The Chelsea faithful were hurting when Thomas Tuchel touched down. Such are the German’s healing powers, they might hold him as their all-time greatest manager in a few months.
The sensitive final days of Frank Lampard’s reign were hastily kicked under a Kings Road rug to join a heap of other briefly-held grievances. Chelsea fans of the Abramovich era never get long to dwell on regrets before glory washes them away.
Carlo Ancelotti was sacked in May 2011, but Roberto Di Matteo lifted the Champions League a year later. Jose Mourinho was sacked in December 2015, but Antonio Conte won the title in May 2017. Lampard went in January, Tuchel conquered Europe in May.
If he adds a Premier League to that European Cup next year, Tuchel will eclipse every other boss scorched on the backside by the Chelsea hot-seat. At that stage, surely only the science of nostalgia can keep Tuchel from the Stamford Bridge throne?
Thomas Tuchel has giant names to compete with if he is to become Chelsea’s greatest boss
The Blues boss won the Champions League in his first five months, now he wants the league
TUCHEL’S STATS AS CHELSEA MANAGER
Two matching big-eared cups grace Chelsea’s club museum, tucked behind the Matthew Harding stand in Fulham. One from Porto, the other Munich.
They’re the only ones in London, but the first will simply never be upstaged in Chelsea blue.
The pulsating nine-goal thriller against Napoli, the night Torres buried Barcelona’s great dynasty at the Nou Camp and Drogba’s two stride run-up for glory in the Allianz. Non-stop drama, shredded nerves and deep-rooted emotion.
Roberto Di Matteo inspired the unthinkable and might be Abramovich’s favourite manager of the 13 for completing his mission. The Russian has been obsessed by the Champions League since 2003, and the competition has been make-or-break for each man appointed.
Like Tuchel, Di Matteo swooped in more than halfway through the season. He even went one better, lifting the FA Cup to claim the double Jorginho and Co were denied by Leicester at Wembley. Unlike Tuchel, the blue-blooded Italian was gone in six months.
The moment Didier Drogba scored Chelsea’s winning penalty in the Champions League final
Roberto Di Matteo will forever hold a special place in Chelsea hearts for his work at the club
Di Matteo is a Chelsea icon from grittier days of muddy pitches and baggy kits, a central figure in one of their best 20th century teams. He occupies an untouchable, privileged place in Chelsea hearts. But the 51-year-old, who hasn’t managed since 2016, can hardly claim his ageing 2012 squad were the finest in Europe.
It was a triumph built on the sheer force of several gigantic personalities, and the magic was gone by August. The west Londoners became the first Champions League holders to exit at the group stage the next season.
It’s been different the second time around. Chelsea played like European kings on the warpath last season, and have done since.
They conceded just eight goals in the first 20 matches of the season, and upon reaching his 50th game Tuchel set a new English record, letting in the fewest goals (24) at that milestone. The man he bettered? Jose Mourinho (27).
‘That’s my 50th game today as a Chelsea manager? Nice, nice,’ was the understated German’s response after thumping Juventus 4-0, coming once he’d stuffed his much fiercer touchline persona back into its box.
Chelsea have performed like European champions ever since Tuchel took over at the Bridge
Antonio Rudiger has thrived under Tuchel’s guidance after Frank Lampard didn’t fancy him
A front-runner for most improved under Tuchel-ball must be Antonio Rudiger. The German was frozen-out by Frank Lampard but became a bloodthirsty animal at centre-back to roar the Blues over the line in Porto. He’s been unstoppable since 2021-22 kicked-off.
Jose Mourinho – 3 Premier League. 3 League Cup. 1 FA Cup
Gianluca Vialli – Super Cup, Cup Winners Cup, FA Cup, League Cup
Thomas Tuchel – Champions League, Super Cup
Roberto Di Matteo – Champions League, FA Cup
Carlo Ancelotti – Premier League, FA Cup
Antonio Conte – Premier League, FA Cup
Dave Sexton – Cup Winners Cup, FA Cup
‘Tuchel gave me new life,’ Rudiger told the Guardian in October. ‘He told me what he expects – my natural game: to be aggressive, to be a leader.’ The Chelsea boss’ words are written all over the defender’s performances week in, week out.
