Under no circumstances did Thomas Tuchel think this job would be simple. How could it be? Nothing about managing Chelsea is ever straightforward. He even knew how out of the ordinary his own appointment was, that originally there was a desperation to wait until the summer before coming to West London.
Those few months might not have changed much in his head if he had delayed. It’s unlikely he’ll have seen much to convince himself that 3-4-3 wasn’t the best way to build from the current squad or that Jorginho and Antonio Rudiger shouldn’t be senior pillars to cement building Rome around.
But the very fact that Chelsea as a club would have been willing to go in another direction had he not dropped his bags and flown to England tells its own scary story.
Blues fans know that they’re lucky to have a manager as good as Tuchel, but maybe they don’t appreciate the fortune behind what could have been if he hadn’t taken the great personal risk. Had Tuchel not become the heir to Frank Lampard then its almost certain that the board at Stamford Bridge wouldn’t have lost too much sleep, moving on to the next name on a list.
Nobody would have known or given much thought to what Chelsea had missed out on. This is an issue. At heart, the brutal decisions behind the club’s success is what has resulted in the periods of winning in the middle,. Outside of the winning is a strange blankness that has hindered the club’s current fight, even if they’ve got someone as well suited to winning as they’ve ever had.
That’s a frightening thought. Chelsea’s direct thinking is both cause and effect of Tuchel’s current tenure. He’s here because of the one-track, emotionless system that led to sacking a club legend. But where the club is now sat shows the downside to only looking on way.
The team’s current state, compounded with senior players from five managers ago, is like watching someone dress up for the day in clothes bought for them by ex’s from different eras of humanity. It’s a mismatched fruitcake of ingredients. That comes from the same direct line to success as well. It’s all connected and nobody is innocent.
It’s like having blinkers on, focusing only on the road ahead so that you miss the changes to the world around you. The journey is just as important as the destination, isn’t it? Chelsea’s journey hasn’t been planned and now the destination looks just as far off as it did the season before they last won the league in 2017. Albeit with a better manager and improved use of the academy, Chelsea haven’t learnt their lesson.
When Antonio Conte came to Stamford Bridge he was in-charge of removing corruption that ended Jose Mourinho’s dreamy second stint. Mourinho was there to get the club away from six years of rebound relationships that came from him leaving the first time. History repeats itself and if you don’t learn the lessons, more fool you. More fool Chelsea.
They’d seen the scripted warnings but ignored it. How can the problem be the very direction that has got them here, they don’t ask. We’re here aren’t we? Isn’t that all anyone asks?
The unsustainable bubble has burst on countless occasions since 2008, but it just keeps getting blown up again. Not once did the club stop to think that the needle they held in the other hand was the danger to their own creation.
Going back to Tuchel, his squad isn’t just a piece of fruitcake that’s been made from the wrong recipe, it’s a formula ripped from the school of Rachel Green cooking.
When Jennifer Aniston’s character in Friends had the pages of her cookbook stuck together and made part-Shephard’s pie, part-trifle, it didn’t look or taste good, even if Joey did like the individual elements.
Now hand that cookbook to Tuchel. Give him the reigns and the power over the kitchen. He can move the layers of beef and cream around the football pitch as much as he wants, it won’t taste good. Even if he did manage to win European glory on Master Chef, it doesn’t mean his culinary skills will be liked in mass production in England. This isn’t his creation, it’s just a good job he’s very good a restoration.
In essence, Tuchel has done more than he should have been able to with this squad. He’s proven Chelsea right to the extent that he has been the best bandage they could possibly have applied. But bandages aren’t meant to last forever. If Chelsea don’t supply Tuchel with trust going forward then the bones won’t just fail to heal, they’ll keep being broken.
The German is working with a squad that has players purchased by Andre Villas-Boas, Jose Mourinho, four from Conte, three from Maurizio Sarri and eight from Frank Lampard. It’s a squad built over a decade.
Admittedly he has had his own additions with Romelu Lukaku and Saul Niguez, but to say this is his squad would be wholeheartedly wrong. He’s working with players, succeeding despite structural issues not because of the structure.
Tuchel can’t be blameless for the recent form, there are various factors that have had an impact. Be it the ownership turmoil finally taking its toll, allowed to hinder the minds of players and staff after the shield of a Champions League quarter-final finally collapsed and left them open to attack from all sides of criticism and interrogation.
There’s also a point to be made for the mental fatigue sustained from the match in Madrid, that can’t be understated either. Add on top of it the punishing workload of three gruelling seasons on end, the physical and cognitive effort it takes to block out distractions and playing every possible match of a season up until last week. There shouldn’t be surprise that Chelsea are caving in, limping to the finish.
Yet it seemed that Tuchel the messiah was the man to see them through this blip. He was The One to finally stop the winter rut and the yearly top four battle. He had all the answers. If Tuchel can’t do it, who can?
Now, the next question has eerie similarity to the examination of Conte in 2017. If Tuchel can transform this bundle of hastily purchased and misassembled players into a Champions League conquering team, why can’t he make them into league challengers?
For Conte, it was if Victor Moses is your wingback for a title win, firstly, why can’t you do it with him again the season after, and two, you don’t need sensible buys to bring more success. Of all thee misaligned, outdated and completely misunderstood, ill-guided decisions Chelsea could have made with Conte, the biggest one was underestimating what he did. After all, the issue wasn’t them.
