Thomas Tuchel left both Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain in acrimonious circumstances, while Chelsea never wait to make a managerial change.
Is it alright to show your age? OK. Never mind those Marvel modern-day versions of retro ’70s comic book television – the best Incredible Hulk was back in the day when Frank Worthington was still “the working man’s George Best”.
The 6pm Saturday evening pre-pub slot follow-up to Dickie Davies’s moustache on World of Sport was an instant classic. The grainy opening credits with suitable mood music went like this: “Dr David Banner, Physician/Scientist, searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have. Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation interacts with his unique body chemistry. And now, when David Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs.”
They just don’t write ’em like that anymore.
In football terms, that raging metamorphosis very much looks like Jurgen Klopp when the world blows over his winning windmill. Some of the German’s bellowing back in those heady rock star days at Dortmund was truly terrifying TV – even when viewed from a non-moving picture gallery. Thank goodness he’s matured into the smiling version of the Joker. Klopp pulled off the sinister smile last weekend while blacklisting a referee through gritted teeth. Totally justified, mind.
Perhaps all of that post-game Spurs and Liverpool jazz is deflecting from the troubles of Thomas Tuchel, who is a closer match to the Hulk’s alter-ego. When Dave Tickner went full throttle on Tuchel’s uber-nerdiness, he reckoned there would be trouble at mill in the future:
‘The moment things turn sour and he starts talking about the number of final-third recoveries in a home defeat to Fulham he’s going to get ripped to shreds.’
The body language is reaching the point where Tuchel will be ripping off his top as his inner David Banner shouts: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
And he’s getting angrier with each passing day, albeit in a repressed and logical Teutonic extrapolation of events. The body chemistry gauge was beeping red when the Premier League refused his plea to postpone the match against Wolves. Jorginho, Kai Havertz and Ruben Loftus-Cheek had to go into Covid-enforced isolation to add to the current mass quarantine of his squad. At least the 48-year-old was straight enough to concede that the one point at Molineux was far from the real problem. “The points we dropped today are not the point. The points we lost at home to Manchester United, Burnley and Everton are the points that hurt,” he said. That’s a lot of points.
Chelsea were sitting without angst as they gathered 25 from ten matches. They have only 13 from the subsequent eight with goal concessions dripping like melted cheese in a sunny Downing Street garden. Tuchel’s own internal combustion engine was stoked when Burnley “stole” a draw through “pure luck” just before the last international break. A midfield without Kante, Kovacic and a hipster-less Jorginho has been like open season for the opposition, while Ed Mendy is now coming down from his early-season highs. Chances continue to come and go.
Tuchel knew what he was getting into at Chelsea. And Chelsea knew they were investing in with a man that can explode when nudged to a precipice. At Dortmund, the current Chelsea boss burnt goodwill to the point where CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke’s parting shot was about the importance of “basic values such as trust, respect, communication, authenticity, identification. It’s about loyalty”. Well, that last one is irrelevant at Stamford Bridge. The fallout at PSG with sporting director Leonardo smelt of rotten tomatoes as Tuchel blurted out they didn’t have the same objectives.
This could get fire timber tricky if things don’t perk up soon. In the global powerhouse of SW6, riches gained are soon devalued should there be even the merest hint of a slide. As Jamie Carragher mused in his recent column:
‘Recent history tells us it does not take much to cause a tremor at Chelsea Football Club. Where some clubs see a blip, the board tend to identify a full-blown emergency. You can be sure there is some anxiety within the… hierarchy after the latest setback.’
Blues fans might be looking back all misty-eyed to the Champions League coronation where the German cut a most relaxed figure pre-match compared to a Pep who was frenetically telling us all that we wouldn’t believe how ready his players were; they weren’t. Only Tuchel had his men on the march all in the right direction. In the war zone at Anfield, they kept Liverpool at bay for 45 minutes with ten men. Chelsea were standing tall and looked the real deal as the “champions of the autumn”. With Liverpool on the horizon in early January and City on a steam cruise six points ahead, the reckoning is coming fast.
Maybe that night in Porto will be as good as it gets for Tuchel. An 18-month subscription to the Chelsea marriage is hitting the kind of rocks and stones that are almost inevitable in the rinse and repeat managerial seat. If Tuchel has his full metal jacket on and keeps his head, he might just be fine. For now.
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