The discussion in Chelsea’s boardroom on Monday was tense. There was a nagging worry. Chelsea faced Dinamo Zagreb in their Champions League opener the following day and would likely win. Most likely, they would earn well. However, the decision had already been made to dismiss Thomas Tuchel. What would it be like, the board pondered, to sack a manager after a decent, winning start to the Champions League?
They don’t need to worry. Chelsea continued in the same vein as they have all season, following the loss to Southampton and the happy win over West Ham, where VAR was their savior, with a 1-0 defeat at Zagreb.
The next morning the deed was done and another Chelsea manager was sent to pack. At least he held on 15 months after winning the Champions League, seven months after winning the Club World Cup. Roberto Di Matteo only got six months after winning the Champions League in 2012.
Graham Potter had been shortlisted as next Chelsea boss before Thomas Tuchel was sacked
Tuchel, despite his short time at the club, had become a Chelsea legend. But one of the reasons for moving quickly was that Graham Potter was unlikely to be available for long. Chelsea felt that if Gareth Southgate left England after the World Cup in December, Potter would be the ideal candidate. “You can’t keep getting the results Potter is getting without getting caught,” a source said.
Yet whoever you talk to around Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, they all insist that this is not how they want to do business. Indeed, what they’re aiming for is something different from the Roman Abramovich era: long-term stability with a manager who buys their project. It’s just, right now it seems like they have a weird way of showing it.
Chelsea under Potter is intended to be a different model. Best-laid plans and all that, especially with the new untested head coach at the highest level, but the appointment is meant to be measured in years rather than months. Hence the five-year deal when a wiser approach might have been three years with a break clause. But the terms of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are the goal, rather than the rise and repeat of the 18-month cycle of the Abramovich era.
Tuchel was sacked just 15 months after bringing the Champions League to Stamford Bridge
The first 100-day initial analysis of the new regime is that, despite winning the 2021 Champions League, they are far behind Manchester City and they want to catch up. The £250million spent this summer is designed to accelerate that.
But there is still work to be done. The business and sponsorship departments are strengthened, coordinated by Tom Glick, the new president of business, whose previous position was president of the Carolina Panthers of the NFL, where he helped modernize the impressive Bank of America stadium in Charlotte , in North Carolina, a trick he will now have to repeat at Stamford Bridge. He was also Commercial Director of City Football Group and CEO of Derby.
A sports director will follow soon. It is less likely to be Michael Edwards, Liverpool’s former sporting director. He had had discussions with Chelsea but seems to prefer to take more time to plan his next move. Paul Mitchell at Monaco is the kind of candidate the club could choose, but talks are ongoing. The relationship with Potter will be key and the new executive will need to work with Kyle Macauley, who has been Potter’s eyes and ears as head of recruitment since his time at Ostersunds.
Owner Todd Boehly is implementing a series of behind-the-scenes reforms at the club
The club will have to balance the coach’s needs with its own long-term desires. They clearly hope that these two visions will coincide. But the need for the sporting director appointment is fully appreciated by Boehly, who took over in the summer but reportedly has no desire to continue.
Although Tuchel may have thought at times that Boehly was the archetypal American owner playing Championship Manager – it seems that was at the heart of the relationship breakdown – those who know the man insist that this is not is not the case. Glick is expected to build the club’s structure in other areas where Chelsea are lacking. There will be a high role for data, with a framework similar to the role Ian Graham has at Liverpool as director of research.
The Premier League clubs most admired by Team Boehly are those who fully understand how to use data with coaching and football knowledge to enable teams to punch above their weight.
Unsurprisingly, Brighton is one such team and Brentford is another. Both have owners with professional gaming backgrounds in Tony Bloom and Matthew Bentham, so analyzing the stats is what they do. It’s not far removed from Boehly and Eghbali’s experience in asset management and investing.
When they took office in June, Boehly and Eghbali were delighted to team up with Tuchel. But a “palpable discord”, to use the phrase once used to describe Jose Mourinho’s relationship with the club’s bosses, was apparent from the start. “Maybe he just wasn’t Todd’s kind of manager and Todd wasn’t his kind of owner,” a source said.
The pre-season should have been a launch pad for the new management team and new manager, but instead proved to be an abortive take-off. The 4-0 loss to Arsenal in Orlando, followed by what appeared to be a grumble from Tuchel – ‘They’re the same players, so why should everything change?’ – would have been very badly received by the board of directors. They felt like they had an adversary rather than a partner.
Boehly assured on-loan midfielder Callum Hudson-Odoi he still has a place at the club
Now it remains to be seen if Potter is the man they think he is. Certainly Boehly and Eghbali want to invest in youth and Potter would seem ideal for that. When Callum Hudson-Odoi – another sidelined by Tuchel, pressured to leave on loan – Boehly met him to explain he would not allow a buyout clause in the contract with Bayer Leverkusen.
Hudson-Odoi might have been forgiven for giving up his Chelsea prospects under Tuchel, but Boehly has made it clear that Chelsea haven’t given up on him. They see the academy and the young players as part of the model.
That’s also why they invested in youth, in 18-year-old Carney Chukwuemeka and 19-year-old Cesare Casadei. Look below the surface and they’ve built up their collections of young prospects. Goalkeepers Eddie Beach, 18, of Southampton and Gabriel Slonina, 18, of Chicago Fire, left back Zak Sturge, 18 and forward Shumaira Mheuka, 15, both of Brighton and Omari Hutchinson 18 Millwall’s all joined to complete the Under-23s.
Despite progressing through the German academies, Tuchel didn’t appear to be a strong academy supporter at Chelsea, despite the successes of Mason Mount and Reece James. Tammy Abraham has been sold and, £110m later, Chelsea are on their second centre-forward.
The aspiration to connect the academy and the first team is nothing new. The disconnect between dream and reality of needing points in the Premier League has now been the graveyard for many managers there.
Now Potter is up to that challenge. He is most definitely Team Todd. Whether their unit will survive Premier League and Champions League pressure is debatable. Watching them try to do it will be fascinating though.
Chelsea to build on Graham Potter appointment with revamp of key club roles