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VfB Stuttgart v Borussia Dortmund - DFB Cup: Round of 16 Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

The Man from Menden: Edin Terzic and How He Became Dortmund’s Most Influential Coach Since Jürgen Klopp

Seven months ago, Edin Terzic was on the cusp of greatness. Now, he’s fighting to keep his team.

December 12, 2020 - Just over three years ago, Borussia Dortmund were dealt a crippling blow in their title ambitions as they lost 5-1 to Stuttgart. Far from the bombastic Stuttgart side of 2023, this Stuttgart side had just returned to the Bundesliga under the stewardship of Pellegrino Matarazzo and the 5-1 victory came as a shock defeat to Lucien Favre’s side. The game proved to be definitive for Dortmund’s future. By the end of the week, Lucien Favre was dismissed and Edin Terzic, a young scrappy-looking assistant coach who grew up 25 miles from the Westfalenstadion was appointed interim head coach.

Nearly three years later, the Schwarzegelben have once again lost to Stuttgart, this time in the DFB Pokal, and continue to fall down the Bundesliga pecking order. Between these two defeats, the club saw Edin Terzic appointed as head coach twice, the club’s first trophy since 2017, and the greatest title race in recent Bundesliga history – alongside an equally historic collapse. Long-time veterans, such as Lukasz Piszczek, and generational talents like Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland, and Jude Bellingham, have left the club. Even the club’s sporting operation and philosophy has vastly changed with the departure of longtime sporting director, Michael Zorc, and the introduction of Sebastian Kehl. At the core of these three years, however, has been a rapidly changing club that has pinned its hopes, and growing power, on Edin Terzic.

As questions about his tenure and legacy begin to mount, one must ask; who is Edin Terzic and how did we get to this point?

Who is Edin Terzic?

In some ways, Edin Terzic is the exact man who Dortmund fans have been clamoring for years. Terzic grew up as a Borussia Dortmund fan in the town of Menden, only a 30-minute drive away from the Westfalenstadion. Not only that, but his upbringing strikes familiar chords with the tenets of Borussia Dortmund – his parents were blue-collar workers who migrated to the Rhineland amidst strife in their native Yugoslavia. Terzic even shared his bedroom with family members who had fled Yugoslavia – those who were lucky enough to escape the bloodshed. He began his footballing career as a teenager in one of Germany’s many amateur leagues and never progressed into professional football. Instead, he graduated with a degree in sports science at Ruhr University.

In 2010, when studying for his UEFA A coaching license, Terzic had a chance encounter with Dortmund’s then Chief Scout, Sven Mislintat. Within months he was a member of Borussia Dortmund’s scouting department and youth academy setup where he was tasked with opposition analysis in addition to being an assistant coach for the club’s many youth teams. Constantly ambitious and opportunistic, a 30-year-old Terzic reached out to then-Croatia coach, Slaven Bilić, with a breakdown of Ireland’s play before Croatia’s opening match in the 2012 Euros. Croatia went on to win the occasion 3-1 and Bilić even praised Terzic in a subsequent press conference. When Slaven Bilić was offered the coaching job at Beşiktaş a year later, he brought Terzic with him as an assistant coach with Dortmund’s blessing.

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United - Carabao Cup Fourth Round Photo by Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Bilić, who has had a journeyman career as a coach, acted as a mentor to Terzic first at Beşiktaş and then at West Ham in 2015. Understanding Terzic’s ambitions, Bilić let Terzic experiment – leading team meetings and tweaking the side’s tactics despite West Ham’s lackluster results. On top of that, Terzic has also noted his time in the Premier League allowed him to see coaches like Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, and Jürgen Klopp up close. Across the four years since he left Dortmund, Terzic refined his coaching aptitude and defined his man-management motivator philosophy as he often acted as Bilić’s orator to the team. Edin Terzic’s time at West Ham, and his tutelage under Bilić, ended in November of 2017 when West Ham sacked the entirety of the coaching staff. The German used the pause from club work to complete his UEFA Pro License in 2018 alongside other notable individuals including Graham Potter, Nicky Butt, and Nemanja Vidic. It is undoubtable that Terzic was looking for the next opportunity to prove himself at this point and that opportunity came not long after.

