Less than 24 hours after a suspected terrorist attack in which three explosions shattered the windows of their team buses and broke defender Marc Batra’s wrist, Borussia Dortmund lost 3-2 to Monaco in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal. Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel had this to say after the loss:
“We were told by text message that UEFA was making this decision [to play the following evening]. A decision made in Switzerland that concerns us directly. We will not forget it, it is a very bad feeling.” He later added, “of course we have to keep it going, but we still want to be competitive. We do not want to use the situation as an excuse. Every player has the right to deal with it in his way. The team did not feel in the mood, in which you must be for such a game.”
Midfielder Nuri Sahin echoed similar sentiments: “I know football is very important. We love football, we suffer with football, and I know we earn a lot of money and have a privileged life–but we are human beings, there is so much more than football in this world.”
“When I was on the bus last night, I can’t forget the faces, I will never forget those faces. I was sitting next to [Dortmund defender] Marcel Schmelzer and I will never forget his face. It was unbelievable.”
Clearly Dortmund did not feel ready to play such an important match so soon after a startling incident. It helps explain why Monaco jumped out to a 2-0 halftime lead, before Dortmund rallied after the half to cut the deficit to one as the teams head into the second leg next Wednesday. Even Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim felt a little guilty about playing the match, saying it perhaps shouldn’t have been played.
However, the confusion surrounding the scheduling of the game makes me slightly suspicious of Tuchel’s comments, in particular. UEFA released a statement immediately after the Dortmund manager’s saying that the decision to play Wednesday’s game was made with “complete agreement with clubs and authorities.” Tuchel himself even made vague comments in his postgame interview that leads me to believe that UEFA did in fact consult with Dortmund as to the game’s rescheduling: “We let the players choose if they wanted to play. But this morning, we found that the training had done good, that it had made us think of something else.”
Since it looks as though Dortmund agreed to play last night’s game by choice, here are my two ultimate takeaways. First, UEFA still should have used better judgement. The game should not have been played so soon after such an event. And yet, I also believe that despite this injustice, Tuchel’s comments sound a little like sour grapes. He did say that he did not want to use the events from the previous evening as an excuse, but just by discussing them he immediately initiated the conversation. If Dortmund had won, I bet he would have praised his team’s heroics and bravery in such a moment. But because they lost, Tuchel had an immediate excuse to justify his team’s performance. It is a legitimate excuse, to be sure. Yet since Dortmund ultimately took the field when they did not necessarily have to, it’s an excuse nonetheless.