Explained: Why Chelsea’s new owners decided Thomas Tuchel had to go
Thomas Tuchel this week completed 100 games in charge of Chelsea, but it took the club’s owners just 100 days to come to the conclusion that their new era requires a new head coach.
Chelsea’s defeat to Dinamo Zagreb, attended by co-controlling owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, in many ways underlined a decision that was already in the pipeline regardless of results.
It was during their review of 100 days of active ownership that Boehly and Eghbali discussed their progress in creating a new culture at Chelsea and the long-term prospects of Tuchel, who had done little to prove that he wanted to take a proactive part of it.
Publicly, he insisted he was in it for the long haul, saying before the trip to Croatia that he hoped “there will be another 100 [games], then another 100 coming”. But, privately, his attitude and demeanour raised serious doubts. And that, ultimately, was his undoing – even more than Chelsea suffering three successive away defeats or a series of turgid performances.
The fact that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looked to be a deadline-day signing with Tuchel’s name on it proved to be a red herring. Boehly and his Clearlake Capital co-owners want a new culture at Stamford Bridge and decided that Tuchel is not the man to help lead it.
Boehly and Eghbali’s initial plan had been to put their faith in Tuchel. He was given greater control in the transfer market and backed with more responsibility than any coach had enjoyed under previous owner Roman Abramovich. But 100 days of working together raised doubts over whether the relationship could be one for the long term. Instead, it increasingly appeared that Tuchel was perhaps better suited to the more detached management style of the past regime.
Boehly and co will be aware that this is a decision that will invite scrutiny and criticism, especially following a transfer window in which they spent almost £300 million. Having made himself chairman and taken on the title of interim sporting director, Boehly put a target on his back and there will be some anger from a section of supporters who idolised Tuchel and ridicule from those pundits who have already accused Chelsea’s owners of playing real-life Championship Manager.
The decisions to sack former chairman Bruce Buck and director Marina Granovskaia were never likely to cause much of a public relations storm, while Petr Cech went of his own accord having been asked to stay. But Tuchel had earned himself a place in the hearts of supporters for the 2021 Champions League success and is widely regarded as one of the world’s finest coaches.
Ultimately, however, Chelsea’s owners know they must ignore the noise and concern themselves only with whether or not the dressing room will react badly to Tuchel’s removal. The evidence in Zagreb seemed to suggest there will be far fewer dissenting voices from among the playing squad.
Given how his popularity dropped with a number of players, Boehly and Egbhali can be confident they will not face any sort of revolt. They will explain that sacking Tuchel is aimed at the long term and a desire for joined up thinking rather than any short-term power trip or knee-jerk reaction to a poor start to the season. The fact Graham Potter is the favourite of Chelsea’s targets to replace the former Paris St-Germain man proves that point.
Boehly’s philosophy, and that of his partners, is to hire for the long term – as proved by some of Chelsea’s players being handed six-year contracts. Meanwhile, Dave Roberts, the manager of Boehly’s other major sporting interest, the LA Dodgers baseball team, has been in charge for seven years and in March signed a new three-year deal that will take him through to 2025 and a decade at the helm. Roberts has been through peaks and troughs, but, crucially, he believes in those above him just as much as they put their faith – and money – into him.
Tuchel reiterated on several occasions that he did not enjoy becoming more involved in this summer’s recruitment process and consistently bemoaned the loss of Cech as the club’s technical and performance advisor.
That caused some raised eyebrows given Boehly and Egbahli did most of the heavy lifting in the transfer window themselves, working around the clock across different time zones. If anybody faced scrutiny and pressure this summer, it has been Chelsea’s new billionaire owners, rather than the head coach.
A clash of management styles first surfaced on Chelsea’s tour of the United States, during which Tuchel cut an irritated figure. The German could not contain his anger following the 4-0 thrashing by Arsenal in Orlando and spent the entire journey back to England deep in his own thoughts.
It is unlikely that Tuchel was a particularly enthusiastic member of the WhatsApp group that was set up to improve communication and discuss transfer targets. The fact the 49-year-old prefers to be left to work and solve problems on his own, along with his close circle of coaches, is not in line with the inclusive approach of Boehly and Eghbali.
They want a coach who they feel comfortable bouncing ideas off and peppering with questions, even some that may seem tiresome to those with more football experience. There is also a desire for all of Chelsea’s departments to become more intertwined and cooperative.
Boehly’s interest in signing Cristiano Ronaldo provided an early difference of opinion, with the American reluctant to simply take “no” for an answer from Tuchel, who, according to sources, seemed exasperated at having to explain his reasons for not wanting the Portuguese.
Crucially, the owners want a coach they can invest in for the future and who they believe is prepared to make an equal commitment. The first 100 days with Tuchel did not offer enough encouragement that he would relish their style or help create the culture they want to breed.
Only last Saturday, Tuchel made it clear that he had little interest in involving himself in the appointment of Chelsea’s next permanent sporting director which again underlined his reluctance to operate more globally within the club.
The atmosphere at Chelsea’s training ground has been described as tense and Tuchel’s popularity nose-dived with a group of players who felt they had been treated unfairly, both in terms of team selections and the positions they were asked to play.
Players have been left in the cold only to be brought back unexpectedly before being dropped again. Hakim Ziyech started the defeat to Southampton, despite the fact he had been trying to negotiate a move out of Chelsea, with Christian Pulisic taking his place in the following game against West Ham United. Ziyech did not look like a man trying to do his head coach any favours when he was thrown on at half-time in Zagreb.
Decisions such as those have not only been confusing to outsiders and Tuchel’s irritated demeanour did not discourage some views within the dressing-room that out-of-favour players would be more likely to outlast the head coach.
Chelsea’s co-controlling owners want it to be clear that the next head coach will be somebody who is invested in their project and who the players expect to be in charge for many years, and Potter would seemingly tick the boxes.
He seems a better fit for Chelsea’s new era than Tuchel, a hand-me-down – albeit a smart one – from a culture Boehly and Egbahli have made it clear they want to leave behind.