The first and most important principle elaborated repeatedly in From the Touchline is, like a politician or a cockroach, a manager’s top priority is keeping his or her job. When they wake up in the morning to when they close their eyes at night, the goal of being the manager for another day is domineering. That is why managers tend to be conservative in tactics and media strategy, and why the best are continually driven to remain the best.
Peter Stoeger knows the other side of the job. He was lamenting a poor finish to his Cologne career when a most unexpected call came from the Dortmund front office. Now the manager seemingly has an opportunity to keep this surprise position that arguably is better than the last one from which he was sacked. To do so, however, he is now faced with a choice.
Club management have made it clear that BVB’s goal this season is to qualify for the Champions League next season. After disappointing in the group stage, Stoeger’s men have a golden opportunity to try and win the Europa League, thus gaining qualification for the important European competition. Let’s call this the Mourinho strategy. At the same time Dortmund face a competitive league where a top-four finish will help achieve their goal. Massively training Bayern, they must now focus on the 2-4 spots which are still within reasonable reach. However, the top of the league is strong especially with RB Leipzig rounding into form. Can they try and finish both and win the Europa League? Publicly they’ll say yes but the reality is much harder.
It was not until very recently that the Europa League was seen as a viable path for success for a manager at a large club. Then The Special One ran the table, so to speak, in the competition and qualified for the UCL despite a very mediocre finish in the domestic league. This success allowed him to paint his season a success and set up the club for a good run this year in the Champions League as well as the league.
With a good result over Atalanta, BVB seems to have a good path to the title match. While the competition is tougher with so many good Champions League clubs dropping, all of them have exploitable weaknesses or man management issues. The downside of course is one bad match means the trophy chase is over, whereas with the league a stumble here and there is accommodated. Also, while winning a trophy is not a guarantee of job security (see Tuchel, Thomas) in this case a Europa League trophy (his first) would be enough you’d assume to hold on to his position.
The Europa League qualification offers managers a new path to success, but the cost of focusing can be high. For Stoeger, he can try to pursue both equally, but when they conflict or player selection for both is impossible, will he put his career in the Europa League basket or the Bundesliga basket?