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Thomas Tuchel Wore Out Another Welcome

ZAGREB, CROATIA - SEPTEMBER 06: Thomas Tuchel, Manager of Chelsea looks on prior to the UEFA Champions League group E match between Dinamo Zagreb and Chelsea FC at Stadion Maksimir on September 06, 2022 in Zagreb, Croatia. (Photo by Jurij Kodrun/Getty Images)
Jurij Kodrun/Getty Images

Of all the fevered reactions to the hypersudden firing of Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea Football Club, the fact that Todd Boehly, the American head of the consortium that bought the team, was on his 100th day as the boss was never far from anyone’s pieholes. One hundred is a nice round number, and Boehly is a nice round American. Another round number is the $5.25 billion spent buying the club from defrocked Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, and another still is the $320 million the new boys have spent on players.

Another round number is 100, the number of games Tuchel managed at Chelsea. And then there is six, the Blues’ current place in the Premier League table after losses to Southhampton and Leeds, and then zero, the number of goals they scored in Tuesday’s first Champions League match against Dinamo Zagreb, a 1-0 loss that soured Tuchel on his team and vice versa, and finished the Boehly-Tuchel marriage. In fairness, the two were already cranky with each other last month when Boehly was closing on a splashy and self-aggrandizing deal for Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo only to have Tuchel say no.

That, though, wasn’t the last straw—just another bale on on Boehly’s already sagging back. Indeed, it would seem that most of the immediate driving force behind Tuchel’s exit was Tuchel himself, according to another usually dangerous and unreliable metric: his performances in postgame pressers, which had become snippier and whinier in recent times, a suggestion that he was unhappy with his team (which he had largely constructed) and they with him.

His postgame remarks Tuesday were particularly piquant, and probably hard for Boehly to endure, given that American coaches and managers often fall on their own swords rather than hurl knives at their players. After all, the players cost more, on both sides of the trough. Managers, apparently, can be found at any high-end coffee bar.

“I didn’t see it coming, obviously I was in the wrong movie,” Tuchel was quoted as saying after the Zagreb fail. “I thought that the last game helped us. I thought the team was prepared, I thought we know what this is all about.

“I don’t really know where this performance today comes from. A lack of determination, a lack of hunger and a lack of intensity to actually do the things that we need at the highest level. We are clearly not where we want to be. I’m angry about our performance. It’s not precise enough, it’s not clinical enough, it’s not aggressive enough on the ball, it’s not determined enough. It’s not good enough individually, it’s not good enough as a team.”

For those of you unfamiliar with futbol vernacular, that’s a slightly more flowery version of the old chestnut, I coached great but they played bad, which always goes over well right before the great coach gets canned.

So the hundred day thing wasn’t really the driver here. One has a hard time imagining Boehly holding a slice of cake and excusing himself from the party celebrating his milestone by saying, “I am feeling so merry that I must fire someone important to complete my tasks for the day.” It does, however, suggest to your average Chelsea fan that maybe Boehly is a meddlesome dilettante who fires coaches the way his predecessor did. The average Chelsea coach in the Abramovich era stayed barely 500 days (16 in 22 years, including the laugh-a-minute Jose Mourinho twice) and Tuchel nearly had 600 when he was tagged and bagged. He will be remembered for winning the Champions League shortly after arriving, the World Club Championship a year later, and for snapping his trolley in two hilariously handbaggy touchline moments with Tottenham’s Antonio Conte in a 2-2 draw three-plus weeks ago.

This would suggest that Tuchel, whose reputation has always been that of a man who does well but doesn’t stay long, actually came closer to firing himself, and those with boots on the ground near Stamford Bridge are better equipped to rumormonger the real reasons why the deeply invested American and the guilt-delegating German decided to agree that Tuchel can’t come to work any more. American owners tend to want their employees to defend the investment, and Tuchel did more spending than defending. Based on that dynamic, it’s a wonder he lasted this long.

Potential successors include Graham Potter of Brighton, believed to be too inexperienced with the high-octane player egos of a top-flight club; Mauricio Pochettino, believed to be too mopey after a not-quite-successful-enough stay at Paris Saint-Germain; and Zinedine Zidane, who has managed Real Madrid twice, which at least indicates enough self-loathing to want this gig.

But whoever it is, the wager here is that Boehly will be reluctant to make another change any time soon. He already has Abramovich’s reputation without the noisome links to Vladimir Putin, but in and around the club he now runs, Abramovich has the better reputation. Better the oligarch you know, and all that. In all, maybe Boehly could have waited until after the Fulham match Saturday to tear up his first tree just so it didn’t look so arithmetically garish. But like most American owners who burn money for fun, Todd Boehly doesn’t want what he doesn’t want when he doesn’t want it, and today was Thomas Tuchel’s nice, round, last day.