With his Pro License, Terzic returned to Borussia Dortmund in 2018 as an assistant coach to Lucien Favre. Doing so saw him complete an unorthodox journey where he refined his coaching skills across three vastly different leagues. Under Favre, Terzic implemented the skills he had learned abroad and acted as a more motivational contrast to the soft-spoken Favre’s coaching philosophy. It is no surprise then, that Dortmund’s think-tank inclusive of Hans-Joachim Watzke, Michael Zorc, and Matthias Sammer, opted for Edin Terzic to take over on an interim basis when Lucien Favre’s time at Dortmund ran its course.

From Fall Guy to Fairytale

With players and fans quickly turning on Lucien Favre, Edin Terzic presented Dortmund’s CEO with both the perfect interim coach and stop-gap. He was charismatic, a local fan, and liked by both the players and fans alike. There was minimal pressure on Terzic from anyone involved with the club – he was just expected to get through the season and, hopefully, finish in the top four league places. It is also no surprise then, that Dortmund’s hierarchy were already courting his successor, Marco Rose. No one saw a future for Terzic at Dortmund—except for him.

At first, he struggled to turn the team’s form around but managed to get to the season’s halfway point with four wins from seven matches, including a marquee win against RB Leipzig and a berth in the DFB pokal quarterfinals. Terzic’s Dortmund then turned things around. They collected 35 points from a possible 56, including winning their last seven games against the likes of Leverkusen, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Union Berlin, Werder Bremen, and Mainz. More importantly, the club got to the quarterfinals of the Champions League, further than any coach since Thomas Tuchel, and famously won the DFB Pokal against RB Leipzig to lift the first meaningful trophy since 2016/17.

RB Leipzig v Borussia Dortmund - DFB Cup Final 2021 Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

Edin Terzic’s popularity had quickly grown amongst the players, fans, and board. Hans-Joachim Watzke likely realized an opportunity in Edin Terzic – he could be the first coach to break out of the long shadow that Jürgen Klopp cast. No coach since Klopp left had the same fiery passion for the club, the same charisma, and the ability to win trophies. Tuchel checked some of these boxes, but his callousness proved to be too much for fans, players, and board alike. Edin Terzic, however, had managed to deliver results, albeit with flawed tactics, and had won over fans not just with his success but with his personality. He contrasted the four coaches which came before him and represented an opportunity to spearhead Dortmund into an era where they challenged an aging Bayern. Dortmund’s CEO, like many of their fans, had bought into the fairytale of Terzic.

One problem remained for Watzke, however. He already signed another coach, Marco Rose, two months before Terzic’s DFB pokal victory and he was slated to take over from the interim Terzic in the 2021/22 season. Watzke’s solution to this was an interesting one. He established a technical director position and gave the role to Terzic in an unprecedented move for Borussia Dortmund. This position not only kept Terzic on the club’s payroll but also fought off interest from other top-flight entities, including Premier League clubs. It also remains the strongest supporting evidence that Watzke had already determined Edin Terzic would succeed Marco Rose as coach of Borussia Dortmund. He had to protect his asset at all costs and then when Marco Rose’s stewardship faltered, Terzic could step in.

The contingency plan went off without any issues. Marco Rose led Dortmund through a tumultuous and injury-plagued year that saw them fail to contest any trophy by the end of the season. Despite being a polished tactician, Rose also failed to win over the board and was ‘mutually dismissed’ at the end of the season by Watzke, Sammer, and newly appointed sporting director Sebastian Kehl. Rose’s swift dismissal came as a shock at the time, but in hindsight, it now feels as if Dortmund’s board was waiting for the opportunity to place their prize asset into the head coach role. Within 24 hours of Marco Rose’s departure, Edin Terzic was once again made head coach of Borussia Dortmund – this time permanently.

Terzic’s season first season as permanent head coach was immediately beset with difficulty—high-profile signing Sebastién Haller was diagnosed with cancer a week into his tenure while injuries hampered Dortmund. New signings, all of which were brought in by Sebastian Kehl, showed promise but the likes of Karim Adeyemi and Anthony Modeste were struggling to produce goals. Terzic’s side slumped to sixth place by the season’s midway point and qualified for the Champions League knockout stages in lackluster fashion. The second half of the season, as all remember, was completely different. For Watzke and Terzic, it likely felt like years of planning coming to fruition while for every other Dortmund fan, it felt like a fairytale.