The same can be said across Chelsea’s bloated squad. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley’s Chelsea careers were on the brink after spending last season on loan, but both are back involved and academy graduate Loftus-Cheek has steadily muscled his way into a starting spot.
The 25-year-old was Cobham’s lost academy star, the one fans desperately wanted to blossom after catching only snippets of his supreme ability under a succession of managers. His progression under Tuchel isn’t done.
Lampard deserves immense credit for the Blues’ revolution of youth, but Tuchel picked up the baton. Mason Mount is back to his best, Reece James is on simply world class form and Trevoh Chalobah is the latest starlet to emerge.
Yet more reasons for Chelsea fans to be cheerful, and the football is exhilarating too. Chelsea are rock-solid yet free-flowing, organised but explosive.
Only Liverpool, with top-scorer Mohamed Salah, have scored more than Tuchel’s team this season. In the German’s 58 matches, the Blues have averaged a shade under two goals per game.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is the latest star from a talented generation to emerge under Tuchel
So Tuchel, with a hypothetical Premier League under one arm and the European Cup on the other, would be ticking all the boxes as an iconic Blues manager. But there is a great big Portuguese elephant in the room with something to say about him being the greatest.
Jose Mourinho spent a total of six explosive years in west London and amassed 204 victories and eight trophies. Nobody else comes close for silverware.
Only two other men have lifted three or more trophies at the Bridge. Both are Italian and one is Carlo Ancelotti, but the other worked his magic in the shadows of Chelsea’s pre-Abramovich past.
Gianluca Vialli was an ageing finisher with a bullet header and delicate touch, but became player-manager when Ruud Gullit was sacked in February 1998. Former German third-tier defender Tuchel will do well to emulate Vialli by scoring for his own Blues team…
The ex-Juventus captain helped ignite the Londoners’ long love affair with Italy, joining under Gullit as part of the 1996 ‘Italian invasion’ with Di Matteo and Zola.
Gianluca Vialli enjoyed a glorious period as Chelsea player/manager, but later fell out with Zola
Vialli scooped five trophies in two-and-a-half seasons, instantly guiding the Blues to their second continental trophy and the League Cup. He finished as the club’s top-scorer in ’98 too, on 19 goals.
He led their very first Champions League adventure, and that unforgettable quarter-final first-leg victory over Barcelona at the Bridge is lodged into club folklore, beginning a famous European rivalry.
But just like his predecessor Gullit, Vialli lost the dressing room. Major bust-ups with influential stars, including Zola, saw him ousted in 2000.
Lesson number one for Tuchel to glean from Chelsea’s past is this: Keep those stars on side. The sensitivity of Chelsea’s squad harmony stretches back to the ’70s.
Dave Sexton was a pioneering tactician in England, and ‘whispering Dave’ was as reserved in the press as Tuchel, but he produced one of Chelsea’s most celebrated teams.
With Peter Osgood racking-up the goals, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris kicking lumps out of rivals and Peter ‘the Cat’ Bonetti plucking shots out of the top-corner, they finished 1970 third in the First Division, upset Don Revie’s great Leeds side in the FA Cup final and beat Real Madrid to the Cup Winners Cup a year later.
Dave Sexton was Chelsea’s most successful manager until the Blues’ revival in the 1990s
But just four seasons later, the Blues were relegated. Sexton was sacked early in the campaign, having already fallen out with Osgood and sold him, among others. Without a bottomless well of cash to save them, the consequences were steep.
Antonio Conte’s wild-eyed 3-4-2-1 revolution shook-up the Premier League like only Mourinho had before, blazing to the 2016-17 title for one of Chelsea’s greatest seasons.
‘Antonio, Antonio’ was belted out almost wall-to-wall through a 90 minutes. It looked and felt like a new era had arrived, but Conte was the ultimate Abramovich boss – instant impact, explosive demise.
A terminal rift developed between manager and club, and the Italian’s careless treatment of Diego Costa backfired in the dressing room. Fifth in the league and an FA Cup wasn’t going to cut it.
Conte belongs to a second tier of Chelsea greats, alongside managers who helped build the machine Tuchel operates today. Claudio Ranieri, who never celebrated silverware at Chelsea, teed-up Mourinho nicely with consecutive top-four finishes – having made Lampard and Terry regular starters.
But everything about Thomas Tuchel’s first year confirms that he’s gunning for something ‘special’.
