Opinion

Why Chelsea's Tuchel is totally misunderstood by the public

0:00

It all started when Thomas Tuchel took over from Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund. The next mastermind off the German production line, we were told.

As Klopp’s stock has continued to soar, Tuchel has spent many years being compared to Klopp, oft-labelled the heir apparent and an obvious successor as the pre-eminent German ‘influencer’.

After all, he not only took over from Klopp at Dortmund but Mainz before that, too.

On paper, the comparisons made sense. But very few actually stopped to realise a truism: they’re actually very different. Totally different.

Klopp is one of the most complete managers in the game; he understands all of it, the tactics, the media, the fans, young players, older players, top players, squad players. This kind of balance, evident even in tough times, is what makes him truly brilliant.

Let’s be frank: the new Chelsea manager is not so rounded. He is world-class at some things whilst still developing in others.

And that is what has stopped him from becoming mentioned in the same breath as Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, the kind of managers he will now get to duel with on a regular basis.

Indeed, Tuchel would probably be closer to Marcelo Bielsa than any of those.

It would be cruel to say Tuchel cares more about the philosophy than the players but there’s a significant body of evidence to suggest as much.

Bielsa is frequently ridiculed for his antics and attention to detail but I’d argue Tuchel has more in common with Bielsa than he does with Klopp.

There is a savant-like quality to Bielsa that I see in Tuchel, traces of which also appear with Guardiola.

The way Tuchel exited Dortmund – bizarrely and confrontationally – was the absolute opposite from Klopp’s tearful love-in that marked the end of his time at the Westfalenstadion. There's a brusque, blunt part to his personality.

That, too, gets often overlooked by his legion of fans.

A quick glance of YouTube reveals video upon video heaping praise on his mercurial tactical prowess in the dugout.

But for all the hype on Tuchel, he never really managed to close the gap on Bayern Munich nor drive Dortmund to any great European heights.

Thereafter, he strode to back-to-back league titles at PSG but you’d have to figure they’d have still won both trophies irrespective of who was in charge. Harsh but true.

His real triumph, ironically, was linked to his downfall.

If getting PSG past the semi-final of last season’s Champions League was his supposed coronation to the managerial elite, falling in the final to Bayern Munich (and their little-known boss, Hans-Dieter Flick) seemed to undermine his reputation just as much.

The two matches were just four days apart.

A win there would have eased the tension he felt with the club’s bosses; immediately with Leonardo, the club’s sporting director, and the Qatari overlords who made PSG the richest team on the planet. On Christmas Eve, they fired him. It is hard to believe how fine the margins really are at this level.

Chelsea, and Roman Abramovich, must take heed from the lessons of Paris.

Supremely confident of his methods, Tuchel likes to answer to nobody. And he’d probably have been given that amount of leeway had he won the final.

But Tuchel himself has to mature: he has to realise that working with the best teams in the world is seldom accompanied by a pass to do as he pleases.

Only a very few – like Sir Alex Ferguson and Guardiola – have been granted such autonomy; even Zinedine Zidane had to quit Real Madrid to get any semblance of power there.

One good thing is the length of the contract at Chelsea, a mere 18 months. While that seems short, it will sharpen Tuchel’s focus towards results and away from his grander philosophical ambitions.

That can come, yes, but with the next contract.

And yet there’s much Tuchel can implement immediately – in the first few weeks, in fact.

By tightening up tactically on the looser approach of Frank Lampard, it will immediately help him win the trust of the players, the fans, the media, and, above all Abramovich.

After all, the Blues are eighth. It has been a catastrophic campaign for a club that prides itself on perennially competing.

But the deeper truth is that they haven’t been in the mix since 2017 and that's simply too long.

Hope has vanished for this season and that’s why restoring pride and dignity is Tuchel’s biggest challenge for the rest of the campaign.

From there, he will get a full pre-season to work on the finer points, implementing his entire philosophy and ultimately getting the chance to demonstrate whether or not he ought to be regarded among the world’s best managers.

Ultimately, that’s what Abramovich is putting him on trial for – and it’s what we’re all waiting to find out.