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Everything is missing, said Thomas Tuchel in Zagreb. And he is right. Common sense, logic, the owner’s marbles have all been lost at Chelsea this season.
This layoff, we are told, is not about results. And it can’t be about results, because Chelsea’s, while not perfect, are pretty much as expected for a squad of players coming out of a drastic rebuild.
Of the 16 deployed to Croatia on Tuesday night, five were summer signings, including a striker making his debut, the goalkeeper was reserve, the left-back had returned from a serious injury at the start of this season and the substitute is fresh from a loaned to Southampton this season and played 101 minutes without starts.
Todd Boehly supported Thomas Tuchel in the transfer window, but then lost him
In other words, strangers. Expensive strangers, and credit to the board for that investment, but if Chelsea play as if they don’t know the game plan and each other, it’s because they are.
We have yet to discover where Marc Cucurella fits between the four central halves and Ben Chilwell as left-back and now perhaps never. Could Tuchel make the most of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after their reunion? Who can say since it has been cut after less than an hour of playtime.
It makes no sense here. If Chelsea owner Todd Boehly was not convinced of Tuchel’s suitability for his position, why was he still delivering players less than a week ago that only the coach would have wanted?
Aubameyang is a Tuchel signing. He’s not a cashier like Cristiano Ronaldo, he’s no longer a big name, he has a tough reputation. Still, Tuchel knew him, from Borussia Dortmund, and believed he could get him to play. So just seven days ago, Boehly was still working to serve his manager’s vision, and now that manager has been fired.
Thomas Tuchel has been sacked as Chelsea manager after 100 games at the club
Chelsea owner Todd Boehly decided to sack the German manager for the defeat in Zagreb
Even excluding Aubameyang, Chelsea still broke the Premier League record for spending in one window, before firing the manager who wrote the shopping list.
Graham Potter is now inheriting another man’s squad with very little wiggle room given the restrictions surrounding Financial Fair Play.
Chelsea didn’t always hold their ground during Roman Abramovich’s years, but things had to reach a crisis point before a manager could be removed mid-season.
Luiz Felipe Scolari left after a mixed midwinter and because the owner did not see Juventus in the Champions League. Roberto Di Matteo was sacked after one win in eight games. Most of the time, however, Abramovich waited until the end of the season, even if some terminations were harsh.
Graham Potter (left) and Mauricio Pochettino (right) are both early contenders to fill the role
Tuchel’s departure is different. It borders on insanity. It is the football equivalent of the Buddy Rich Bus Tapes. Rich was a jazz drummer, some would say the best drummer, but with a very short fuse.
After a show, he dragged his band onto the tour bus and furiously scolded them for playing a bad set. Curses and spectacular phrases bounced everywhere. His pianist recorded these diatribes, which began to circulate among comedians. Jerry Seinfeld used direct lines from Buddy Rich in his TV show.
He put one of them in the mouth of the great Jerry Stiller. “This man,” he says—Rich was referring to a saxophonist—”he’s not my kind of man.” Perhaps that was what Boehly felt about Tuchel. That he’s not his kind of man. Fine, the owner chooses the manager. But now? Seven games in the new season? Even Buddy Rich waited until after the show.
Boehly spent £271million this summer and then decided Tuchel is not the man to manage it. And Boehly is a venture capitalist and investor. Would you like your investments to be in the grip of such a capricious mind?
If Boehly had any doubts about Tuchel, why didn’t he make the switch sooner? And if he wasn’t sure of a divorce when he signed the last summer’s signature, what did Tuchel do in six days to force such a divorce?
Potter will almost certainly be Chelsea’s manager and if all goes well the wheels of those negotiations were already in motion before they were beaten by Dinamo Zagreb, which makes even less sense. Potter has a release clause, which is why Brighton has not stood in his way, but it also means Chelsea could have moved during the closing season, or once Boehly had the club under control.
The absence of logic around the timescale is undoubtedly why there is so much speculation and contradiction surrounding the decision-making process. On the one hand, it seems that Tuchel didn’t enjoy being part of the recruiting process and wasn’t the best communicator; likewise, it is suggested, he disagreed with some of the club’s decisions, such as confirming Romelu Lukaku’s return to Inter Milan, without a replacement on the front line.
For his part, it seemed that Boehly was leaning heavily on Tuchel one moment, but then he was angry at his reluctance to recruit Ronaldo. Again, where’s the logic? Either he’s a judge or he’s not.
If the various leaks and briefings don’t make sense, it’s because the decision makes no sense, so no explanation will suffice. Boehly wants a collegiate manager who can run the entire football operation. But what does that mean? Has Chelsea now completely given up on the hunt for Liverpool’s recruiting guru Michael Edwards? Will Potter’s role be more than a coach?
This is by far the biggest job of his career, with huge expectations. In its first season, it needs to be streamlined, simplified. He cannot be expected to take over the reins of the entire football operation, to be the face of Chelsea to the world.
Could it indeed be argued that this was Tuchel’s problem? Chelsea have been unconvincing this season, but that has coincided with a dilution of Tuchel’s pure coaching role. He described feeling “a politician” at Paris Saint-Germain, so clearly he would not have felt comfortable wearing a tracksuit at Chelsea.
If Edwards had turned Chelsea down, as was written last month, Tuchel would have been so much more responsible as manager-advisor. Perhaps that explains the breakdown in communications, or Tuchel’s appearances on the sidelines have become increasingly tense.
He has always been irritable. This season, however, he seemed manic at times. Perhaps Boehly, with his background in image-conscious American sports, didn’t like that either. This is certainly not just about results.
Serious cracks emerged on Chelsea’s US tour, most notably after a 4-0 Drubbing by Arsenal
Boehly also owns the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, where Dave Roberts has been a coach since 2016 and recently signed a new contract until 2025. He won a World Series, lost two and made it to the playoffs each season, with varying degrees of success.
So Boehly is not a trigger-happy employer. The Dodgers were eliminated from the National League Divisional Series — think of it as the quarterfinals — in 2019 and Roberts stayed. They blew out in the National League Championship Series (the last four) in 2021, but Roberts signed his new deal. This year was very good for the Dodgers. Boehly is a patient and admired owner.
Yet Tuchel is also a commendable figure. He was put in a unique and unimaginable set of circumstances and handled it with grace. Last season, when people even wondered if there would be a club to manage, Tuchel was Chelsea’s best. He spoke intelligently and honestly about the predicament. He didn’t hide.
Brighton have given Chelsea permission to discuss their new vacant managerial position with Graham Potter
He lost two domestic cup finals by the narrowest margins, but won two international trophies belonging to the previous season’s Champions League.
With his club in chaos and the situation at Manchester United vacant, Tuchel had every chance to play politics. He played the right-most bat instead. He is a fine manager who deserves another important position.
So what gives? Maybe Tuchel finds it harder behind the scenes to be what his club demands. Perhaps Boehly can be patient with results and achievements, but not so much with people. Maybe he wants a manager he can lean on as he acclimates to English football who will lead or steer and not hide behind a tracksuit.
Maybe some of everything; or maybe Chelsea’s owner just woke up one morning and decided, ‘This man? He’s not my kind of man.’ It makes as much sense as anything else.