Antonio Conte’s 2016-17 season was sensational but he fell out with stars like Diego Costa
Abramovich couldn’t have picked a better coach than Mourinho to spark the revolution – his witty, brooding, mischievous, dashing, outrageous, arrogant genius took the startled English Premiership by storm.
After winning his first of three League Cups, he was on fire: ‘I’m not feeling the pressure, no. You can’t put pressure on me, no chance. I read a lot of times that I have to prove a lot in English football… Sir Alex is the only other European champion in this country, nobody else. So I have to prove what?’
Tuchel’s tracksuit, his politeness and Germanic calculating poise can’t rival the flavour of Mourinho’s Dolce & Gabbana domination, but they may help surpass the Portuguese.
Mourinho arrived at Stamford Bridge aged 41, Tuchel 47. The impact of both young bosses was glaring, as Chelsea won 16 of their first 20 matches of 2004-05, conceding just six goals. Even after arriving mid-season, Tuchel instantly shored-up the defence with 16 clean-sheets in his first 20, winning 13.
Mourinho made Stamford Bridge a fortress in the league, staying unbeaten at home for his entire first spell – accounting for the bulk of Chelsea’s Premiership record of 86 unbeaten home matches in a row. A sticky end to the Covid-hit season has seen Tuchel amass five home defeats, but only one came this season.
If the Portuguese had lifted the Champions League, there wouldn’t be much comparison here. Two stints, three dominant English titles and a bucket load of cups. What Tuchel achieved in five months Mourinho replicated at Inter and Porto, but not in six years at Chelsea.
Chelsea reached three semi-finals under Mourinho but fell short in each. The Blues have comfortably qualified for the 2021-22 last-16, and Tuchel will have his youngsters at the forefront of another tilt.
Mourinho’s refusal to utilise the Blues’ academy frustrated supporters. His bias towards big-money signings and experience was tolerable in the glory days, but as the Blues spiralled towards a 10th place finish in 2014-15, it wasn’t funny any more.
Jose Mourinho took the Premier League by storm with his star-packed team and arrogance
The Portuguese boss conquered the English top-flight and transformed the Blues’ image
Loftus-Cheek, Nathaniel Ake, Patrick Bamford, Kennedy, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu were all un-fancied by Mourinho, and he was proven wrong. An entire generation of talent lost to a lack of minutes.
How Tuchel handles the next generation, like Conor Gallagher, Armando Broja and Tino Anjorin will be a critical test over the next 12 months. As will his relationship with the owner…
Perhaps the truest measure of any manager who dares sink into the Stamford Bridge dugout is plain-old longevity. Managing Chelsea has been a survival mission since Russian money arrived.
Ted Drake was Chelsea’s longest-serving coach to lift a league title, securing the Blues’ maiden First Division in 1951 and modernising the club’s operations on and off the field over a nine-year period. The stakes have been raised since, though.
A lion that doesn’t draw blood can not survive. Tuchel must win and keep winning but as Mourinho demonstrated, even silverware doesn’t circumvent a fall-out with Abramovich. The Portuguese boss’ first stint imploded over a dispute, the second was all his own doing.
So which way will it fall for Tuchel? Key hurdles on the horizon are clashes with title rivals Manchester City and Liverpool in January, plus coaxing Lukaku back to his best. Abramovich will need to see a return on his £98million investment.
Key tests are ahead for Tuchel but he on track to eclipse the great Mourinho at Chelsea
Recent dropped points against West Ham, Everton and Wolves have left the Blues six points off league leaders City and three behind Liverpool so those upcoming matches appear must-win if the title is to return to west London.
Breaking the three-year threshold at Stamford Bridge, as only Mourinho has done since 2003, would arguably be Tuchel’s most impressive achievement of all.
‘Tuchel is a perfectionist, and when things aren’t being done exactly as he wants, he isn’t afraid to challenge people,’ Nikolce Noveski, a former Mainz player under Tuchel, told FourFourTwo.
‘He can be direct, and sometimes that can bring you into conflict with people.’ Tuchel must deploy these traits carefully under the owner’s watchful eye.
If the German can weave through those traditional traps that spelled the end for so many at Chelsea, lift that Premier League title and keep the momentum rolling, Roman Abramovich will be in an entirely new position.
Finally, his standards will be met. What on earth happens then?