A defender by trade, Tuchel joined the Augsburg youth academy as a teenager but was released at the age of 19 without ever making the first team. He subsequently had a short-lived spell with the Stuttgarter Kickers in Bundesliga 2, making eight outings at that level, before joining third-tier outfit SSV Ulm.
There he played 68 times before being forced to hang up his boots for good due to a serious knee injury at the age of 24 in 1998. So far, so underwhelming as a grounding for an elite-level tactician.
His next step was even more unusual. Eager to prove to himself that he could be a success away from the football pitch, Tuchel studied Business Administration at university, working as a waiter in a bar at the same time.
Yet the pull of football remained strong and Tuchel’s springboard into coaching came from none other than Ralf Rangnick, who would go on to enjoy success with Schalke, Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig, among others. The two struck up a good relationship at Ulm, where Rangnick was head coach from 1997–99, and after recovering from his knee injury, Tuchel was keen for one last throw of the dice as a pro.
He contacted Rangnick, then in charge at Stuttgart, nine months later asking for a trial with the club’s reserves. Rangnick was only too happy to oblige, but when Tuchel was ultimately unable to continue playing due to chronic cartilage damage, Rangnick sowed the coaching seeds by asking if he could imagine working in youth football.
Curiosity piqued, Tuchel shadowed coaches in the club’s academy for a while before eventually taking over the U14 team in 2000. His foot now firmly wedged in the door, there was no looking back.
Learning on the job and guided by late mentor Hermann Badstuber – father of current Stuttgart and former Bayern Munich defender Holger – Tuchel was promoted to assistant coach of the U19s in 2004, swiftly demonstrating his promise on the touchline by helping the side win the U19 Bundesliga title the following year.
That sparked a rapid ascent up the ladder and, just nine years after waiting tables in a bar, he would be in a Bundesliga dugout for the first time thanks to his tactical shrewdness, man management and ability to recognise and grab opportunities when they arose.
In 2006 he returned to Augsburg, this time as U19 head coach, completing his coaching badges that same year. In 2007/08 he took charge of the club’s reserve team before switching to Mainz and winning the U19 Bundesliga title in 2008/09 with a side that included future World Cup winner Andre Schürrle.
Credentials well and truly established, in summer 2009 he was targeted by both the German Football Association (DFB) for a role as U21 assistant coach and Hoffenheim for a position as reserve team head coach.
However, the appeal of the Bundesliga was too strong and he was named as Mainz first team coach on 3 August 2009 after his predecessor, Jörn Andersen, was dismissed following the side’s DFB Cup first-round exit to lower-league outfit VfB Lübeck.
Despite Mainz only being promoted to the top flight the previous season, Tuchel steered them to a ninth-placed finish in his debut campaign. He then kicked off his second term at the helm with seven successive wins, including a 2-1 victory away to record German champions Bayern.
Mainz earned a shot at the UEFA Europa League for the first time in the club’s history after finishing fifth in 2011/12, only to be beaten over two legs by Romanian side Gaz Metan Medias in the third qualifying round.
During his time at Mainz, Tuchel earned a reputation as one of German football’s most tactically astute young coaches, regularly switching up formations according to the task in hand, whilst always staying faithful to his own unique fundamentals.
“There’s definitely a style that’s been attributed to me, that we brought to the table at Mainz: pace going forward and attack-minded football,” he told German newspaper die Zeit. “I prefer certain qualities, an active playing style, bold defending and pacy play in attack.”
He is also unafraid to take unconventional approaches to his work. Once, instead of using video analysis following a painful defeat, he motivated his players with a quote from NBA legend Michael Jordan: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Similarly, Tuchel also contracted a young hobby football analyst, Rene Maric, to do scouting and opposition analysis for him. At the time, Maric was merely an enthusiastic football fan, posting his musings to his blog.
Tuchel saw one of his reports and was impressed; it helped kick-start Maric’s career and he is now assistant to Borussia Mönchengladbach head coach Marco Rose.
To this day, Tuchel remains the most successful coach in Mainz’s history, averaging more points per game (1.41) than the man who took them into the Bundesliga for the very first time back in 2005/06 – Jürgen Klopp (1.13).
Feats of that kind do not go unnoticed and after five overachieving years at Mainz he took a 12-month sabbatical before succeeding Klopp yet again, this time at Borussia Dortmund.
There, he nurtured young talents including Christian Pulisic and Ousmane Dembele, turning them into world-beating wingers, as well as helping BVB finish as Bundesliga runners-up in 2015/16 and taking the side to DFB Cup glory the following year.
And as was the case at Mainz, he became the most successful coach in Dortmund history with an average of 2.09 points per Bundesliga game until current incumbent Lucien Favre (2.11) raised the bar even higher.
Tuchel’s time in Dortmund lasted just two seasons and, nine years after his first job as head coach, he was appointed in charge of French giants PSG in summer 2018, winning the Ligue 1 title in his maiden season.
He backed that up with the domestic treble the following season, and despite losing the club’s first ever Champions League final to Bayern, given his upward trajectory to date – one suspects there will be plenty more silverware for the Bundesliga-made tactician in his next nine-year cycle.
Originally published on Bundesliga.