Thomas Tuchel must accept that managers don’t change Chelsea

Instead, it is the club that changes managers – regularly and brutally

Tony Evans
Saturday 30 January 2021 09:22
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Thomas Tuchel arrives for first training session as Chelsea manager

Honeymoons do not last long at Chelsea. Especially for managers. Thomas Tuchel has a big job on his hands at Stamford Bridge.

The 47-year-old is starting the process of assessing his squad. He is working out a way of getting the best from an expensively-acquired group of players after taking over from Frank Lampard last week. Sunday’s Premier League match against Burnley provides another chance to look at the personnel that he is expected to craft into a trophy-winning side.

Picking the team and organising the players is the easy part. Tuchel has a reputation for wanting to do things his way. The German fell out with his superiors at Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain because of this. That is not an encouraging sign. He is now in Roman Abramovich’s fiefdom and he is unlikely to have experienced anything like it before.

Sacking managers is part of the culture at Chelsea. The players know it. Almost from the moment that the Russian bought the club 18 years ago, a favoured few within the squad have had the owner’s ear and have often used that privilege to undermine their boss. Each new generation of players coming into the club have observed how their senior colleagues operate and continued the tradition. Tuchel cannot rely on a linear chain of command. There are backchannels to Abramovich and the board for dissatisfied players and it is not considered unusual or unacceptable to go above the manager’s head.  

Marina Granovskaia is the owner’s eyes and ears on a day-to-day basis. The club director is one of the most capable executives in the game. She has forthright opinions. Granovskaia is not shy about quizzing managers about their tactics. Some ex-Chelsea bosses enjoyed the discussions, relishing any chance to talk about the arcane points of their strategy. Others were surprised to have their methods queried by someone with no coaching background. Tuchel can expect tough questions from Granovskaia.

The new manager’s record in dealing with the hierarchies of his previous clubs caused some concern for Chelsea when they were looking to replace Lampard. Tuchel’s confidence borders on arrogance. In Dortmund he fell out with Hans-Joachim Watzke, the chief executive, and Sven Mislintat, the chief scout, as well as senior players. His departure from PSG last month was partly the result of spats with Leonardo, the sporting director, over transfer strategy.

At Chelsea he will have limited input with recruitment. Some of his predecessors complain that signings depended on the whim of the owner. Abramovich has various friends and advisors whose influence can sometimes supercede the manager’s. That can apply to team selection, too.

While the owner does not meddle with picking the side, he lets his managers know when he is not impressed with their choices. Soon after the teamsheet is issued, the man in the hot seat might get a message to the effect that “Roman doesn’t like the team.” That is before a ball has been kicked. Fragile egos take a bruising at Stamford Bridge as Tuchel will find out.

Thomas Tuchel in his first press conference at Chelsea

The role of manager has been downgraded since Jose Mourinho was sacked to end his first spell at the Bridge in 2007. Leaving aside short-term caretakers, the club has had 10 men in charge in the past 14 years. In that time Chelsea have collected 11 trophies, including three league titles and a Champions League.

The success means Abramovich can justify the club’s methods. Not everyone agrees. One former manager remarked to the board that the silverware haul could have been even greater had Chelsea stuck with a top-class operator instead of chopping and changing. The suggestion was dismissed with a shrug.

The first priority for Tuchel is Champions League qualification. The team are seven points and four places adrift of the top four. It is unthinkable at Stamford Bridge that Chelsea should not qualify for the competition.

The new manager has been given an 18-month contract. That is a pretty standard shelf life for the role. Most other top clubs would offer a three-year deal. Get things right quickly or get out is the philosophy in west London.

The internal politics make managing Chelsea one of the toughest positions in football. Tuchel must tread warily. If he is conceited enough to think he can transform habits at the Bridge, he is doomed to fail.

Managers don’t change Chelsea, the club changes them. Regularly and brutally.

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