Thomas Tuchel finally clears the last hurdle to mark sensational start in English football
German manager had endured pain of 2020 Champions League and this year's FA Cup final defeats before glory in Porto on Saturday
Eight short months ago, Thomas Tuchel learned how brutally hard it is to put a new name on the European Cup. He was the losing head coach of first-time finalists Paris Saint-Germain. The experience taught lessons.
“I had the feeling the first goal would decide the final,” he reflected in Lisbon in August after Bayern Munich, scoring in the first half, inflicted a 1-0 defeat on PSG.
For Lisbon then, read Porto on Saturday night, and for Bayern read Chelsea. Tuchel had a strong feeling the first goal for Chelsea, who he started coaching in January, would put them in charge against Manchester City in his second appearance on the touchline of a Champions League final.
In the 2020 final, Tuchel cut an odd figure, his left foot encased in a support-boot because of an injury he had sustained. In 2021, he was fully mobile, a jack-in-the-box, energetically urging his team to press forward, test the resilience of a City midfield selected more on the basis of attacking enterprise than defensive solidity.
Once pierced, by the fine pass from Mason Mount that allowed Kai Havertz to round goalkeeper Ederson, Chelsea had taken the initiative Tuchel sought.
Tuchel is a meticulous planner, a coach of detail. He anticipates probable scenarios. What he could scarcely have forecast last year was that four months after leading PSG to their debut Champions League final he would be sacked. Still less that four months after embarking on a mission with the ninth-placed club in the Premier League he would deliver the second European title of Chelsea’s history.
Modern Chelsea collect their trophies through lavish investment on players and via a managerial rollercoaster. After the victory in Porto, Tuchel immediately understood, direct from the club’s owner Roman Abramovich, that his reward will be a contract extension, the 18-month deal he signed in January extended to 2023 with an option for another year.
But he is wise enough to know that the length of stay for any Chelsea manager is always subject to abrupt review.
Tuchel is the 15th different manager employed under Abramovich, who bought Chelsea in 2003. He met the Russian owner, who now spends little time in London, for the first time on Saturday. “A good time for the first meeting,” Tuchel joked. “It can only get worse from here.”
It was a knowing observation on the fragility of a coach’s status at Stamford Bridge and of the fine line between success and shortfall. Six days earlier, when Tuchel oversaw a 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa, Chelsea were heading for a fifth place finish in the Premier League table; only results elsewhere kept them in the top four.
A top-four finish had been set as his minimum target when he replaced Frank Lampard, who had lasted a year and a half in the Blue ejector seat.
And although Tuchel and Abramovich can now look back on a sensational start in English football by the German manager, it had passed through nervous moments. Chelsea lost an FA Cup final which they went into, against Leicester City, as favourites. They lost two of their last three, high-pressure Premier League matches of the season.
But Tuchel has had the better of City, the club he repeatedly refers to as “the benchmark”. And in among two 1-0 wins and the 2-1 league victory in the last six weeks are patterns.
The Mason Mount pass that opened up holes in the City defence in the FA Cup semi-final presaged the Mount through-ball to Kai Havertz that swung the Champions League final – a goal that, as at Wembley, put a City goalkeeper in two minds and had City left-back trying to catch up.
The scorer in the FA Cup had been Hakim Ziyech. The matchwinner in the biggest game of the club year would be the most expensive signing in Chelsea’s history. For Havertz, that goal is a thrilling landmark. There had been times in his first Chelsea season when the 21-year-old looked over-priced at the €80m that was paid to Bayer Leverkusen for him.
Though he was shaded for man of the match by the ubiquitous N’Golo Kante, Havertz had a high-class final as a sort of roaming central striker. “He ran like crazy,” said his captain Cesar Azpilicueta, “and he was fantastic. “It’s been a tough season but this guy is going to be a superstar. Well, he is one already.”
Updated: May 30, 2021 06:20 PM