Football Media Watch: The desolation of Thomas Tuchel

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.

Chelsea: Why their summer spree has to work

CHELSEA, over the past 20 years, appear to have behaved like a rich man in a casino, throwing money around, not over concerned if their spending was successful, knowing there’s plenty more cash where it came from. Their transfer market record has been quite mixed, only held up by the bulk-buying nature of their player recruitment. Examine it closely and they have made some big mistakes, hiring players that don’t work out, don’t fit in or simply don’t get given the chance to succeed.

Patience was never a virtue at Stamford Bridge during the Abramovich era, so if players didn’t hit the ground running, they became the lost men of London SW6. Others simply proved to be expensive baubles that would sit in the equivalent of the discount book section until someone showed an interest.

While Liverpool and Manchester City seem to have hit on the secret of virtually zero wastage, Chelsea have frittered away cash on impulse buys and been left red-faced by releasing players who went on to greater things; Mohammed Salah and Kevin de Bruyne are shining examples – ironically, now with the two clubs that Chelsea find themselves trailing behind.

Under Abramovich’s generous and somewhat remarkable regime, Chelsea had periodic spending sprees that reminded the market that they had financial muscle. Rarely did the outlay match the return, though, apart from the early days when good talent spotting picked out players like Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Arjen Robben. Some big names have proved to be disappointments, such as Andriy Shevchenko, Alvaro Morata, Fernando Torres and most recently, the second coming of Romelu Lukaku.

When Chelsea were finding their way in 2004, many of their signings were potential-rich, relatively unknown to the UK fanbase and part of an overall plan. Once Chelsea had reached the pinnacle with their two titles in 2005 and 2006, the targets became more recognisable, such as Michael Ballack, Shevchenko, Nicolas Anelka, Torres and Deco. Chelsea were not only in the hunt, they were also being sought-out by players with track records wanting to join the gravy train. For the club, the prospect of top names joining was also an opportunity to acquire greater credibility. Although this was what Chelsea were striving for, there was something very fresh and exciting about those first two title-winning campaigns. Reaching for the top is often more satisfying than the act of consolidation.

Between 2003-04 and 2021-22, Chelsea spent £ 2.1 billion on players and received £ 1.16 billion on sales. Their net spend in this period was £ 949 million, less than both Manchester clubs, but Chelsea’s gross outlay was higher than every other club. Although some signings clearly didn’t work out, the club has shown it is quite proficient at the player trading game. Since 2003-04 (and up to 2020-21), Chelsea made profits on player trading of £ 682 million and in those 18 seasons, they generated a profit on the disposable of player registrations in all but three.

When Abramovich departed, it was not unreasonable to expect the big spending days were over, but this summer has seen new owner Todd Boehly flex his muscles. He has been accused of playing fantasy football and some of the transactions have looked a little excessive. Chelsea have spent around £ 260 million and received some £ 60 million, a net outlay of £ 200 million. As for the quality of the signings, they are promising, but some of the fees are eye-watering. You do sense, however, that Boehly’s ownership will not be characterised by signings that haven’t been examined properly – decisions will surely be made based on sound data analysis.

That said, Spanish left back Mark Cucurella was bought from Brighton for £ 58 million, more than double the market valuation. Wesley Fofana, secured on a far-sighted seven-year contract, cost an astonishing £ 72 million when most analysts were tagging him at £ 36 million. On the other hand, Raheem Sterling was signed for £ 50 million, somewhat less than Chelsea might have had to pay in any other year.

With the exception of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a strange acquisition of a 33 year-old with some baggage, most signings have one eye on the future, although Kalidou Koulibaly, from Napoli, is a mature 31 years old. Cucurella and Fofana, if all goes well, should have years in a Chelsea shirt, and Sterling still has plenty of mileage remaining in his career. But Chelsea will still need to add a top-class, future-proofed forward in their line-up. Their record hasn’t been good recently, Morata, Michi Batshuayi, Werner and Lukaku have all proved to be disappointing hires and since Diego Costa in 2017, no Chelsea player has hit 20 Premier League goals. If Boehly and his colleagues want to add gold leaf to their statement of intent, a star striker is needed to spearhead the challenge.

There’s no guarantee that Chelsea will spend as much in subsequent seasons. Like all US club owners, Boehly will want some return for his investment, so the new-look Chelsea will need to be in contention. Furthermore, this is a vital season for Thomas Tuchel because he has to impress his new employers. In fact, it is a pretty crucial campaign for the club as it can shape the next few years. So far, the early results are mixed. Goals are hard to come by – just eight in six games, including one penalty. Sterling has weighed in with three, which is a respectable start for the former Manchester City player, but they look lightweight up front. Their three victories have been narrow and largely unconvincing, but their best display so far was the riveting home draw with Tottenham.

Chelsea have enough strength to finish in the top six, but failure to qualify for the Champions League would be a disaster for the new regime, and for Tuchel. It is going to be a very interesting and probably exciting season at Stamford Bridge, but as always, there’s no guarantee that the principal actors will still be in place come the end of 2022-23.