After a near-perfect 12 months in west London, Thomas Tuchel is encountering choppy waters for the first time at Chelsea.
Romelu Lukaku’s bombshell interview has given the German a conundrum. Last week, Chelsea’s £97.5million striker told Italian media of his frustrations at Stamford Bridge, just months after joining from Inter.
Tuchel left the Belgian out of his matchday squad for Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool and revealed that he was set to hold crunch talks with the former Inter star on Monday, amid speculation that he could make a hasty exit.
Thomas Tuchel is encountering choppy waters for the first time since becoming Chelsea boss
Romelu Lukaku’s explosive interview points to Tuchel’s history of rifts during his career
In truth, this is not the first occasion in which the former PSG and Dortmund coach has endured fractious relationships with key names. From Mainz to the French capital, Tuchel has a history of rifts throughout his career.
Tuchel made his name at Mainz, with his highly-successful five-year spell with the Bundesliga club setting the foundations for a superb coaching career.
Yet despite taking the club to the European stage, Tuchel left under a dark cloud in 2014 having fallen out with the board.
Discontent with merely achieving European qualification, the Chelsea boss wanted to push on and demanded financial backing from the board. When he was met with resistance, he opted to walk away from the club with a year left on his contract.
The German left Mainz feeling ‘betrayed’ after he walked away from the club due to finances
‘I couldn’t see how we could reinvent ourselves once more the coming summer,’ he said as he departed. Tuchel’s decision left Mainz’s president, Harald Strutz feeling ‘betrayed’.
Rifts with his superiors would become a common theme and, at Dortmund, Tuchel’s tough approach alienated figures at dressing-room level and those above him.
The 48-year-old had public spats with Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Roman Weidenfeller, but the most astonishing row came when he took an unorthodox approach to disciplining Emre Mor.
Tuchel felt that the young Turkish forward was not working hard enough for the side and fitness coach Rainer Schrey made him crawl on his hands and knees across the training pitch.
When at Borussia Dortmund, he made Emre Mor crawl on all fours to make him work harder
His treatment of the young Turkish star caused consternation among a number of players
When the youngster complained, Tuchel is claimed to have yelled: ‘Shut your mouth! Shut your mouth! Shut your mouth!’ and the incident caused consternation among a number of players.
‘He [Schrey] was ruthless with young Emre Mor at Borussia Dortmund,’ former player Subotic said. ‘He forced a hellish session upon him which including crawling on all fours around the pitch for a long period of time, which was shocking.
‘Several players complained about the intensity of the physical work and the fact that they felt spent when they came towards the end of matches.’
As was the case at Mainz, Tuchel also fell out with those above him. In particular, the German did not see eye to eye with transfer chief Sven Mislintat.
The Swede and Tuchel had clear differences of opinion over transfer strategy which came to a head in 2017 when Mislintat agreed a deal with Atletico Madrid for Oliver Torres.
He also had a very bitter spat with Dortmund transfer guru Sven Mislintat and banned him
Mislintat was exiled after attempting to sign midfielder Oliver Torres from Atletico Madrid
When Tuchel caught wind of the deal, he immediately vetoed it and, such was his anger with Mislintat, he decided to ban the transfer guru from Dortmund’s training ground.
‘The row between Tuchel and me started over Oliver Torres,’ Mislintat, who later joined Arsenal, said.
‘I probably never would have considered thinking about other clubs, but the training ground ban, initiated by the club’s former coach, as well as the instructions to keep away from the inner circle, from players, from the staff, from many friends with whom I worked so closely throughout the years, all of that influenced my thinking.’
Tuchel’s antics also wore thin on club chiefs. Hans-Joachim Watzke and Michael Zorc repeatedly sided with Mislintat over transfer strategy, while Tuchel’s public criticism of the club after they agreed to play their 2017 Champions League tie with Monaco 24 hours after a bomb scare angered the hierarchy.
