It’s amazing how much can change in six months. If you had surveyed the Borussia Dortmund fanbase six months ago and asked their opinion of manager Edin Terzic, I suspect the reviews would have been glowing. While the club’s dashing second-half run for the Bundesliga trophy unfortunately stumbled one step short of the finish line, the sheer determination, dominance, and resilience that Borussia Dortmund demonstrated under Terzic couldn’t be denied. With a critical summer transfer window looming, with Sebastian Kehl at the helm and Edin Terzic seemingly growing into his role as head coach, the club’s future seemed bright.
But the summer is far behind us now, and the days are dark and short. Since the final whistle blew against Mainz, one disastrous decision after another has brought the club from the doorstep of a Bundesliga title, to the brink of slipping into a Europa League spot, or even worse. While the causes that led to Borussia Dortmund’s current predicament are many, as far as I’m concerned they all point back to two men: Edin Terzic and Hans-Joachim Watzke.
At this point, Edin Terzic’s outsized role at the club is well-documented. If you’re interested in a long rundown of how he became the most powerful BVB manager since Jürgen Klopp, I highly recommend Paddy’s piece from a few weeks ago that details how Terzic slowly began to increase his influence at the club, to the point that he can single-handedly veto his Sporting Director’s transfer decisions, can handpick transfer targets at will, and benches club legends without a care in the world.
The problem with making your manager all-powerful is that they really, really, really have to be good at their job, and by all indications, Terzic isn’t. Sure, he’s put together a few half-season runs here and there and even won a DFB Cup, but as his supply of world class talents like Erling Harland, Jadon Sancho, and Jude Bellingham have dwindled, so have his results. Now that he has a squad that was almost entirely created in his image, he is being exposed not only for his poor transfer selections, but for his deficiencies in both tactics and leadership. BVB are on pace to miss the Champions League for the first time since 2014-15, look dreadful (and boring) on the pitch, and Terzic has allegedly so alienated a group of players, including Marco Reus, that a group of them are demanding he be fired.
With all this taking place, Watzke had one last chance to try to set everything right. With a good long pause before Bundesliga action resumes, BVB had time to fire Terzic, hire a caretaker manager to right the ship, and to attempt to somehow revive the squad in the winter transfer window. It all came to a head in a high-stakes front office meeting last week, in which Watzke could finally have admitted his wrongdoing and taken steps to put the club back on the path to success. Instead, he stood by his man. As his club hurtles dangerously towards a cliff that could take years to climb back from, he has ripped out the brakes.
The harsh truth is that they both need to go. Edin Terzic has taken his fairytale story and set it ablaze through his poor decision making and mismanagement. While Watzke may have saved the club from financial ruin at one point in time, that is now a distant memory, and if the club is going to carry on in to an uncertain future, it requires new leadership at the helm. In the age of massive sporting departments and analytics, there is no place in any professional footballing organization for a meddling CEO and his favoritism and petty politics. Dortmund need a new CEO who will run the financial side of things and hand over the sporting keys to Sebastian Kehl, the man whose promising start to his directorial career has been shoved aside in favor of Watzke’s pal Edin.
Unfortunately, all this is easier said than done. Terzic’s job might genuinely be in jeopardy if he misses the Champions League, because there’s ultimately nothing Watzke cares more about than financial stability, and that will be greatly threatened if BVB lose access to the coveted Champions League television earnings. Watzke, on the other hand, is one of the most powerful, influential figures in all of German football. According to Borussia Dortmund GmbH’s corporate governance documentation, Watzke would have to be removed by the Executive Committee created by its Advisory Board, which is chaired by Dr. Reinhold Lunow. However, given Watzke’s status at the club, the situation would have to approach catastrophic levels for that to even be considered a possibility, most likely involving outrage by shareholders, who are responsible for electing members of the Executive Committee.
This means that the club’s perpetual slide towards mediocrity will in all likelihood continue. Even if Edin Terzic is tossed to the curb, the same systemic issues will remain as long as Watzke’s meddling remains. To compete in the Bundesliga a new, unified vision must be forged, championed by one Sporting Director and backed by a CEO that will give him the funds he needs and then step out of the way. Sebastian Kehl is waiting in the wings ready to succeed, he just needs to be given the reins to do it.