This article is part of Get Football’s European Player and Coach of the Season series, as we countdown our top 12 in both categories each day before naming our winner ahead of the Champions League final on May 28. You can read all the profiles and view the ranking here.
Few expected Bochum to earn promotion to the Bundesliga at the start of the 2020/21 2. Bundesliga campaign, not with Hamburg, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Nürnberg and the rest set to battle it out at the top of the table. The German second tier is notoriously unpredictable and competitive, though, and by the time the ‘Unabsteigbaren’ confirmed their status as champions on the final day, no one could argue they didn’t deserve their place amongst the elite.
However, the Bundesliga is a considerable step up in level, and Bochum were among the favourites to be relegated alongside fellow promotion-winners Greuther Fürth. Their task of survival was made so much harder when talented playmaker Robert Žulj, who scored 15 goals last term in the league and provided 15 assists, moved to the United Arab Emirates. But, while the ‘Kleeblätter’ prop up the table, Bochum secured their Bundesliga status before the final matchday and will be playing top-tier football next season. Many deserve praise for their contribution to the Ruhr outfit’s impressive campaign, but manager Thomas Reis is the architect behind their success.
The 48-year-old is Bochum through and through, having spent eight years at the club as a player and a further eight as a manager at various levels – he even coached the women’s team. After a spell away with Wolfsburg’s U19s, he was given the head coach role at the Vonovia Ruhrstadion in 2019 and has not looked back since.
Bochum endured a tough start on their return to the Bundesliga after an 11-year absence, losing five of their first seven games, including a 7-0 hammering at the hands of eventual champions Bayern Munich. Reis, though, showed his tactical flexibility, switching between a 4-3-1-2, a 4-3-3 and a 4-1-4-1 formation to keep opponents guessing, and it paid dividends. They won five of their next seven and have not ended a matchday lower than 14th since the beginning of November. There was revenge for that Bayern loss, too, as Reis masterminded a 4-2 victory over the Bavarians. On the day, Julian Nagelsmann’s men had no answers for Bochum, who netted a trio of strikes in six first-half minutes to take a three-goal lead into the interval. They also picked up four points against Borussia Dortmund.
Bochum do not score many – only Fürth and Arminia Bielefeld have found the back of the net on fewer occasions this campaign – but they are solid at the back. The Bayern loss was an outlier, as that was the only time they have conceded more than three in a single game. They must work on their attacking threat ahead of next season, but Reis has so far passed every test he has encountered with flying colours, and there is no reason he can’t do so again.
The boss is a favourite amongst the supporters, and rightly so. Given how well he has done at Bochum, it surely can’t be long before some of the country’s big hitters attempt to prise him away. While Christian Streich, Urs Fischer and others deserve credit for their managerial performance this term, Reis has perhaps done the best of all.