Off-field tension between Tuchel and Dortmund board makes for uneasy finish
"Ruhe im Karton," (silence in the box) is a German idiom used predominantly by unnerved parents or teachers that demand some well-deserved silence from overzealous children. On Wednesday, however, it was Borussia Dortmund's sporting director Michael Zorc who called for "Ruhe im Karton" in an interview with DPA (Deutsche Press-Agentur), demanding some calmness ahead of the final stretch of the season.
That being said, there is very little indication that there will be rest at the club after CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke triggered an avalanche of rumours and telltales with an interview in WAZ last Friday prior to Dortmund's 2-1 home win against Hoffenheim. Watzke told the German publication that there is dissent between him and coach Thomas Tuchel over how the outside communication after the attempted assassination of the team on April 11 and the postponement of the Champions League quarterfinal against Monaco was conducted.
But even more tellingly, talking about a potential contract extension with Tuchel, Watzke said that it will not only be about the sporting side of things, but also dependent on things like "strategy, communication, trust."
Watzke's interview was far from any coincidence as it was recorded on Wednesday and authorised on Friday ahead of a Matchday where Dortmund's fate of a direct Champions League qualification spot was very much on the line against then third-place Hoffenheim.
Since then, none of Dortmund's officials have attempted to put anything about the rift between the board and Tuchel into perspective. Quite the opposite rather, as throughout the week more and more articles came to light that not only described the differences between the coaching staff and the club's board but also featured anonymous quotes of players and insinuations that there are insurmountable differences between the team and the coach and his staff.
Not all is well in paradise if reports and whispers are to be believed -- none of them officially on record and all extremely contrary to the public appearance of Tuchel, who has made an overall calm and serene impression in various press conferences and television interviews. Parallel to that, songs of advanced negotiations with Nice coach Lucien Favre have begun floating about.
Journalists close to the club are hinting at a likely exit for Tuchel after the German Cup final on May 27 in which Dortmund play against Eintracht Frankfurt.
At Friday's news conference, ahead of Saturday's away game against FC Augsburg, the 43-year-old coach did little to calm the situation.
"The past week obviously didn't go past me without a trace. Two weeks ago, I was asked how I am dealing with all the praise. That feels like it was 12 years ago," a visibly agitated Tuchel said, adding: "A lot of untruths and personal aspersions have been circulating this week, most based on anonymous quotes. It goes beyond what's decent. It's very tough to deal with that [situation]."
Although Watzke, Zorc and president Reinhard Rauball were seen in the dressing room with the team and coach after last week's match, Tuchel insisted in his news conference that a conversation to clear the air between him and Watzke was yet to happen.
"It's not that easy," he said. "It's not about sport. A lot has been turned on its head -- in a way that's going way too far on a personal level, also in regard to a serious incident [the attack on the team bus] which I was a part of. But for now, I'm feeling strong enough to put my own needs aside to reach the aims for which I was employed here. Everything else will have to wait, although it's hard."
Only time will tell the motive that saw Watzke deliberately kick-off major turmoil in the most crucial phase of the season. Fact is, that neither party is trying to put out the flames with three matches to go, including a German cup final, which in itself gives a lot of insight into a crumbling relationship. In the end, the real loser of this battle which is being fought in the media will be the club itself.
It is notable that it has only been a side note in all the chaos that Marc Bartra, who was injured in the attack on BVB's team bus, will return to the squad against Augsburg. It could have been a very harmonious end of the season for Dortmund, but however well the team performs on the field, the atmosphere will be tarnished due to the ongoing unease off of it.
Whether winning the German Cup can solve eventual difference also remains to be seen.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.