Chelsea managers have to have the shortest lifespan amongst all top clubs in Europe. Even if you’re a legendary manager like José Mourinho or Antonio Conte, the smallest blip could lead to your dismissal. Thomas Tuchel has become the latest manager to fall to the Chelsea curse, but what went wrong for the much vaunted German?
In a lot of ways, that infamous handshake with Conte seemed to mark the end for Tuchel. That marked a moment when all the frustrations of a troubled offseason were let out.
By the fall of 2022, the Prem had figured out Tuchel’s system and it was becoming harder for his team to find any sort of success. The system that had propelled Chelsea to a Champions League title and some sustained success had effectively collapsed. Players had either regressed or been frozen out of the squad, as Tuchel struggled to fix things.
It’s also so safe to say that Chelsea had a disastrous transfer window this summer, with the amount of players linked to them looking like the Vietnam War Memorial. However, this was a disaster that was self induced given their window last summer and the way they dealt with contracts. There was clear friction between manager and club when it came to transfers and surely expedited this process.
Tuchel did deliver Chelsea their second Champions League title and should be remembered as a champion, but he fell to the curse. The Chelsea job is truly a poisoned chalice where you will likely challenge for titles, but are always on the hot seat.
Over his time in Germany, Tuchel became renowned as a tactical mastermind who could get performances from just about any manager. This led him to manage top clubs like Dortmund and PSG before Chelsea, but he left all those clubs in bad circumstances.
His system is unique when compared to other managers, as Tuchel uses defensive work to keep possession and attack. The system utilizes more defensive minded players in its spine, center midfield, to act as pivots to unleash the attackers on the wings. This requires a lot of work from the midfielders and wingers to keep up with the pace of the system.
Up top, his offense is free flowing and is the first line of defense. Tuchel asked his wider forwards to be creators, constantly attacking defenders to open space up for themselves. This focus on his wide forwards blunted the impact of strikers, but for his first season, it didn’t matter.
Like any system, given enough time, it can be figured out by most managers. The greatest managers will make subtle tweaks to their systems, but Tuchel was never able to.
Given the physical demands of his system, it’s no surprise to see certain players who have become injury prone or regressed due to these demands. N’Golo Kanté has become an injury room regular in the past season and there’s legitimate fears that he may never be the same player again. His absence, thus, has led to other players being misused or overused.
Mason Mount has regressed from the exciting young prospect to the Chelsea version of Ross Barkley, which can be blamed in part to his overemphasized role under Tuchel. Jorginho has regressed from the star at Euro 2016 to a player who only passes 5 yards due to him being asked to do too much. At the same time, players like Pulisic and Ziyech have been exiled due to their clash with his system.
The downfall of Tuchel’s system has a lot to do with other managers figuring him out and his players unable to keep up with his demands. As soon as the players can no longer perform in a system, that system is obsolete.
Chelsea’s summer window was fun to watch for everyone but Chelsea fans. Despite making a few good signings, this window will be remembered for Barça stealing players away from the club.
To be totally fair to Chelsea, the club did make some decent signings with the additions of Kalidou Koulibaly and Raheem Sterling being top additions to the side. Denis Zakaria has the potential to grow into a box to box threat that he was never allowed to be at Juve.
With that praise out of the way, it was entertaining to see Chelsea linked with certain players only for Barça to sign them. This happened with Lewandowski, but the Jules Koundé saga was the more interesting one, as Chelsea had all but secured him before losing him to the Catalan side. At a certain point, it felt like Barça was doing this just to mess with the London team.
On the surface, this seems like a funny coincidence that shouldn’t have too much impact on a side that had still pulled off some great signings. However, this was a side that had recently lost Antonio Rüdiger to Madrid, who had become a world class defender over his time in London. At the same time, Chelsea lost strikers Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner, effectively leaving the club with no strikers.
This mess was totally self-inflicted, as the club, in the case of Christensen and Rüdiger, failed to renegotiate certain key contracts. Losing Rüdiger on a free is awful, as if Chelsea really had no chance of resigning him, they should have sold him last summer for a large fee. Dealing with expiring contracts is what can make or break any club and Chelsea’s inability to deal with them cost them a star player.
In addition to that, the club was also coming off the 2021 summer window where the club failed to add any real impactful players. Lukaku was supposed to come back to Chelsea and carry them to new heights, but he clashed with Tuchel and was sent back to Italy at the end of the season. Saúl’s time at Chelsea was a total disappointment and failed to aid the workload of his fellow midfielders.
Chelsea has spent millions to build title contending teams in the past two windows, both with Tuchel’s advice and without, but has failed to reach the highs of that Champions League victory. Both his own failures of incorporating new transfers and the club’s lack of help in obtaining certain players, sunk Tuchel.
For yet another cycle, Chelsea will have to restart from ground zero with a new manager. While Graham Potter is an exciting managerial prospect, how long will it be before Chelsea dumps him? For any manager looking at this historic side, they will surely have to keep in mind the Chelsea managerial curse.
Featured image: AP