There is that ugly word again: Mentality. Ever since Jürgen Klopp left, this factor in Borussia Dortmund’s genetic makeup has been eroding, slowly but surely. Thomas Tuchel, the cerebral tinkerer and smart tactician, left it up to his players to lead and inspire the team as he surely had no social skills to do so himself… instead playing favorites and dividing the team. But there were enough leaders left over from Klopp’s era to keep it steady enough to get consistently good results. Peter Bosz was simply a stubborn idealist who refused to use the team he had in the way they could play… further depressing the side. Peter Stöger, well, better less said.
Lucien Favre comes along and while a decent manager, has no real top-club pedigree, and arguably no winning mentality. He is a classy gent, but he never had the ability to inspire players to go beyond themselves for the team. He always seemed to lack a Plan B when things went sideways. The camera would often pan to his deer-in-the-headlights look reminiscent of Coach Klein from the Waterboy when he doesn’t have his precious playbook. Just as fear on a battlefield manifests itself in freezing or losing control of oneself in fits of absolute terror, this kind of mentality is infectious, especially given the young makeup of the team. We only have four holdovers from the Klopp era, including two that don’t really play anymore (Łukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer). Mats Hummels is the leader in defense and has done a decent job leading the back line. Marco Reus, on the other hand, has been just as inconsistent as the performances and results, not just from a personal, technical performance, but from a leadership perspective too.
We have all seen Reus rally the front four to mercilessly counter-press, to move effectively off the ball, to create space, to open up angles for tight one-touch passing. But, all too often, we see his deflated body language after something goes wrong. This week it was Levin Öztunali’s wonderstrike from around 30 yards out. The second half against Mainz started out fairly tame, a stark contrast from the first half. After the Öztunali goal, the shoulders slumped, the work-rate plummeted, the lethargy was palpable. Four Eeyores occupied the front four. No one moved. Julian Brandt, Raphael Guerreiro, and Jadon Sancho rarely had anyone to pass to. Whenever anyone had the ball in or around the final third, looking to make incisive passes through the parked Mainz bus, they were left alone and frustrated. They were often forced into making a bad decision, taking on two or more players on the dribble, or getting dispossessed or passing it away.
Sometimes nothing goes your way in football. On the first-half performance alone, Dortmund deserved victory against Mainz. But the same can’t be said about the loss to Leverkusen. The best teams, the ones with the win-or-die-trying mentality are the ones who will consistently put in the effort, and find a way, regardless of how unlucky they are, and regardless of how poorly they are playing. This is where Dortmund is lacking. And what is concerning is that it doesn’t seem like it is being addressed. In fact, it has been repeatedly denied as an issue, despite the visual evidence we see in so many of these performances over the last season and a half. I love Marco Reus. I just ask him to lead from the front, like these younger kids need. If you inspire them each and every minute you are out there and lead by example, they will follow.
It has been a long sabbatical, but I am back writing again for Fear The Wall. Hopefully life has settled down enough for me to spend more time with this community!
What do you guys think? Is mentality an issue?