IN normal circumstances, Chelsea’s dismissal of Thomas Tuchel wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, the club has made a career out of sacking managers, after all. This was supposed to be a little different, however, Tuchel is an elite-level, much-coveted coach, had taken Chelsea to UEFA Champions League triumph and had strong principles. Moreover, he seemed to refuse to take part in the bullshit world of cliché and jargon that football has become. He seemed a smart operator.
In recent weeks, something had changed. Tuchel looked a little dishevelled, had become more prickly than normal and allowed himself to get caught up in a 90-minute vendetta with Antonio Conte, dashing around like a comic character. His team had also started the campaign badly, hardly surprising given the number of new signings and the constant state of flux at Stamford Bridge. Tuchel’s job description, seemingly, had changed as the new ownership stripped the club’s football management structure, disposing of the recruitment team. Todd Boehly made himself the de facto sporting director and went about signing players for inflated fees. Tuchel couldn’t have been very comfortable, especially as his acolytes, Petr Cech and Marina Granovskaia had both left.
Generally, there is sympathy for Tuchel. His record at Chelsea was good – European champions, four cup finals, FIFA Club World Cup winners, a win rate of 60% and third place in 2021-22. So he started 2022-23 off colour, but that’s half a dozen games in a Chelsea career of 100 games. Surely he deserved better?
Barney Ronay of The Guardian summed it up well: “Tuchel was hired by an entirely different group of people, and there have been whispers of tension. He is an angular, awkward kind of figure with a history of falling out with far less likely candidates than a board of American investors.”
Tuchel simply was the wrong man for the new regime. New management often comes with a caveat, “we want our own people”, a mantra that transcends many industries, notably finance where many American owners learned their trade. Tuchel was always going to be vulnerable. “Three months in, Boehly and his board have shown something familiar. React to results, jump ship midstream, buy £ 250 million of pleyers with one manager, then hire another. Welcome back, Chelsea. You haven’t changed a bit,” said Ronay. It’s also bizarre that three weeks ago, Tuchel was in talks to extend his contract, said Sky Sports. “You know how glad I am to be here and how much I like it,” claimed Tuchel. In just 21 days, the world collapsed.
Certainly, the Chelsea job should come with a health warning – it is almost vampirical. It’s a short-term role in a short-termist profession that drains the incumbent after a couple of years – some victims take years to recover. It pays well and the exit must surely be lucrative – The Sun reported that Tuchel’s pay off was £ 13 million. But Chelsea have lost a coach that gave them an edge, said The Athletic. “Chelsea’s owners discovered that when the relationship between owners and coach breaks down, there is no recovery.”
The Independent claimed that Tuchel had lost authority over the players – how often has that been heard at Chelsea? And talking of players, the assumption was that Boehly had selected some of the new signings, but apparently, Tuchel was involved in almost all of them, something that never happened with Abramovich’s structure. The New York Times’ Rory Smith noted that the club’s bid for Mexican midfielder Edson Alvarez came towards the end of the window. “The approach was so late that Ajax was able to use it as proof that Chelsea was not spending to any plan, but rather for the sake of it.” It is well known that Tuchel was against the prospect of signing Cristiano Ronaldo – understandably so.
Rumours prevailed in and around Stamford Bridge that Tuchel would be “gone by Christmas” and his appearance seemed to suggest he knew it. Certainly some of his comments hint that all was not well between the coach and his players. He accused them of lacking commitment, both physically and mentality, and then claimed they were not tough enough. Once the dressing room goes, there is usually only one result at Stamford Bridge and it is not the players who suffer. Some people believe his relationship with his squad changed after his marriage broke down, but that could just be tabloid gossip.
Rory Smith suggested the new ownership may not know the first thing about English football but their behaviour will help them to acclimatise: “If they carry on like this, Chelsea’s new owners will fit into the Premier League’s hyberbolic soap opera just fine.”
Chelsea may come to regret the decision to dispense with a coach that had led them to the Champions League title. They’ve almost come to the end of the list of elite coaches and it is logical that they look beyond the usual suspects. If that means Graham Potter will leave Brighton, he will arrive with all the usual platitudes and throwaway comments about dynasties, alignment and vision. But if what unfolds is not to the owners’ liking, he too will realise that Chelsea are every bit as ruthless as they have been over the past 19 years. Ask Mr Tuchel.
Sources: The Guardian, The Indepdendent, The Mirror, The Sun, Daily Mirror, Sky Sports, New York Times.