After a season of struggle, VfL Bochum are the breakaway team in the 2. Bundesliga since it returned last month, with no team picking up as many points as Thomas Reis’s side, who are surely now safe on 39 points and in eighth place at the time of writing.
One of the most surprising subplots at the Ruhrstadion has been the emergence, or re-emergence, of Jordi Osei-Tutu. At the beginning of the season he was out of his depth and his signing from Arsenal was being held up as the shining example of a poor summer transfer window.
Yet, in a new role, he is finally finding his feet and the question is now whether his performances are enough to convince Mikel Arteta to give him a chance with Arsenal’s first team next season – or at the very least to earn another season learning his craft in Bochum.
Osei-Tutu was brought to Bochum in the summer as a promising, young English full-back from Arsenal. The then 20-year-old had yet to make a senior appearance for his parent club but had appeared on the bench a few times in the previous couple of seasons.
It was hoped that he could replace both Jan Gyamerah, who left for Hamburger SV, and Stefan Celozzi, who had been told to find another club by then-coach Robin Dutt and sporting director Sebastian Schindzielorz. The faith quickly appeared misguided, as he struggled to get up to the pace of the league defensively, despite some attacking flourishes.
He started the first two games of the campaign but it was clear that the club needed to bring him another right-back – Cristian Gamboa was soon signed from Celtic – and Osei-Tutu was already facing a tall order if he was to make the most of his time in Germany.
Circumstances were admittedly difficult. He had moved to a foreign country where he didn’t speak the language, and Bochum was hardly a stable environment in his early months, with Dutt sacked after just four matches.
He was also racially abused during a pre-season friendly, leaving the pitch in tears, an incident that can’t have done anything for his confidence, even if he downplayed the impact later one. “I just tried to forget about it so it didn’t play on my mind afterwards, which I think I did well,” he told Goal in an interview in November.
Back on the pitch, and even in these difficult early weeks, there were signs of hope. Whilst considered a liability defensively, he had impressed going forward. He scored his first goal as a substitute against Wehen Wiesbaden and played a promising 90 minutes on the wing in the following game against VfB Stuttgart under interim coach Heiko Butscher.
Opportunities under Reis, appointed in early September, were hard to come by. Gamboa was quickly established at right-back and Simon Zoller was generally preferred as the right winger. Celozzi was also reintegrated to the squad following Dutt’s departure.
He didn’t play against until a cup game against Bayern Munich in late October, later making four appearances before the end of the year, including two starts. He was out of the squad entirely after the winter break, before reappearing in late February and then, with Zoller injured, trusted to start again on the right win against Sandhausen in early March.
It is a place he hasn’t relinquished since. He scored a goal and set up another in that 4-4 draw, and since the coronavirus-enforced break, he has kicked on again. He scored again in important victories against 1. FC Heidenheim and Holstein Kiel, overcoming the disappointment of being taken off after just half-an-hour in the game in-between at Karlsruher SC.
He has formed a good understanding with Miloš Pantović and Robert Žulj, both of whom have also come into their own in the past few weeks, and he has made the most of the opportunity presented to him by Zoller’s latest, season-ending, injury. The attacking trio’s contributions have all but secure safety for the club for another season.
With four more games to go, Osei-Tutu’s time at Bochum is coming to an end – or is it? Schindzielorz has confirmed the club would like to keep him on loan next season – a permanent transfer would be financially impossible – but sources closer to Arsenal suggest Arteta could have use for him at Arsenal next season, especially with their own hands tied following the global pandemic.
It’s questionable though whether Osei-Tutu is ready to be a Premier League regular, especially having struggled in his supposed-primary position and having only impressed over a short period of time. He may be better off going back out on loan, to a Bundesliga or Championship club or, and this is probably the safest option, back to Bochum to really kick on.