Consider the best case scenario for Dortmund this season: Winning the Bundesliga is likely out of the equation, but second place? Even with the catastrophic drop off that characterised Peter Bosz’ tenure as manager, die Schwarzgelben is just 1 point away from trailing only Bayern Munich. No other club in the hunt for second can quite boast a squad with the same blend of young talent and experienced veterans as Dortmund, and no other club in the Bundesliga have a player of Marco Reus’ quality yet to even make an appearance this season. His return, along with the arrival of Michy Batshuayi, could be enough to push the club deep in the Europa League as well.
That would understandably be a lot to ask of Reus, who has accrued a lengthy injury history in his professional career and will be coming off of a major cruciate injury at 28 years old, but the defence has been vastly improved under Peter Stoeger, and they have not conceded more than 2 goals in a match since his arrival. However, the recent heroics of Batman 2.0, Michy Batshuayi, might have added a shiny veneer to what has been a rather mediocre attack since the early season glut of goals. Outside of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the team could seldom rely on a secondary option once Max Philipp went down. The young German had netted 6 in his 9 league appearances before the injury, but after he and Shinji Kagawa (5), no other player has more than 3 Bundesliga goals this season that still plays for the club. Batshuayi was phenomenal on his debut, and he could go a long way to softening the blow of Aubameyang’s loss, but players like Andriy Yarmolenko and Andre Schurrle need to increase their goal contributions, or else both might find playing time hard to come by once Philipp and Reus are back to full fitness.
If those injured players return to fitness and good form, the attack could be a daunting task for defences to stop both domestically and in Europe. An attack spearheaded by Michy Batshuayi with any combination of Reus, Philipp, Kagawa, Mario Gotze and Christian Pulisic providing the hitman support in Stoeger’s 4-2-3-1 (or 4-1-4-1) will go a long way towards solving the decline in attacking output since being remade into a more responsible defensive side. The central midfielders have been able to function more effectively in their defensive roles, as Stoeger does not like his team to get as stretched out as his predecessor. Julian Weigl has begun to look like the same player that was vital to Thomas Tuchel’s most inspiring Dortmund sides, and Mahmoud Dahoud is finally coming out of his timid shell to produce some slick moments on the ball. Added to a solid defence that has always been tremendously talented but is now playing in a system that gives the players a chance to shine as a unit, Dortmund and Stoeger are shaping up to be a formidable match for the rest of the season indeed.
Can Stoeger Success Create Future Problem?
If the end of the season goes as hoped, and Dortmund look like the dangerous version of themselves that wreaked havoc in the league and Europe just a few short years ago, the club hierarchy may then be faced with a dilemma: What will they do with Peter Stoeger if he meets or exceeds expectations? Will they offer him another, longer contract? While his hiring may have been the right move to right a rapidly sinking ship, is he the right man to take the club forward?
To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with managers like Stoeger. He is pragmatic to a fault, while his orderly tactics and management style also helped him lead a Koln back to European competition despite a long absence and low expectations. He is a serious man with serious ideas about football, and he expects his team to defend as a unit. These are all admirable qualities, but for a Dortmund manager, it must only be part of the puzzle. The club have garnered a reputation for their success in luring young talent to the Westfalenstadion, but have equally become known for their talented young managers in recent seasons. Juergen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel were innovative and exciting in ways that get through to talented players; that made them want to perform for the man because of the faith and attention he shows them every day on the training pitch. Stoeger may be an astute tactician like his predecessors, but does he have the charisma and message to help attract players to the project at Dortmund, and raise their level in the coming years? In short: not likely.
The Obvious Choice Is the Right Choice
Quite simply, the name that has been linked most often to the job this summer (in fairness, along with Bayern Munich), Julian Nagelsmann, is the best candidate. Perhaps still too young and inexperienced for the pressure cooker in Munich, Nagelsmann is a dream candidate for Dortmund, and their track record of taking a chance on hot coaching talent could offer the perfect opportunity for the young German manager. Though he is pragmatic and tactically proficient, what makes Nagelsmann special is his adaptability. He famously tailors his tactics to suit his players and their opponents’ weaknesses rather than simply shoehorning them into his preferred formation, and this could be the perfect blend to allow the attacking talent at Dortmund to flourish without sacrificing stability at the back.
At 30 years old, Nagelsmann would be younger than some of his players, but he already commands the respect of players and his peers for his meteoric rise in the coaching world, backed up by consistent results. He has worked with young players at Hoffenheim, and would be perfectly comfortable with the mix of youth and experience in the Dortmund squad. Coming from a smaller budget club with players that have attracted interest from European giants under his tutelage, Nagelsmann would likely be used to the turnover in the squad, and might be less abrasive than Tuchel was when confronted with a high rate player sales. Julian Nagelsmann is one of the hottest coaching talents in the world of football, represents everything that is good about German football, and is just the right sort of trendy pick that would sit well with the fans. With any luck, Stoeger will perform his duty as effectively as the club could have hoped, the club will graciously thank him for his service, and then ask him to make way for the next great young German manager.