn Andersen guided the club back into the top flight after a disappointing 16th place finish in 2006/07, Tuchel, who had briefly worked as the U19s coach when Klopp was the manager at the Coface Arena, lead his side to an impressive 9th place finish in his debut season.
More success followed, as under the Bavarian, Mainz 05 won seven successive matches at the start of the 2010/11 season which culminated in a 5th place finish and an Europa League spot. His tactical acumen and keen ability to build as effective a team as possible, was starting to earn Tuchel nationwide respect.
After two, back-to-back 13th place finishes, Tuchel once again sprang into contention for the biggest jobs in Germany, as his Mainz 05 side, boasting players of the caliber of Shinji Okazaki, Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, and Koo Ja-Cheol, finished 7th.
Tuchel’s phone was soon ringing with offers from Schalke 04 and Bayer Leverkusen as the brazen coach opted out of a final year with Mainz 05, choosing instead to take a Guardiola-inspired sabbatical. A year on, and – at Dortmund – Tuchel will once again have the chance to show Europe that he deserves the reputation that is flourishing around him as one of the continent’s most accomplished young managers.
In terms of style, many have long-touted Tuchel’s philosophy as the natural Segway from Klopp’s much-vaunted style of pace-laden pressing, energetic attacks defined by their ingenuity and crisp lethality, and bold defending from a strong, front-foot position.
Tuchel himself has said of his managerial style that, “There’s definitely a style that’s been attributed to me, that we brought to the table at Mainz: pace going forward and attack-minded football. I prefer certain qualities, an active playing style, bold defending and pacy play in attack.”
Reluctant to cultivate comparisons between him and Klopp, however, Tuchel is not one to play his hand in the media in such a cavalier manner as became Klopp’s wont and strength. They are, fundamentally, very different managers, with similar playing styles centred around the core value of attractive football.
Klopp was Dortmund’s father figure, a larger-than-life character who would shield his players from the scouring gaze of the media spotlight and who proved that he did indeed, “fall in love” with the club with his raucously passionate touchline demeanor.
Tuchel is not quite as demonstrative in his technical area, preferring instead to focus his attention on the core of his team to ensure that it has the best possible set-up to guarantee success. Klopp was the nitrous oxide injection Dortmund needed in the late 2000s, and now Tuchel is the patient, anally well-organised strategist that is required to equip one of Europe’s most potential-laden teams into a chameleon–istic superpower.
Heavily influenced by the teachings of Guardiola and the late Hermann Badstuber (father of Holger), Tuchel’s primary focuses is preparedness and flexibility. In nine meetings with Bayern, Tuchel won three times. Considering Mainz 05’s paltry stature in comparison with Bayern’s a win ration of 33% against one of the all-time European giants is astoundingly impressive.
In training with Mainz 05, Tuchel decried touchline-adjacent long-balls, employing “Rhomb-training” centred on passing diamonds in key areas of the pitch. As Stefan Buczko puts it, “Tuchel is the one who made the term ‘match-plan’ sexy in the Bundesliga”.
So, with 1. FSV Mainz 05’s most successful manager ever replacing Borussia Dortmund’s (joint with Ottmar Hitzfeld on 5 trophies) most successful manager ever, with Tuchel replacing Klopp, and with, in some eyes, the man to seamlessly usher in a new and improved generation of gegenpressing’ football replacing the man who shattered the footballing world with the tactic in the early 2010s, there will undoubtedly be renewed hope, reenergized invigoration amongst Die Borussen fans.
The Yellow Wall is one of European football’s most intimidating and impressive features, and if Tuchel is able to recapture the sheer Dortmund ardency that was for so long embodied by the effusive Jürgen Klopp, a juggernaut nestled in Germany’s North-Rhein Westphalia may one again rear its head.