Thomas Tuchel is reportedly in line to replace Frank Lampard, who was sacked as Chelsea head coach on Monday with the team languishing in ninth in the Premier League.
“This was a very difficult decision for the club, not least because I have an excellent personal relationship with Frank and I have the utmost respect for him,” Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich said in a statement on the club’s website. “He is a man of great integrity and has the highest of work ethics. However, under current circumstances we believe it is best to change managers.”
Chelsea are yet to announce a replacement for club legend Lampard, but the Daily Telegraph and The Athletic report that German coach Tuchel is in line to take over, less than a month after being relieved of his duties by Paris Saint-Germain.
The 47-year-old won back-to-back Ligue 1 titles and three domestic cups in a two-and-a-half year stint with PSG, and took the Parisians to their first ever Champions League final in August. But he was sacked in December after a stuttering start to the season and disagreements with key decision-makers at the notoriously demanding Qatari-owned club.
“Anyone who has followed the team news for a while will have heard that there was tension between the sporting director and the coach in recent months,” Tuchel’s assistant coach Zsolt Löw confirmed to Hungarian outlet Nezmeti Sport. “Let’s face it, this relationship was not sustainable in the long run.”
Trophies and trouble with the top brass
Since first gaining prominence as Jürgen Klopp’s long-term successor at Mainz between 2009 and 2014, Tuchel, whose own playing career was cut short by a knee injury at 25, has earned a reputation as a meticulous and demanding tactician.
Those traits may have seen him win Borussia Dortmund’s only trophy since 2012, but his sometimes cold demeanor failed to endear him to the notoriously passionate Westfalenstadion crowd, which had grown accustomed to Klopp’s “heavy metal” football.
Tuchel is also no stranger to tension with his superiors, particularly when he suspects interference from above.
Despite winning the German Cup and recording the best points-per-game record of any full-time BVB coach, he left Borussia Dortmund in 2017 after locking horns with the top brass.
“Tuchel is an exceptionally good coach, that’s clear,” said Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke last month. “In principle, he was a top solution as successor to Klopp, who was possibly the world’s best coach, because he had incredible abilities on the pitch. But sometimes things don’t work in harmony.”
During his time in Dortmund, Tuchel fell out with then chief scout Sven Mislintat over the planned signing of Spanish talent Oliver Torres from Atletico Madrid, and with Watzke over the handling of the fallout from the attack on Dortmund’s team bus ahead of a Champions League match in April 2017.
Following a 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in November 2016, in which Tuchel had made a triple substitution, he publicly lambasted his players as being “entirely deficient … technically, tactically, mentally … all week in training and from the first to the last minute today.”
One Dortmund source later told the Süddeutsche Zeitung broadsheet: “We were warned by Mainz that it would likely become difficult, but we didn’t listen. For a year-and-a-half everything was great. Then everything was just as Mainz said it would be.”
A German reunion in London
Tuchel’s status as a trophy-winning elite coach is not in question, but his personal skills as a manager look likely to be put to the ultimate test at Chelsea, where he is set to become the 13th manager appointed by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich since he took over the club in 2003.
But he shouldn’t have any problems getting to know his new players. A reunion with his former PSG captain Thiago Silva is on the cards, a player Tuchel was frustrated at losing in Paris, while he’ll also join up with compatriots Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Antonio Rüdiger in a squad which now-Liverpool coach Klopp has described as the “strongest” in the league — on paper, at least.
German tabloid BILD reported recently that Tuchel is “keen to work” with Werner and Havertz, who have both struggled to fully adapt to their new surroundings in west London. Werner has failed to score in his last nine league outings and Havertz has been shunted out of position. Rüdiger has been sidelined by Lampard and has appeared just four times in the Premier League this season.
But nationality is no guarantee of favor with Tuchel. Julian Draxler, though often injured, was a largely peripheral figure during Tuchel’s time in Paris.
“I don’t know if a new coach is coming, and it’s not my place to say ‘He has to go or we need a new coach,'” said Werner during a chat on the audio app Clubhouse on Sunday, adding: “We’ve been a bit cautious going forward in recent games. If that changes, we’ll start winning again.”
Tuchel certainly knows a thing or two about winning matches on the pitch, but now he needs to prove that he can win hearts and minds off it, too.