Thomas Tuchel: Somewhere Between a Technocrat and an Idealist — 23/02/2021
While strange to believe, only a little under a month ago Chelsea were still lingering in a sense of Frank Lampard-induced paralysis. Running loads, yet simultaneously being publicly shamed that they didn’t ‘want it’ enough. Signing good players, yet also being relentlessly criticised for shambolic recruitment. Their manager name-dropping himself in the same breath as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, yet possessing a CV with little on show other than a couple of Banter-laden bouts against Marcelo Bielsa.
One managerial shake-up later, however, and a sense of inevitability about Chelsea’s march to the 2021–2022 Premier League title seem all the more inescapable. Ok. It’s less than 4 weeks in and 15 months to go until their fate can ultimately be determined, yet, (From a non-Chelsea supporting POV) there appears to be a bleakly unambiguous life course to the Thomas Tuchel era.
Tuchel joined Chelsea at a peculiar moment of eclipse. The incredulity in some quarters to Lampard’s sacking, coupled with the German’s arrival, provided a neatly concurrent narrative to the shortfalls announced by British-Swedish (But mostly British) firm AstraZeneca, on their anticipated vaccine delivery to the EU.
The EU trashed AstraZeneca, their sh*t vaccine, sh*t efficacy rates, sh*t supply chains and sh*ttest of all, their clinical trials that barely skimmed the surface of the over 70s. Such a bundle of overall sh*t, who knows if it’ll even be used on the most vulnerable, and that’s whenever their overhyped vials of placebo are even ready.
‘Proper Football UK PLC’ had similar sort of loathing for Tuchel too. This gawkish, number-crunching, unelected, Europhile had been transplanted into their game and his presence was taken as a cock-and-balls graffiti across the institutional memory that preceded his appointment. Many probably struggled to discern him from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — listen closely and you realise that every time he says “Intensity”, “Recovery” or “Transition”, what he really means is “You stay back in your lane and we’ll fish in your waters as much as we bloody well like thank you very much”.
As it happened, the WHO approved AstraZeneca’s vaccine for use across all age-groups and Chelsea have won 4 of their last 5. So can everyone just calm down?
And can everyone please, for a second, stop projecting a narrowed lens of Culture War proxies onto an individual who, when it’s all stripped back, is a genuinely strange manager in his own right anyway.
This is the guy who waltzed into Paris Saint Germain in 2018 thinking he’d be greeted by a group of young, impressionable Corbynites, a budding college campus of willing participants upon whom he could expunge his years of advanced avant-garde-cum-football theory. Instead, what he was met with resembled more a post-industrial Rust-Belt superb, long since ravaged by an opioid epidemic. Locked in a pseudo turf-war with Neymar and co., he become increasingly grizzled and when ‘survival’ was the order of the day, he hired henchmen in the mould of Paredes, Herrera and Gueye to do his bidding, trying and failing to evade the Nasser Al-Khelaifi-shaped authorities.
And now on he goes to South London. His career lineage to date takes in spells at Mainz, Borussia Dortmund, PSG and Chelsea, which, as managerial trajectories go, reads like a brochure testament to the kind of ultimately doomed early 2000s Blairite vision of social mobility, not so bad for a manager who previously never reached an elite level playing status. He has undoubted pedigree as a coach, but like PSG, he has again chosen to manage a club where political entrepreneurialism manifests exponentially more so than the sort of hallowed footballing principles that Tuchel embodies.
Could it be that he really is just a curious hybrid of beady-eyed optimist crossed with fanatical data trawler, a sort of inverted Dominic Cummings with an ardent belief in underlying metrics of ‘Recovered possession in opponents final third’ as a means of achieving all sorts of societal challenges, like cutting carbon emissions, tackling the war on misinformation and of course, liberating Timo Werner. Is it this doggedly resilient worldview, unrepentant in the face of contemporary geopolitics and a nasty nasty virus, that empowers him (A German!) to step into the cauldron of Brexit Britain at the height of vaccine nationalism and playing-out-from-the-back scepticism? Just wait until someone tells him that the stadiums aren’t normally this empty and that the tarp is only a short-term fix. Thomas you loveable son of a b*tch!
Maybe I’ve been wrong this whole time, the future may be Tuchel’s plaything but maybe that’s alright. Maybe, finally, after all its false dawns, Tuchel-ball is now getting its fair hearing.
Frank O’Kelly — 23/02/2021