The interim manager injected fresh impetus into a lacklustre Dortmund side that would go on to win the DFB Pokal...
When Edin Terzic was working as an assistant coach to Slaven Bilic at West Ham he learnt a few tricks from the Balkan manager. Those learnings helped him navigate through the troubled waters when he took charge of a beleaguered Borussia Dortmund in December 2020.
The team had run out of ideas and a 5-1 thrashing to VFB Stuttgart was the final nail in the coffin for Lucien Favre. Terzic knew the process and the players but he had not been in the hot seat before.
"Do you know what the most important single action is in football?" Bilic had asked him a few years ago.
"It’s the next one. All that matters is the next thing you do," the Croat answered back.
Bearing in mind this philosophy, the German coach took over the reins of the team. In his first match as the head coach, BVB won a hard-fought game against Werder Bremen by 2-1. It started off well, however the team continued to look fragmented and the results were inconsistent.
It was important for them to win against Eintracht Frankfurt on April 3 for a UEFA Champions League berth, but once again the team failed to show up when it mattered. Their European participation was under serious threat.
"It was the first game after an international break. Some of our lads didn't come back until Friday. Then we had the tough game on Saturday. So of course, we were very, very disappointed. It was a very bitter moment of course," the coach recounted.
The morning papers tore into Terzic and the Dortmund team.
'MEGA SETBACK FOR BVB.'
'DEFEAT TO FRANKFURT - SURELY NO CHANCE OF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE'
The match that made them believe
It is often said that 90 minutes can make or break a season. Dortmund had their back against the wall when they went to Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League after the league loss.
Kevin De Bruyne opened the scoring in the 19th minute and it seemed that it would be another evening to forget for BVB fans.
But with the odds stacked against them, Terzic's men mounted a fightback. Jude Bellingham found the net but the strike was not counted as it was deemed that the player had fouled City's goalkeeper Ederson before he went for the goal. However, that did not dampen their spirits and Pep Guardiola's side were given a run for their money. In the 84th minute, Reus equalised.
"Yes, it was a bit of an eye-opener for us, because we realised, if everything fits together and every individual brings his best performance to the field, me as well, then we have a good team. I think it was a bit of a spark for the rest of the games."
Although Phil Foden's winner in the dying embers of the game shifted the momentum back in City's favour, Dortmund discovered the 'spark' in them.
The time was ripe to take a leaf out of Bilic's book and focus on doing the next best thing. Incidentally, the next match was against Stuttgart to whom BVB had conceded five previously in the season. But this time, the tables turned and away from home they stunned The Reds 2-3.
"Think about the next action and make it even better. That was the approach. We wanted to remind the boys of it constantly. We took this approach every day, so we could use it on matchdays."
Significantly, the winner was scored by Ansgar Knauff, a teenager and a fringe member of the squad whom Terzic asked to run to the stands to bring back the ball when it went out during a pre-season friendly.
The youngsters like Jadon Sancho, Gio Reyna, Julian Brandt started to take up the mantle. Two tricky games against Bremen and Wolfsburg were taken care of and they were suddenly back in the race for a top-four finish. In fact, against Wolfsburg, Jude Bellingham was sent off and yet they won by keeping a clean sheet.
"Games like that, that kind of made us grow together and gave us a lot of confidence. And we kept on growing together. It’s collective. If the team plays better, every individual plays better too.”
The redemption in Berlin
BVB had won the DFB Pokal for the final time in the 2016-17 season. After a turbulent season, winning the trophy would have been a sort of redemption for the fans and a milestone for Terzic. However, they knew that facing Frankfurt would be a complicated affair, especially with players who were about to play their first major cup final.
"I was very relaxed about it, because I had a good mindset. I tried, or we tried, to ease the young players' nervous excitement, but of course, it’s important you have a certain amount of tension," stated Marco Reus, one of the senior players and skipper of Dortmund.
Once the game kicked off, Dortmund showed that they meant business. Jadon Sancho scored within the first five minutes and BVB got off to a flyer. That goal set the tone of the match.
The men in yellow capitalised on that platform and the match was sealed within the first 45 minutes as Erlind Haaland and Sancho, again, struck to increase the lead. A comprehensive 4-1 win at the end of 90 minutes and Terzic had won his first silverware as a manager.
"The party starts on the pitch. They were indescribable moments. It was the first time for many, including me, to experience something like that," the manager exclaimed.
Fourteen interviews. Two full-blown beer showers and yet the emotions were yet to sink in.
"I really wanted to experience it. That feeling of coming into the changing room and everyone hugging each other and celebrating their success. I wanted to be there. These things I think will last forever. Nobody can take that away from us, these moments. That’s what’s worth fighting for. We’ll remind the boys of that again when the next season starts."
The newspaper headlines had also changed.
'FROM CRISIS CLUB TO WINNING RUN'
'TERZIC TURNS IT AROUND'
At the business end of the season, BVB were simply unstoppable. They strung together a nine-match unbeaten run in the domestic circuit, won a trophy and finished third in the Bundesliga. What looked like a distant dream in December had turned into reality in May.
"An incredibly intense year with many lows at first, I’d say, and at the end, an unbelievable high, which no-one, or very few, believed us capable of, you have to say. It’s important what happens in May and where you are in May," reminisced Reus.
Terzic can hold his head up with pride. He set out on a treacherous journey and in the end, he has reached his destination. He calls himself a product of Borussia Dortmund and the black and yellow is echte liebe.
In the past five months he has solved several tricky questions and riddles from the sidelines, yet he doesn't have the answer to things.
"For one, how does it feel when the whole stadium is cheering? And how does it feel when the whole stadium is whistling? I haven't been able to experience these things."
The 2021-22 season will hopefully help him figure out the answer to these two questions!