Thomas Tuchel — Where it went wrong

Thomas Tuchel is my favorite Chelsea manager of all time – more than Mourinho, more than Conte, more than Ancelotti, more than anyone. I will always hold him close to my heart for his tactics, for his personality, for his conduct and for a long list of other things. But I love Chelsea more than any manager.

It is important to stay rational and non-emotional. This sacking hurts everyone equally. We all wanted him to build a long-term plan with us, but that didn’t happen.

I’m not trying to belittle Tuchel or make him look bad. He did a phenomenal job in every sense of the word and was possibly the best ambassador we’ve ever had. It pains me to write this because I wanted him to be our Sir Alex. But it didn’t work and now it’s time to analyze why it’s a good time to part ways.


The biggest headline is our form in 2022. While there are mitigating factors, our league form since January has been poor. Transfer ban, injuries and all the other chaos around the club don’t explain that Chelsea have the underlying stats of a mid-table team for 9 consecutive months. We should have been better. However, that’s actually not the main reason for Tuchel’s downfall.

More than our form, Tuchel’s downfall was mainly caused by the direction he wanted to take. We kept talking about rebuilds only to buy extremely experienced and/or expensive players. When you do this, there is no rebuild. There are only immediate results. Tuchel’s words and actions also referred to this – he was in no mood to build a young team from scratch. He wanted to win and he wanted to win now. It’s certainly a fair pursuit, but we clearly haven’t won in a while. So what gives?

Do we want to keep giving him millions or do we want to acknowledge that things aren’t working?

We could have digested Tuchel playing a band of 20 years and losing. Losing with a young team means you go through a crucial part of the learning curve. There is the promise of a better future. Losing to a bunch of thirty-somethings is no fun. There is nothing to hope for. It just means things are not right – either tactically or personnel-wise.

There is no ‘process’ in a team with Silva, 37, Aubameyang, 33, Azpilicueta, 33, Koulibaly, 31 and Jorginho, 31. The team had gradually aged throughout Tuchel’s tenure.

Tuchel was given the opportunity to retain and introduce young players – either from the market or from the academy – but chose not to in order to have experienced players. He asked for a super experienced team to be able to win right now. He asked us to judge him on this basis. And that’s all we do — judge him by the conditions he created. There was no long-term progress and there were no short-term results. It’s the sad truth.

Our new owners want to move in the direction of sustainable growth and young players – hence the investment in elite youngsters. Tuchel does not want that. What message does he send to Carney Chukwuemeka that he is one of the best teenagers in the world and that the manager does not give him a minute even when everyone is away?

Signing elite youngsters like we have been lately – and most likely will continue to do – and handing them to Tuchel would have been a repeat of 2013 and the Jose Mourinho situation. Young players can only fulfill their potential if the manager is willing to give them a chance. Our owners had the wisdom to recognize this long in advance. Tuchel wasn’t producing results, he wasn’t developing players either. So what was the point?

Chelsea training session

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In terms of underlying numbers, we’ve been worse than the Lampard era for some time now, especially in attack. Tuchel is an elite, elite, elite tactician – but he hasn’t shown that consistently for a long time. We can talk all we want about his Dortmund team but he couldn’t coach an attack here. Chelsea have created around 1.4 xG without penalty under Tuchel in the league, compared to around 1.6 under Lampard, an inferior manager with an inferior squad. Other forward offensive measures followed the same pattern.

Ironically, despite the quality and experience gap, Lampard and Tuchel were sacked for a similar footballing reason – they couldn’t balance defense and attack. Lampard over-emphasized offense and was sacked when that stopped shooting. Tuchel did that with the defense.

Player development has been another major focus since 2021. How many players can we confidently say are better now than in 2021? Now compare that to the time and money spent. Is it rational?

If a player is bad, you blame the player. But if the whole team is bad, you blame the system — the tactics and the use, that is, the coach.

