THE new Chelsea manager must accept his brief, starring role in the surreal mash-up that is Ted Lasso meets Welcome to Wrexham with the familiar ending of The Apprentice.
New Chelsea manager, you will be fired. Sooner rather than later, obviously, with an obscene payoff serving as an emollient after one’s head is removed.
Stamford Bridge is a unique institute for the sportingly insane, swallowing confident individuals and spitting out shrunken, hollow-eyed shells, muttering something about a lack of control in the transfer market and still insisting that Antonio Conte deserved a smack.
In just 595 days, Thomas Tuchel went from being the most highly prized coach of his generation, moved onto being named Uefa Men’s Coach of the Year and Fifa’s Best Coach of the year, before ending as a gibbering, nervous wreck, showing off his pale, wobbly biceps and changing formation three times in one Champions League match.
When the inevitable denouement came, in a 1-0 defeat at Dinamo Zagreb, Tuchel was reduced to that blubbering, over-promoted lieutenant in Band of Brothers, weeping in the field as his troops are cut down because of his indecision.
Well done, Chelsea. You did it again. You dismantled another young manager, like a coach whisperer breaking in, or breaking down, another feisty pup until it submits in a quiet corner of the dugout. In no time at all, the familiar savagery is back at Stamford Bridge.
For a while there, we were worried that the Blues might have moved on from their cartoonish villainy, swapping a Putin-supporting oligarch for a more acceptable face of grotesque capitalism in the shape of warm and smiley American Todd Boehly.
It’s not a bad time to be an American owner of a British club, as long as the name isn’t Glazer. Ted Lasso’s folksy, homespun wisdom has crossed the pond to unite soccer and football, and Ryan Reynolds’ and Rob McElhenney’s endearing documentary, chronicling their purchase of Wrexham, makes Tom Hicks and George Gillett feel like a different, uglier era of ignorant US expansionism.
But Boehly appears to have missed out on the cheeky, self-awareness of both shows – Lasso, Reynolds and McElhenney all make light of their football ignorance – and has focused instead on the rudimentary aspects of Moneyball, believing he can focus on data, costs, and possible return of investment, as if buying an insurance firm instead of Cristiano Ronaldo.
According to ESPN, Boehly was eager to buy the Portuguese cash cow, seeing Ronaldo as an exploitable commodity in the US, rather than a fading, 37-year-old icon more likely to disrupt a dressing room than a penalty box.
Tuchel reportedly had to convince Boehly that Ronaldo was not the answer to Chelsea’s goal-scoring woes. Their strained relationship never recovered.
While Roman Abramovich drifted away from the club after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a sanctioned citizen of nowhere, Boehly appears to have installed himself as the Citizen Kane of Stamford Bridge, overseeing the daily machinations of a club, sport and industry he knows little about.
During a chaotic transfer window, Chelsea lavished a record £266 million on nine players – including Wesley Fofana, Marc Cucurella, Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly, Carney Chukwuemeka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – several of whom Tuchel clearly didn’t want. Cucurella, for instance, plays at left-back, where Ben Chilwell was one of Tuchel’s most settled performers. The German didn’t need another left-back.
He didn’t want Anthony Gordon either. But Boehly’s bean counters had presumably binge watched Moneyball again before deciding that Gordon’s performance metrics were worth an exorbitant bid, even though Tuchel’s squad was top-heavy with attacking midfielders.
Is the owner meddling too much in footballing matters?
Since the takeover, Boehly has served as co-owner, chairman and interim sporting director, involved in talent scouting and dealing with agents directly, an unexpected turn of events to say the least, like Deadpool turning up in the Wrexham dugout to demand a switch to 4-3-3.
But Reynolds understands his position as an absentee club owner within an established hierarchy. Chelsea, as always, do things a little differently.
Marina Granovskaia, an experienced and respected football director, technical adviser Petr Cech and chairman Bruce Buck have all gone. Boehly stands in their place as football’s latest reality show takes shape. Welcome to the Wrecking Ball.
The last two months should dissuade any self-aware manager from offering their neck to Boehly’s guillotine. He backed Tuchel with a quarter of a billion pounds, but didn’t grant complete autonomy in the transfer market. He then fired Tuchel within a week of the window closing, effectively neutering the next manager until January, but insisting on an immediate turnaround in a hectic schedule of two games a week until the World Cup.
The leading candidate for the job, Graham Potter, enjoyed time, patience and independence at both Östersund and Brighton and Hove Albion. He’ll get none of the above at Chelsea, just an owner wondering if Zlatan Ibrahimovic is worth a punt because the data analysts have pointed out his brand value in US markets. (Boehly reportedly blocked Christian Pulisic’s loan exit because of the American midfielder’s popularity stateside.)
Apart from the money, why would a manager, any manager, want to get involved in the English Premier League’s most faithful adaptation of Squid Game? At Chelsea, Doomsday is always just a dodgy Champions League defeat away.
Tuchel wasn’t entirely blameless either. Like the short fuse in the Mission Impossible title sequence, he fizzes from one exotic location to another – Dortmund, Paris, Chelsea – and often with spectacular results, but there’s usually an explosion in the end. A fallout.
Three formation changes against Dinamo Zagreb underlined a deeper malaise. Moving Mason Mount from central midfield, to the left and then back into a roving No.10 role betrayed the lack of joined-up thinking.
Maybe Tuchel had spent too much time discussing the illegalities of a foreign invasion, the sanctions imposed upon an old employer and the geopolitical tensions, hypocrisy and whataboutery being played out on the European stage. Maybe he would’ve been happier to simply focus on the curious case of Romelu Lukaku never being quite as good as Romelu Lukaku. It was all a bit weird. Tuchel was jaded. Spent.
But he’s gone now. All that remains is a club with no plan and a control freak with an axe.
In these turbulent times, it’s reassuring to note that the Blues remain the dysfunctional, erratic and impatient outfit they always were.
All that remains is a club with no plan and a control freak with an axe. In these turbulent times, it’s reassuring to note that the Blues remain the dysfunctional, erratic and impatient outfit they always were.
What could possibly go wrong for the next Chelsea manager? Well, everything, obviously. Because it always does.
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.
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