Upon Tuchel’s Dortmund departure, chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke expressed his relief
Tuchel said it was not his decision for the game to go ahead, but Watzke later revealed that the German had the opportunity to express his opposition to the rescheduling of the fixture, but opted against it.
The Chelsea boss won the German Cup while in Dortmund but there was general relief when he departed in 2018, with Watze revealing that the club were ‘worn out’ by Tuchel.
‘There’s some criticism from fans that we have parted ways with Tuchel. We can understand that as a club. BVB was successful with Tuchel for two years in which we have reached our goals,’ he said in a statement.
‘But we, sporting director Michael Zorc and me, have worn ourselves out in dealing with the coaching staff. Taking your responsibilities is not only about the results, that’s not different at Dortmund from any other sporting club. It’s about basic values such as trust, respect, communication, authenticity, identification. It’s about loyalty.’
The topic of loyalty was also aired during Tuchel’s tenure at Paris Saint-Germain. Given a star-studded dressing room, the German surprisingly had very few bust ups with his players – although Kylian Mbappe once failed to hide his unhappiness with being substituted by the Chelsea boss.
Tuchel also fell out with Paris Saint Germain sporting director Leonardo while in France
However, an interview given by Tuchel to Sport1 did not sit well with PSG chief Leonardo. When asked about life managing the likes of Mbappe and Neymar, the 48-year-old said he felt more like ‘a sports politician or sports minister than a coach’.
He later clarified: ‘I just said that PSG are unique and that it’s a big challenge for me. It’s always been like that. I like this challenge and nothing has changed,’ but his comments angered Leonardo.
‘I didn’t like Tuchel’s statements. Neither did the club,’ the Brazilian reflected.
‘You have to respect the club and the sports management. Whoever is not happy, we have to deal with it internally.’
He also fell out with Leonardo over transfer strategy, expressing discontent with the departures of Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva, while being upset with Danilo Pereira’s arrival when he wanted a new central defender.
The German’s comments about being more a ‘sports minister’ than a coach angered the club
All of these stories differ greatly to the Tuchel we have seen in England, with the German galvanising his Chelsea side and leading them to a remarkable Champions League triumph last season.
While episodes of rifts and bust ups stack up during Tuchel’s career, there are instances where he has won the hearts and minds of his stars.
One such player is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabon forward has been exiled by Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and stripped of the captaincy for a number of disciplinary breaches, the latest of which involved the striker returning late from a trip to France to see his mother.
Yet he does know how to handle delicate situations and was lenient with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, which allowed him to flourish at Borussia Dortmund
Tuchel managed Aubameyang at Dortmund and the pair think very highly of each other. The German revealed earlier this year that he would not come down hard on the striker for disciplinary breaches.
‘Back in the days at Dortmund, it was a pure pleasure to have him in the squad,’ he said. ‘Auba was a fantastic striker, a fantastic finisher on the pitch. But more than that, he was a fantastic worker off the pitch. I think he did not miss one single training in two years.
‘Maybe he arrived five minutes late on the training ground, that can happen with him! But if he does this, he is in a hurry, he excuses, he feels sorry, he has still a smile on his face.
Tuchel will need to use his diplomacy to see the club through a testing situation with Lukaku
‘When we wanted him to be on time, we told him the meeting was 10.45am when the meeting was 11am so there was a good chance he would be there with everyone else.
‘It’s not the biggest problem. But don’t forget that he was also a top, top professional who never missed any training session.’
Tuchel recently admitted that he felt ‘sorry’ for Aubameyang’s plight and would contact his former star.
So, there is evidence that Tuchel can win favour with players and he has expressed a willingness to get Lukaku back on board.
He told Sky Sports after the Liverpool game: ‘He is our player, there is always a way back.
‘We will clear this behind closed doors and once we have made a decision and Romelu knows, you will maybe know also. It is not to be discussed now.’
All eyes will be on Tuchel and his approach to this crisis, then. With Chelsea seemingly out of the title race and in the midst of a messy run of form, the German will need to use what he can of his diplomacy skills to navigate the club through this tricky period.