If one incident summed up the chaotic end to Chelsea’s season for Thomas Tuchel, it was when his staff arrived at their hotel the day before their FA Cup quarter-final against Middlesbrough and found that some of their rooms were not available until 12 o’clock.
“Our whole staff just sitting in the lobby because only the players and myself had the rooms longer – it was a very strange situation for a club used to a kind of level and organisation and support that’s absolutely outstanding normally,” Tuchel says. “If you don’t know how you will arrive in a Champions League game, whether you have a plane or don’t have a plane or after you play Newcastle as a long trip and you don’t know if you need to travel by a bus or plane …
“You arrived in some crazy moments but it was absolutely nice to see that we can adapt. We are spoiled but not so spoiled that everyone gets in a bad mood. We’d play cards or watch a match live together and it was nice to see everyone was ready to adapt and do the best.”
Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February, it has been all about adapting at Chelsea. The end of the Roman Abramovich era was never going to be an easy transition but fewer than 50 days since Todd Boehly’s takeover, Tuchel is the only senior figure who remains from that regime after the departures of the director Marina Granovskaia, the chairman Bruce Buck and the technical and performance adviser Petr Cech.
“I could never have imagined that I stayed longer at the club than Roman, Marina and Petr,” he admits. “This was impossible. So now with Marina not in charge and Petr not here any more it has changed a lot. We didn’t see that coming and of course with Todd taking over as a sports director we are in a very intense and close relationship to get the signings done and get the team better.”
Boehly, renowned in the United States for transforming the LA Dodger from MLB misfits to 2020 World Series winners, has been in daily contact with Tuchel as they attempt to turn Chelsea’s squad into potential title winners in a few weeks. The purchase of Raheem Sterling from Manchester City and impending arrival of Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli for a combined almost £85m are evidence that the 48-year-old American is slowly finding his feet in the wild west of the transfer market thanks to the help of his German manager.
“He is asking for an opinion, he has also players that he likes, there are players offered to him and he can have always our opinion and this is a lively discussion,” Tuchel says. “But it exists a kind of list. It never exists where you put six names and you say: ‘Bring me these players or I leave.’ I never worked like this. But of course the positions are clear, the profiles are clear, and then of course there are one, two, three names on the list and in transfer periods it does not take long and then comes a fourth name or a fifth name and a sixth name from all sides.
“It’s like this but we are also not doing it for the first time, so my job is to stay focused and not get distracted. So of course for our owners and for Todd especially, who is now doing it for the first time into football, and for Chelsea as a competitive team in the transfer market, it is quite a lot to deal with and we are trying to keep everybody focused and focus on making the team better, which is necessary.”
That may sound like the dream scenario for most managers, although Tuchel is clearly looking forward to the club appointing a new sporting director.
“It’s not my favourite thing to do and in the long run the focus has to be on coaching because it is why I am here,” he says. “But at the moment of course my help is needed and wanted and it is of course necessary that I step up and take the responsibility. I think it’s for everybody important at Cobham to take a little bit more responsibility, not only for me but with Petr leaving life on a daily basis changes a lot because Petr was a very present figure and a role model and a kind of support on a daily basis that I never had as a coach before.
“He was involved in literally everything that was going on at Cobham, in every department. He was hands-on, he knew how to handle it because he knew what Chelsea was all about, so the whole staff, everybody that works at Cobham, we have to take a bit more responsibility. Not only for his work but also for the process and the interaction of the departments and this is clearly addressed and clearly the target right now for me.”
With more defensive recruits such as Presnel Kimpembe of Paris Saint-Germain wanted to plug gaps, such has been the urgency of Chelsea’s situation that Tuchel has had dialogue with some senior players “to calm them down and let them know that we are on it”. “We are starting the transfer race from a bit behind but it does not mean that we cannot find solutions that will make us happy, stronger and competitive. This is in the end the target.”
Sterling was “the absolute number one” on Tuchel’s list to replace Romelu Lukaku, who has returned to Internazionale on loan a year after his £90m transfer. The manager says the England forward is “horrible to play against, horrible!” and while clearly regretful about the way things worked out with Lukaku, he insists the Belgian could have had a future at Stamford Bridge.
“There has never been a meeting where I said like: ‘I want this guy out.’ Never,” he says. “I was always clear: if he stays we will do everything to put him in a better place, to put him in better shape, to improve my style of coaching, our style of playing, to make him a better fit. It was always a possibility he stayed but Romelu made it very clear he wants to leave and the owners took the decision to make the decision straight away.”
Those who remain must find their feet quickly. Envious glances at Tottenham’s transfer dealings under Antonio Conte – “maybe the strongest team they ever built,” according to Tuchel – suggest competition will be even more fierce in a campaign that will be severely disrupted by the World Cup. Yet Tuchel remains positive about Chelsea’s chances of playing catch-up, despite his heavy workload as Chelsea prepare to play three friendlies, including against Arsenal in Orlando next weekend, on their US tour.
“Hopefully not,” he says when asked whether Chelsea are a team in transition. “I don’t want to use it now to put everything already in perspective. I want to be ready when we play Everton. I want to win and I will demand it from myself, my team and all my players. The team will be strong. I am not ready to use it as an excuse even though it is maybe true that we are in transition. We can, I can focus, I think the team can focus on what makes us strong and we can take it step by step and work out how to win games.”
July 15, 2022 at 04:39PM Ed Aarons in Los Angeles