It wasn’t the routes and foundations that led to Chelsea’s most successful manager being burnt out and exiled months after delivering the Premier League in 2015. It wasn’t the board that couldn’t keep hold of the club’s best striker for three years, the same man who is still the club’s best striker since 2014. It wasn’t those who lucked out on Moses being transformed, I’m sure they saw that. The problem, as it always is, was Conte, was Mourinho, was Sarri, was Lampard.
Do the same people currently think that it’s Tuchel? We don’t know. We can only hope that this blip isn’t seen as Tuchel’s magic running out. In reality it’s another manager failing to convert the vision of Chelsea’s noughties into a time and footballing landscape that has caught up and overtaken their outdated structure.
This again isn’t to say that those managers didn’t have their flaws. Conte was a political nightmare at the club, though it seems his views were prescient and just bucked the trend at the current time. His report of Chelsea in 2018 would probably fit fairly closely to how the club is run now. Frantic, short-termed, hasty, inefficient.
After Conte, Sarri didn’t create a relationship with the fans and failed to excite with his football the way he was supposed to. He couldn’t bring Chelsea through a transition to attacking football with progressive ball-play like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. He wasn’t blameless, but trying to do that with a squad setup to play counterattacking football in a back three/five doesn’t help.
Lampard? He had the same squad as Sarri but without the league’s best player, a proven striker, and less budget to waste on a keeper. He was naive and too inexperienced to value his senior players, but again, try playing expressive football with players geared towards pragmatism. Square pegs in round holes, and all that.
It might not hurt Lampard anymore, but if Chelsea see Declan Rice as the answer to some of Tuchel’s own questions this summer then it might be a sting to him after bashing down Cobham doors in order to get him.
Now it’s Tuchel. Senior players incapable of cementing a sustained push. Falling physically, mentally and technically short against poor sides. Unable to fire in matches that aren’t do or die. There’s no headlines to beating the worst Manchester United team in 25 years, why would they fancy it?
No, Tuchel isn’t infallible. His continued use of older players, burning them out towards the end of the season, isn’t great man management. It’s not great management at all. But it tells the story, another chapter in a gruesome epic, of Chelsea putting together something that isn’t fit for purpose. The sum of Chelsea’s parts isn’t that much, the whole isn’t much better either.
Tuchel massively outdid himself last season, but once again, at Chelsea that only makes the future harder for a manager.
The Champions League success was proof of what he could do, it was the biggest message he could have written to the club to demand a voice. “See here how good I am, now imagine what I could be.” Chelsea, as always, misread the message, somehow translating it into, “thank you for such an amazing squad, your vision still works, these players are fabulous, all the other managers must have been silly not to get the best out of this great bunch!”
It’s hard to imagine another manager in world football getting anymore out of this squad, but the Chelsea board tend not to see it like that.
Just to clear it up, this isn’t belief that Chelsea are thinking of sacking Tuchel, absolutely not. For as much as they have failed time and again in recent years, they aren’t that incompetent. But it’s a message that Chelsea won’t see the best of their world class manager, and won’t get a truly world class team, until the structure from top to bottom is changed.
Could Todd Boehly be the man to change that? Another question we simply don’t know. The answers aren’t easy to come to, but if Chelsea want to progress past short-termism then moving on from their past success is key.
Rudiger will be mourned, but he’s not irreplaceable. Tuchel has shown a track record of improving players so far, other than attackers, anyway. Cesar Azpilicueta has been captain for over 200 games but his weaknesses are now far outgrowing the intangible qualities he brings. He’s holding the current team back. Jorginho has been utilised and finally respected for his own undoubted excellence in certain areas, but he’s as far from a Tuchel-like player as you can get.
The manager used his innovation to get the results he needed to keep the job and bring success. Others have done that, not to the same extent, but it is similar to Conte’s achievements. Now he needs more, he needs the reset that Conte couldn’t oversee for his own faults.
If there was ever a manager to rebuild under then he’s in the hot-seat right now. It would be a risk to try and replace Rudiger, Azpilicueta, Alonso, Jorginho, Lukaku and maybe even Kante, with Levi Colwill, Jules Kounde, Ian Maatsen, Conor Gallagher, Armando Broja and others. It undoubtedly wouldn’t be smooth and likely isn’t possible in a single summer, but now is go time for Chelsea.
Tuchel has built his career on flexibility and creation, he’s being penned in by the current squad. He’s a manager that likes attacking energetic football, staring at Alonso, Azpilicueta, Jorginho all day. Chelsea couldn’t get him a defensive midfielder to buck the three man defensive trend, and they wonder why the football is slow and boring.
In the wings are players willing to take a chance, be gamechangers like Mason Mount, Reece James, and for all his past critics, Tammy Abraham. There’s players that are excited for every game they play, not just the finals.
Chelsea have a choice to make, like Albus Dumbledore said, between what is right, and what is easy. The managers have taken the easy hit for too long and nobody would forgive the club for not providing Tuchel with the tools he needs.
It needs to be a perfect mix of Mourinho’s first summer and Lampard’s Cobham-breaking influx. It’s the only way for Chelsea to break out of cycle that is still poisoning the club and the squad, and there’s nobody better to be in-charge.
All of this continues to go on and yet, has there ever been as much direction consensus between fans and manager? Have fans ever seen eye-to-eye with their boss than now? If they can’t get behind this rebuild, then it might not ever happen.
Written and edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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