For anybody who imagined a ruthlessness towards Chelsea managers had been consigned to the past with the departure of Roman Abramovich as the club’s owner, think again.
Under Abramovich, the club acquired a notoriety for impatience with the main man on the touchline, a job which changed hands 16 times in 19 years.
But the Russian-born owner at least kept his first manager, Claudio Ranieri, in situ for a full season. Thomas Tuchel, sacked on Wednesday morning, lasted just 100 days under the consortium, headed by US businessman Todd Boehly, that purchased the club in June.
Brighton manager Graham Potter is their preferred replacement and Chelsea are confident he will take the job once a release clause of around £12 million has been agreed with Brighton..
The decision to part ways with Tuchel was accelerated by Chelsea’s shock defeat at Dinamo Zagreb in Tuesday’s opening match of their Champions League campaign, a third away loss on the trot.
When Boehly and the Clearlake Capital Group committed over £4 billion to buying a club put suddenly on the market because of sanctions against Abramovich for his perceived links to the Russian government they anticipated a better start – not least after buying more than €270m worth of new players this summer.
It is not simply the inconsistent form that pushed Tuchel to the exit. There had been moments of discomfort as the co-controllers of Chelsea, Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, who were both in Zagreb, established their working relationship with Tuchel over a frenetic transfer window.
Boehly was hands-on in transfer negotiations and initially encouraging Tuchel to assume a different role in re-shaping the squad than the German had during the previous season and a half. In the Abramovich era, the job of manager had been more narrowly defined.
But over the last two months, Tuchel and Boehly disagreed over some potential signings and the manager spoke publicly about his frustrations in filling the squad’s gaps. Some of those were caused by the position Abramovich’s Chelsea found themselves in when UK-government and EU sanctions hit the club after Russia sent troops into Ukraine.
Dinamo Zagreb 1 Chelsea 0: player ratings
Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen left, for Real Madrid and Barcelona, their contracts expired. Huge investments were made in two central defenders to replace them, but both Kalidou Koulibaly, signed from Napoli for £33m, and Wesley Fofana, from Leicester, have shown that adaptation to their new surroundings will be required. Koulibaly was sent off in his third game, the 3-0 loss at Leeds United.
The last goal Tuchel watched from the touchline as Chelsea manager would be Mislav Orsic’s, the Dinamo striker streaking away from Fofana during a forgettable Champions League debut for the 21-year-old, a £70m purchase.
“At the moment, everything is missing – a huge underperformance,” fumed Tuchel after none of his various tactical re-jigs pulled Chelsea back into the match.
Bottom of their group, Chelsea must now face the swift counter-attackers of RB Salzburg on Wednesday and then home-and-away fixtures against Italian champions AC Milan as they attempt, under a new manager or a caretaker, to recover their European campaign.
Tuchel will regard his last fixture in charge as especially poignant. In the same competition, less than 16 months ago, he guided Chelsea to the club’s joint-greatest triumph, defeating Manchester City in the final in Porto to deliver Chelsea’s second European Cup.
Tuchel had only taken over from the sacked Frank Lampard that January. “Thomas will rightly have a place in the club’s history, after winning the Champions League, the Super Cup and the Club World Cup,” Chelsea said in a statement announcing his departure.
The Champions League triumph was the German’s second successive final, having taken Paris Saint-Germain to runners-up spot in 2020. He was sacked by PSG 123 days later, his relationship with the club’s then sporting director, Leonardo having deteriorated.
Tuchel has an abrasive streak, one put on global, televised display during the 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur last month during a series of touchline confrontations with rival manager Antonio Conte, for which both were fined.
But supporters also admired his authority and diplomacy during the uncertain period last season when the club were constrained by sanctions and in an awkward limbo, up for sale.
Potter, whose effective use of a relatively low budget in guiding Brighton, promoted in 2017, to the fourth place in the Premier League they currently occupy, has impressed Chelsea’s new bosses for his composure and skilful man-management.
They are willing to settle the Englishman’s buyout clause if he agrees to join them. Consideration has also been given to Mauricio Pochettino, who succeeded Tuchel at PSG, worked in the Premier League at Southampton and Spurs, and, since he left Paris in July, is available.