The side put together a string of narrow victories and then went on a rampage. Victory after victory saw Dortmund climb into first place. While the team was humbled at times including an away defeat to Chelsea to be knocked out of the Champions League and the team’s routine defeat to Bayern, they were still on track to reclaim the Meisterschale for the first time in eleven years. On top of the results, it appeared Terzic became a miracle worker. Karim Adeyemi and Donyell Malen became two of the most lethal players in the league after struggling in the first half of the season while Emre Can had transformed into world-class defensive midfielder. Most importantly, however, was that Sebastién Haller was cancer-free and back to playing football. While it took him time to recover to full form, he became a centerpiece in Dortmund’s fairytale. All that was needed was a win at home against Mainz to reach the team’s ‘happily ever ending’. And they failed.

Borussia Dortmund v 1. FSV Mainz 05 - Bundesliga Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

How did we get here?

You do not need to be provided with the play-by-play of how Dortmund drew Mainz to lose the Bundesliga or rewatch Haller’s penalty miss over and over again. Those 90 minutes are not the reason Terzic’s support is wavering seven months later. What went wrong, and what this lengthy article seeks to contextualize, is how and why Edin Terzic, Hans-Joachim Watzke, and Borussia Dortmund mishandled the aftermath of Matchday 34.

For Terzic, the draw against Mainz was a setback but Dortmund’s resurgence served as a proof-of-concept. His years as a scout and assistant coach had come to fruition. The man-management he learned under Bilić, the lessons he took from Klopp, and his motivational ethos enabled him to bring Dortmund to the final hurdle. He just had to build his team.

For Hans-Joachim Watzke and Matthias Sammer, the match against Mainz was the opportunity they spent eight years building towards. After eight years, five coaches, and repeated defeats to Bayern Munich, Dortmund now had a coach who checked all the boxes they needed. They finally had a coach to build the team around who preached loyalty to Dortmund above all. On top of this, Dortmund were a team in transition. Sebastian Kehl only recently ascended to the position of Sporting Director and the team needed to reconfigure its midfield following the astronomical sale of Jude Bellingham. Dortmund did what they thought was the right option and what turned out to be the biggest mistake in recent memories; they handed the keys to Edin Terzic.

FBL-EUR-C1-DORTMUND-TRAINING Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images

For a club that prided itself on Michael Zorc’s shrewd business and the ability to retain its identity across several coaches, handing the keys to Edin Terzic was always going to be a disaster. Despite being a scout, Terzic leaned into opposition analysis and coaching rather than talent identification. Over the summer, he vetoed key transfer decisions made by Kehl including Edson Alvarez, Armel Bella-Kotchap, and Stefan Lekovic. Instead, he opted for players that fit his ethos. Dortmund not only retained Emre Can, who looked shaky apart from the second half of the 2022/2023 season, but they doubled down and made him captain. To replace the prolific Bellingham, the team brought in Felix Nmecha for a massive fee alongside Marcel Sabitzer. The last addition Was Niclas Füllkrug with the remainder of Dortmund’s budget despite the team only having three center-backs.

These choices showcase Dortmund’s transfer business was building ‘Terzic’s Team’ to challenge for the Bundesliga once again. Under his transfer policy, the club has prioritized physicality and experience over technical ability and potential sell-on value. This sharp change in squad building philosophy, and even team identity, has struggled thus far. It is still early in Terzic’s revolution, but problematic signs are beginning to come to the forefront for both the players and fans. While Jürgen Klopp shared Terzic’s charisma, he also promised high-octane football that is yet to manifest for Dortmund this season under their new coach. The players Terzic is reliant on have also struggled. Both the new crop brought in to fit his identity and the veteran core that continues to age have been inconsistent. Equally important is that the expectations on Edin Terzic have never been higher. He has his team, and they aren’t delivering.

It is no surprise then, that Dortmund are struggling during the biggest transitionary period since Jürgen Klopp left. The players and fans will continue to ask questions of Terzic until he begins to replicate last season’s form. The board, however, have put all their chips on the head coach. It is impossible to tell at what point they will have to give up on their hometown hero’s fairytale. Until that point, however, the man from Menden has the reigns and the team’s future is intertwined with his.

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