“Thomas is a difficult person, but a fantastic coach,” said Borussia Dortmund’s chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke, in November 2020. “We broke up because it just didn’t fit.” More than five years have passed since Thomas Tuchel’s reign at Dortmund came to an unceremonious end and now the manager who supported Tottenham Hotspur when he was a child because he liked the name finds himself out of work again.
Chelsea’s lacklustre displays this season despite spending a record £260m-plus in the summer transfer window had left supporters questioning whether this might be the beginning of the end for the 49-year-old only 15 months on from their Champions League triumph at Porto’s Estádio do Dragão. But not many would have predicted the end arriving so swiftly.
One hundred days into the Todd Boehly era, and having witnessed first-hand Tuchel’s disjointed tactics as his side were beaten by Dinamo Zagreb in their opening match of this season’s competition, the American co-owner chose to act. It was the kind of ruthless decision more reminiscent of the previous regime under Roman Abramovich, although in hindsight there were plenty of signs that it would end this way.
Three changes of formation in the space of 45 minutes against Dinamo, after Chelsea found themselves trailing to Mislav Orsic’s excellent breakaway goal, were enough to leave any player confused. Tuchel had to rub his eyes in disbelief after the ease with which Orsic and Bruno Petkovic ripped through his defence. “We conceded a goal with two players in a counterattack – it never happened before,” said the manager. “I don’t understand why it happened today. It’s clearly my job to analyse it so this is my analysing from the sideline and it will continue.”
Boehly, having committed to invest more than £4bn to purchase the club from Abramovich at the end of May, decided he had seen enough. The departure of senior personnel such as the director Marina Granovskaia, chairman Bruce Buck and technical and performance adviser Petr Cech over the summer made it seem as if he had entrusted Tuchel entirely with guiding him through the difficult first phase of his ownership, but the standard of performances was steadily decreasing.
Tuchel left Paris Saint-Germain on Christmas Eve 2020 having fallen out with the club’s sporting director, Leonardo – and pretty much everyone else – after complaining that felt he felt like “a politician in sport” rather than a coach. A few weeks later Tuchel took over at Chelsea and led them to their Champions League triumph but he struggled to integrate their record signing Romelu Lukaku into his team last season.
Over the summer, he appeared less than happy with the prospect of having to combine coaching duties with helping Boehly to recruit players after Cech’s departure. “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 said. “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.”
That responsibility has appeared to weigh heavy as things began to unravel at an alarming pace, starting with his bizarre contretemps with Tottenham’s manager, Antonio Conte, after the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge last month. The 3-0 thrashing by Leeds was followed by less-than-convincing wins over Leicester and West Ham that barely papered over the cracks beginning to emerge.
Tuchel’s use of Mason Mount against Dinamo was an example of how muddled his thinking had become. The versatile England international has excelled in several positions for club and country but began in central midfield with Mateo Kovacic before being moved to the left flank and then deployed as a No 10.
There were issues too with some fringe players, such as Hakim Ziyech, who had seemed destined to leave but ended up staying. The Moroccan’s body language when instructed to fill in at left wing-back as Chelsea chased the game on Tuesday was an indication of the confusion running through the side.