Chelsea show value of living in the now by taking ultimate step under Thomas Tuchel in a hurry
When Roman Abramovich finally met Thomas Tuchel on the Dragao pitch for the first time, the Chelsea owner typically only had a few words beyond congratulations.
“Let’s talk tomorrow.”
That discussion was naturally much more positive than what those words usually mean for Chelsea managers. They are usually summons to explain defeats, before a sacking. Tuchel again did most of the talking on Sunday morning, as he enthused about victories to come. The 47-year-old declared himself all in, and repeated his Tom Brady line, that the best victory is the next victory.
It was exactly what Abramovich wanted to hear, as agreements were also struck about potential signings – particularly a striker. They want one of Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane or Erling Haaland.
On the night before, Tuchel had also offered exactly the words his players needed to hear. This was what so struck many of the Chelsea players, and represented such a contrast with the confusion in the Manchester City dressing room.
Tuchel offered clarity, purpose, a gameplan to believe in, and rousing words that fostered even more belief. That could be seen very quickly in the Champions League final itself. The Chelsea players were throwing themselves into tackles and moments with a commitment that only comes from that type of emotional immersion in the most intense occasions. That’s what Tuchel brought out.
“The preparation was amazing,” captain Cesar Azpilicueta said. “The manager with his energy in the dressing room… everyone left their ego, they helped the team and that’s the biggest thing for me with the guys up front. The work they did for the team was incredible.”
Such a sense of certainty stood out all the more in Chelsea’s own Champions League history, which has been characterised by a lot of dramatic disappointment.
Even their first eventual victory in 2012 was only after yet another long night of the soul, and a sense that such a victory was overdue. This is where Manchester City are now. This is why Chelsea’s 2021 victory is the opposite.
They are one of those teams who have won the Champions League ahead of schedule, as illustrated by how this brilliant young squad has done it before the Premier League, and without the team quite being “completed”. Much of the talk around the club in the last few weeks – and in Tuchel’s Sunday morning chat with Abramovich – has been about the need for a striker. Many of last summer’s signings are 25 or under. Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic are only 22, Kai Havertz is just 21.
There is real scope for growth here, which is why Tuchel was so enthusiastically talking about the idea of a dynasty or owner.
“It’s always possible because the foundation is very, very strong. The belief, the determination of the club, the players, the group that they built is very strong. It’s still a young but experienced squad. So it’s the challenge now to make this not too heavy for us, this huge success.
Ben Chilwell, Reece James, Kai Havertz and Tammy Abraham with the trophy
“Because they have this huge success very early in their career and to keep them hungry, so this is now the challenge. It’s like a similar deal with Tom Brady when you ask him what is his favourite win, and he says ‘the next one’.
“If we really want to build something, I’m all in, I can tell you.”
All of this was prefaced by one conspicuous comment.
“We have to check with the owner if this is his plan.”
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One issue with Abramovich at Chelsea is that you can’t really talk about “schedules” in the same way. This club hasn’t been constructed in the way City has – which is one reason Pep Guardiola was never really interested. There isn’t the same sense of logical progression from a philosophical foundation. Any philosophies have usually changed with the manager, and they have been expected to impose plans quickly.
It would be incorrect to say there is no sense of planning at Stamford Bridge, but everything does happen so much more quickly than even other super clubs. They are much more in the now than most. That doesn’t even just apply to sackings, either. It could be seen last summer, with that sudden spending spree after a good few years of caution.
Tuchel ended up proving perfect for this situation. He was able to immediately impose a tactical structure on a superb squad, salvaging the wreckage of the season that Frank Lampard had left behind.
The difference was pronounced, and so quick.
Thomas Tuchel celebrates in Porto after guiding Chelsea to the Champions League title
That tactical structure gave them a solidity that made Chelsea so hard to beat in these knock-out games, and ultimately sent Guardiola haywire. The team’s seven Champions League games under Tuchel have seen them concede just two goals. That will make you far more than competitive, especially with that attacking quality.
A prime N’Golo Kante racing to cover every gap and more obviously helps, but then it’s no coincidence he has looked back to his very best under Tuchel, after relatively inconsistent form made his future uncertain. It was as recently as the first game of January – and the first against City this season – that he looked so off the pace under Lampard. No more.
He is the heart of a high-quality team.
That is quite the foundation, and it is the foundation for even more.
Chelsea do now look best set to be City’s main challengers for the Premier League. They have the squad. They have the base. They have the unique confidence that comes from a win like this. They will also have a much better understanding of Tuchel’s system, that should drastically improve the attack on its town. He will have the benefit of a full summer’s training camp, with some of it in Dublin. That can make a huge difference with a coach as good as the German. And, to top it off, they may also have the star striker to finish all of this in multiple senses.
Chelsea should have the Premier League in their sights. They should have a Champions League retention in their sights.
By winning their second European Cup this season, Chelsea go level with Benfica, Juventus, Porto and Nottingham Forest. That other English side next to them had the most visible “journey” possible in terms of winning the continent’s most prestigious competition. In four seasons, they went from the second division to the English title to the European Cup and then another European Cup.
It was a feat from another era, in so many ways. It is one of the twists of the modern game, that was impossible for most of its history, that teams can win the Champions League before their domestic title; that they can do it before tradition would have them as “ready”.
The reality is that these clubs are now always close to “ready”. Chelsea are just one of the group of wealthy super clubs – owned by an oligarch, and who were supposed to be part of a Super League – who will almost always be in the Champions League and thereby always there or thereabouts in terms of winning it.
Roman Abramovich gets in on the celebrations
This isn’t to dismiss Tuchel’s influence or the performance of so many fine players.
There is still agency here. There are still other super clubs to beat.
Tuchel and his players, as well as Chelsea’s whole season, have proven it is not some coincidence or quirk of fate.
He was exactly the right man for the right time. He is now set to be given even more time, for an owner who will always demand victory must be soon.
There’s no schedule as such. There’s just the Champions League trophy itself, as the ultimate step became the first step.
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