Some continuity, finally, at Chelsea Football Club. Sacking your manager seven games into the season, with more than £250m spent on players and a couple of whispered wobbles behind the scenes. This feels like home, safety, a club coming back to what they know. Nature is healing itself.
As of Wednesday morning 10am Chelsea no longer have Tommy Tuchel. Tuchel no longer, in the view of the board, knows exactly what they need. But it seems Graham Potter just might, if Chelsea really do feel like taking a punt on talent, brains and method over having actually spent a single minute of your professional career at the level the club hope to operate at.
An announcement is expected, and there will be time, so much time, to chew over that succession. But for now it is a case of Vale Thomas. Let us lay that hollow-eyed, skinny-ankled ghost to rest. Because whatever the scales of justice here Tuchel’s time at Chelsea has been truly extraordinary; just as his sacking tells us something quite profound about the direction of travel at this point.
In all Tuchel lasted 595 days, just a few more than Frank Lampard. His tenure took in one major honour (the most major of all), three final defeats, two distinct ownership regimes – denim-clad oligarch-bro Russian billionaire versus denim-clad investor-bro US billionaire – plus of course those three months of unprecedented geopolitical oddity, during which the manager of Chelsea was required to comment publicly on issues ranging from the moral equivalence of European and Middle Eastern conflict in the context of UK arms sales to Marcos Alonso’s ability to operate in a high pressing 3-4-3 system.
Factor in his glassy-eyed soul-sickness in Zagreb, some personal issues since moving to London, and a payoff of several million pounds for those two unspent years on his contract which, in the words of Sam from Casablanca, ought to take the sting out of being sacked; and it is hard not to wonder who, right now, is getting the rougher end of this deal.
Tuchel will be working at another top European club before long. For Chelsea, well, what exactly? This is the obvious point of jeopardy. Judged by purely sporting standards this is a careless, undeserving, arguably quite flaky move by an owner who has zero inside knowledge of the industry (is this an issue? Football’s exceptionalism is hugely overstated) and who is essentially taking a leap into the blue.
Who is – or was – the most competent senior football figure on Chelsea’s management staff? Answer: Thomas Tuchel. Who kicked off the summer advising the owner, to an unusually intimate degree, on the massive spending spree? Answer: Thomas Tuchel.
Plus of course Tuchel is one of the best-qualified candidates worldwide – never mind the issue of credit in the bank – to negotiate a first ticklish patch of his time in charge. Only last year he was named Uefa Men’s Coach of the Year, Fifa the Best Coach of the year and IFFHS Men’s World’s Best Club Coach. He led two different clubs to the final of the Champions League in the past three seasons. Chelsea are – a bit misleadingly – only four points behind Manchester City.
Really? You’re sacking this? And who exactly is advising Chelsea’s board right now given almost everyone has left? Maybe we should ask Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang what to do, he’s been around a bit. Pierre, speak now if you think we should keep Tuchel? No? Nothing? Fine.
Endings aside, the oddest thing about Tuchel’s time at Chelsea is still its basic oddity. As recently as March, as Jake Humphrey cut back with grand, ceremonial solemnity from Tuchel’s post-match interview in Lille, as though relaying an address to the nation from inside Yoda’s cave, Joe Cole could be heard suggesting that Tuchel should become prime minister of the United Kingdom, and it kind of seemed fair enough.
But then, these were scary times. In the general silence and confusion it seemed for a while that Tuchel was basically explaining the Ukrainian war to the people of Britain via a series of unforthcoming post-match interviews. Here was a man in a beanie hat and a tracksuit who could at least offer some kind of gravitas and plain speaking, the sense of being good in a crisis, like the neighbour who comes knocking at your door two days into the collapse of all human society wearing a hunting cap and a cagoule and offering to build you a bivouac.
And this really was beyond the usual scale of turbulence. Lest we forget, Chelsea’s entire operation was frozen. The proceeds from the sale of the club are still sitting in the bank account of a man described by the British government as “a pro-Kremlin oligarch”. Perhaps Tuchel himself will now be placed in escrow and donated to victims of war around the world. Little wonder there might be some bumps, a little drop in the levels.
The other half of this, the Tuchel Legacy Stage One, was arguably the most skilful single six-month feat of elite coaching in modern English football history, a Champions League-winning run conjured by Tuchel on the hoof, that involved beating Atlético Madrid, Porto, Real Madrid and Manchester City.
Chelsea had the resources and the players. But this was a clear and tangible triumph of personality and resourcefulness. And really Tuchel was never going to match that high, always seemed to be running to catch up with himself from that point.
And there is of course always another story. 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. There have been obvious mistakes too. Romelu Lukaku is not the player some people – not least Romelu Lukaku himself – would make him out to be. But Tuchel’s job was to make that investment work and he failed spectacularly.
The team have undeniably looked jaded, the gears jammed, movements stodgy. Despite seven signings the players have seemed exhausted, as has Tuchel. Perhaps the most simple conclusion is that this is another twitch of the dead hand of Roman, a manager overexposed to the fallout, burning through his reserves of personal capital, played out in high-speed fast-forward. All Chelsea managers must enter a period of physical dissolution, appearing unshaven and haggard in stained tracksuit trousers, gimlet-eyed for the cameras. It certainly feels like Tuchel got there ahead of time.
Whoever comes in now will inherit a fine squad and a team with winning habits. Potter, if it is he, has no experience at this level and little time to impose his slow-burn methods. His appointment would be a victory for rewarding talent and earning your step up, just as it is hard to imagine even Brighton’s supporters would begrudge him the chance, if only for the intrigue of watching him adapt and learn.
Time and an unusual degree of patience will be required. So how are we looking with both of those? Three months in Boehly and his board have shown something more familiar. React to results. Jump ship midstream. Buy £250m of players with one manager, then hire another. Welcome back, Chelsea. You haven’t changed a bit.