Chelsea FC training session and press conference

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Tuchel’s ability to identify and solve problems in the squad had become an issue. He didn’t know what he needed and that’s a major long-term red flag. The whole striker saga summed it up. He spent months leaving Tammy Abraham because of the ‘tactical adjustment’ to sign Romelu Lukaku and then Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, an older player who does exactly what Tammy does but probably worse.

Frankly, identifying Tuchel’s talents and his team-building skills are probably the reason why he ended up in this bad spot in the first place. He succeeded — because of his results — but in the end, his bad decisions caught up with him and he couldn’t justify them anymore. Some examples:

  • The Saúl–Tchouaméni decision
  • The Lukaku Saga
  • Dismissing several talented graduates from the academy to pursue inferior and more expensive players
  • Constant bad profiling of players, forcing them to do things they are not good at

Our search for a midfielder this summer also speaks volumes. Tuchel repeated for months that he didn’t need anyone, then turned around at the end of the window. As a sports director, how do you manage that? More importantly, as a manager, how do you not recognize midfield as a major weakness so far?

Chelsea FC training session and press conference

Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

At the end of August, we had a manager who was not good at building a team, hadn’t done a great job developing players here and didn’t have strong talent identification. Its main selling point was its short-term results and those results dried up, with no prospect of a comeback. What option did we have?

We’ve been on a 2015-16 trajectory for a while, but this time we avoided our biggest mistake at the time: clinging to our manager for too long based on past glories. The dismissal of Tuchel now ensures that he does not leave humiliated and with his head still held high. It wouldn’t have improved from here – stats, new signing performance, player development, general morale all pointing in that direction – and he leaves with his reputation and dignity intact.

A new manager isn’t going to get us out of Manchester City overnight, but he does give us a better chance of catching them in the long run. If it doesn’t work, we need to reevaluate what went wrong and avoid making those mistakes 12 months from now. We don’t have a short term project. We have a long-term one – one that will involve a lot of loss, growing pains and step-by-step development. Unfortunately, Tuchel has shown by his actions that he doesn’t want to be part of this process.

FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-WEST HAM

Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

Our first objective must be to take the bad results on the chin and make the team younger and more attacking. 2019-20 is the model. It showed that we could rejuvenate the team, make it more attacking and still stay in the top 4. Statistically, in terms of underlying numbers, it’s still our best season since 2014-15. Follow this model, but with an even better tactical mindset at the helm: this should be our long-term goal.

Another goal for both the fans and the club should be to avoid looking for instant results. It’s always toxic and always ends badly. Tuchel got fired because he was looking for instant results and gave up on developing the team. But in the future, such decisions should be allowed. Gone is the “win today, worry tomorrow” mentality. We must lay the foundations today to ensure we win tomorrow and beyond. If we focus on player development now, we will naturally become a much better team in the future.

It’s easy to think we’ll catch City with just one more signing. It’s the same trap that makes people lose their money gambling – just one more try and they’ll win! The City winning machine is too far ahead. It will take a process, a long process, with a lot of defeats and pains along the way. The city itself also experienced this.

FBL-ENG-PR-SOUTHAMPTON-CHELSEA

Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images


That said, I will really, really miss Tuchel. I will miss his masterclasses in the big games, his personality in the press conferences and I doubt that a manager behaves with the same conduct he has had in difficult times. The sacking hasn’t been fully integrated yet and I still want it to be part of our journey. But his actions have shown that now is the right time to part ways, for everyone’s benefit.

We can all be incredibly grateful for all he has done for us – and that would require an article three times longer, at the very least – and also recognize that now was the time for the two of us to go our own way.

During his first press conference, Tuchel said that “we have set the bar very high – also for me, which I demand of myself – to bring this team to the top. Will I make it? I don’t don’t know.”

Well, he actually did. We did it. He took us to the top, and that was just the beginning. Viel Glück, Thomas, we will all miss you.

Manchester City v Chelsea FC - Champions League Final

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