Reunion with VfL Bochum

Reunion with VfL Bochum

Dhe return of former heroes, who eventually became opponents, is an age-old motif in the stories of the Bundesliga. You then remember old times, concentrate on the present, and sometimes – when a breakup has left wounds – things get a little more emotional.

All of these phenomena can also be observed when Schalke coach Thomas Reis visits his long-term employer VfL Bochum, with this duel between the penultimate table versus the last on Saturday (3.30 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker for the Bundesliga and on Sky) has the potential not to be remembered as a replaceable episode of a shallow entertainment narrative, but as a key passage in a sophisticated epic. Because until he left VfL, Reis was something of a Bochumer par excellence.

While presidents, captains, sporting directors and coaches have changed, Reis has been there since 1995 – barring two stints. He was employed as a player at the Revierklub, as a scout, as a coach of the women’s team, as a temporary assistant in accounting, as a coach in the youth academy and: as a heroic head coach, who took over the professionals in 2019 as seventeenth in the second division, stabilized the team, in the Season after that and managed to stay in the Bundesliga. The 48-year-old football teacher still lives in Bochum, and yet he says before returning to the Ruhrstadion: “I don’t think we’ll be met with much love.”

“The separation was ugly”

It would be nice if that were primarily due to a healthy rivalry between the two Revier clubs and not to feelings of anger or even hatred. Reis’ express wish is “that it will be a peaceful derby”. Emotions will certainly run high in this stadium, which is the narrowest in the Bundesliga next to the Alte Försterei in Berlin, because “the separation was unpleasant,” says Reis, who himself shares responsibility for the conflict. Last spring he negotiated with Schalke 04 as a Bochum coach and developed the desire to switch to the big neighbor from Gelsenkirchen.

That failed because those responsible at VfL did not give him approval. When this incident came to light in late summer, he initially denied contact with Schalke 04, but later had to admit that he was untrue. In combination with a weak start to the season, this led to a break. And yet there is one point on which Schalke and Bochum will agree: the members of both clubs are convinced of the professional skills of this coach.

Thomas Reis was almost everything in Bochum: player, scout, trainer of the women's team, temporary assistant in accounting, trainer in the youth academy and head coach

Thomas Reis was almost everything in Bochum: player, scout, trainer of the women’s team, temporary assistant in accounting, trainer in the youth academy and head coach

Image: dpa

After eleven years in the second division, Reis led VfL back into the Bundesliga and then successfully brought about a change in the style of play: away from the more dominant football of a top team towards a robust and very pragmatic outsider style. And in his new job he seems to be able to teach Schalke, who were not competitive until the winter break, a football that works.

“Just a few weeks ago I had little hope that FC Schalke 04 would be able to stay up in the league,” writes former successful coach Huub Stevens in a column in “Kicker”. “The situation in the table was just too devastating”, but in the meantime it has “been shown how quickly the conditions in football can change. (…) Thomas Reis gives the team a signature that is becoming increasingly clear.”

After four goalless draws and a win against VfB Stuttgart, Schalke are back in the middle of a relegation battle with Bochum, Hoffenheim, Hertha BSC and VfB Stuttgart. Carried by a powerful emotional momentum, because after the recent upswing there is actually a good mood in Gelsenkirchen instead of sadness. “We may be in a somewhat more successful phase,” says Reis very cautiously.

The situation in Bochum is completely different, where his successor Thomas Letsch won five home games in a row between the end of October and the beginning of February, but recently lost four competitive games in a row. This feeds Schalke’s hope of ending a series that is unique in the Bundesliga. 38 times in a row the club has not won away from home in the first division, so Reis says: “Every series is there to end at some point.”

The explosiveness is so great that in the days before the duel there is even a discussion about the sweater worn by the Schalke coach. In Bochum he liked to show himself in clothes from the VfL fan shop, a week ago in the game against Stuttgart he wore a hoodie with a huge Schalke logo on the back.

In Bochum, where beer mugs have often been thrown onto the pitch in the past, he should perhaps let that go, so as not to further provoke the emotionally charged people. Some commentators even believe that this derby is even bigger than the duel between Gelsenkirchen and BVB a week later due to its many stories and the table constellation.

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