If Todd Boehly’s aim was to connect himself to Chelsea tradition, even if those traditions are only 20 years old or so, he certainly took a huge step by canning Thomas Tuchel as manager today. No manager lasts at Chelsea for very long, no matter how much success they bring. José Mourinho, the first time, was out on his ass less than two years after winning two consecutive Premier League titles. Avram Grant got one season. Luiz Felipe Scolari didn’t even get that. Carlo Ancelotti got only two seasons while winning a Premier League title, too. Andre Villas-Boas didn’t make it a season either. Roberto Di Matteo was fired mere months after bringing the team its first European Cup. Mourinho, the second time around, was punted months after winning a third Premier League title. Antonio Conte lasted two seasons before he annoyed everyone into oblivion. Maurizio Sarri got one season. Frank Lampard one season plus. This is just how things go at Stamford Bridge.
So Tuchel seeing the axe just a year and some change after winning the Champions League isn’t really out of style for the club. What we’ve learned in this Premier League season is that owners and boards aren’t going to stand for their managers calling them out in the press. Scott Parker at Bournemouth said the club couldn’t keep being run the way it was and avoid more 9-0 beatings. You can’t really do that when you’ve just overseen your players getting their skulls kicked into mush by Liverpool by that 9-0 scoreline. You should at least wait a day. Bournemouths’ hierarchy didn’t, and Parker was tossed into the dumpster the next day.
Tuchel did the same. Ownership and front offices in general don’t really care for it when they splash some $280 million in one summer and then your manager says Chelsea is “missing everything.” It looks worse when the team looks limp in losses to Leeds or Southampton or Dinamo Zagreb yesterday.
Was Tuchel in a tough spot? Yeah, he was. Chelsea basically lost its entire defense after last season, as Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen couldn’t come to terms on new contracts and left the club after last season, leaving only relic Thiago Silva (though a still very useful relic, to be fair). With the defense having to be completely remade, it limited the makeover either the midfield and the forward line could get. Raheem Sterling was the forward brought in, and he’s a boon, but he also doesn’t solve the problem of having a player a team can count on to bang in 15-20 goals metronomically. The big reason City was happy to let him go, besides the cash, was that he can be a wonky finisher.
The rest of the forward line still has the same questions it had last season. Kai Havertz isn’t really a center forward, nor a false nine. Even if he can do a pretty fair impression of the latter, he’s just not going to score that much. And Chelsea doesn’t play with a No. 10, which he’s probably best suited for. Mason Mount makes a decent fist of being a wide forward, but much like Havertz, he’s a bit positionless.
Tuchel also suffered from the Romelu Lukaku Experience being poisoned. He was supposed to solve those problems, and it’s hard to convince any club that after they spent over $100 million on one forward that they need to spend the same on another to replace the first one, even if ownership changed. Especially when there are holes all over the field.
The midfield has gotten old. Chelsea is a great team when N’Golo Kante is doing the job of two people, but he’s 31, the odometer is awfully heavy, and he can’t stay healthy. Jorginho was immobile when he was young, and now he’s 30. Mateo Kovacic has only cracked 2,000 minutes in a season once. Connor Gallagher, who was supposed to freshen up the midfield and might still yet, has looked out of place so far this season. Ruben Loftus-Cheek just hasn’t ever nailed down a place. Any industrious and committed midfield can make Chelsea’s look awfully slow and lethargic. Like Leeds did.
That doesn’t mean Tuchel faced an impossible task, or doesn’t take any blame. Tuchel can quickly become a dour and miserable presence, which he apparently did at Chelsea just like he’d done at PSG and Dortmund when things started not going his way. Tuchel reportedly didn’t want to be as involved in transfers as Boehly wanted him to be, but was also more than willing to loudly protest even the idea of the club signing Cristiano Ronaldo (as he should have done, but you can see where Boehly would be at best confused and at worst bemused that he had a manager annoyed by being involved in the process but then commenting and bitching about the process).
Tuchel wears on players too. The book on him is that he’s so detailed, so loaded with information on what every single player should do for every part of every match, that it eventually becomes a constant drone. Players love the initial success, but at some point constantly hearing the same voice saying the same things is going to cause anyone to drive their head through the drywall. It doesn’t sound like there will be too many tears shed at Tuchel’s departure in the dressing room.
And most of Tuchel’s instructions are defensive. Chelsea always seemed their most comfortable when they could defend and then spring quickly on the counter. Their lack of a dominant forward made games where they had the ball more than their opponents descend into a slog a lot of the time. It’s hardly a shock that their first call has reportedly been to Brighton’s Graham Potter, because Potter’s style is far more flowery and fun. Although Potter might smirk that his first crack at a big-time managing job will still come without a trusty goalscorer, the one thing that’s kept Brighton from making some serious noise around the European places. Potter is also used to deploying a 3-4-3, which is what Tuchel used for the most part.
That doesn’t mean Chelsea’s problems are over. They have a stop-gap center forward in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the last time we saw him in the Premier League he went pretty damn cold (10 goals in 29 appearances). If he’s going to be used, where does that put Havertz or Mount or the rest of Chelsea’s attackers (like one certain American)? They still have to settle Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana in defense. And the only reinforcement in midfield has been Denis Zakaria from Juventus on loan. Gallagher needs to be figured out or discarded.
And again, Boehly seems to have gotten way more involved in the front office side than most fans would have hoped, and the club still doesn’t have a sporting director to take most of the responsibility. Potter, should he be the choice, comes from as streamlined and innovative of an operation at Brighton as you’ll find. He’s not an answer by himself.
If Boehly thought shelling out $3 billion and then a further $280 million in transfers were the answers unto themselves, he’s getting a rude awakening. Maybe the lesson he could take from the Dodgers is that he needs an Andrew Friedman more than he needs a Graham Potter just yet.