Chelsea stunned the football world last week with the sacking of manager Thomas Tuchel, barely 15 months after the German guided the club to Champions League glory for only the second time in their history.
While the job security of head coaches at the West London club had been sorely lacking under previous owner Roman Abramovich - fourteen managers were unceremoniously dumped during his nineteen-year tenure - it was widely thought that Chelsea’s new American owners would bring stability to the role.
This view was re-enforced with their recent spending splurge, signing nine new players at the eye watering cost of £278m (A$471m) during the recent transfer window – more than any other team in Europe.
— Talk Chelsea (@talkchelsea) September 3, 2022
So why back the manager with such a massive financial outlay, and then part company with him six days after the transfer deadline, with no time to integrate the new signings into his side?
Form not the only factor?
Chelsea have made a disappointing start to the new Premier League season, with just three wins in their opening six fixtures, a spell that included humiliating defeats at Leeds and Southampton.
The subsequent 1-0 defeat at home to Dinamo Zagreb in their opening Champions League fixture last week proved to be the fatal blow for Tuchel, with the announcement of his dismissal coming less than 24 hours later.
However, recent reports in German media – understandably shocked at the treatment of one of their countrymen - suggest that form wasn’t the only factor in Tuchel leaving Stamford Bridge.
Rumours are circulating that the real reason for Tuchel’s departure was his refusal to bring in Manchester United striker Cristiano Ronaldo during the transfer window, putting him at odds with the London club’s new owners.
TRUE✅ the fact that Thomas Tuchel resisted buying @Cristiano Ronaldo was one reason for the bad relationship with Todd Boehly. Boehly wanted Ronaldo. Tuchel said: „He will distroy the Spirit in my dressing room“ @BILD_Sport
— Christian Falk (@cfbayern) September 7, 2022
Ronaldo’s divisive presence
Ronaldo was controversially dropped after United’s defeat at Brentford in August, spending the next four Premier League games on the bench as the Old Trafford club’s form u-turned in dramatic fashion.
Although the Portuguese international returned to the starting line-up for United’s recent European fixture with Real Sociedad – a match they subsequently lost – it’s clear he’s on the outer with new United manager Erik Ten Hag.
As a result, speculation was rife building up to transfer deadline day that Ronaldo wanted to leave Old Trafford, with Chelsea seen as a potential destination due to their ability to offer Champions League football this season (United didn’t qualify).
Given his profile, the signing of Ronaldo would have been a major coup for new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly, not only for his abilities on the pitch but the commercial opportunities his arrival would bring off it.
According to reports, Tuchel vetoed the move, concerned that the controversial star’s presence may negatively affect ‘team spirit’.
Given Ronaldo’s comments about his Old Trafford team mates last season, it’s not difficult to see why, with many United fans believing his divisive presence has been a factor in their club’s poor performance since he arrived to much fanfare in July last year.
Although Chelsea have so far refused to confirm the reasons for Tuchel’s departure – their statement on the subject was noticeably vague – it’s reasonable to suggest that their now ex-manager’s refusal to consider bringing in Ronaldo had an impact.
A new man at The Bridge
The Blues have acted swiftly to move on from the controversy, bringing in Brighton manager Graham Potter as a replacement just days after the Tuchel announcement, paying a record £21m (A$33m) in compensation to the south coast club in the process.
Chelsea Football Club is delighted to welcome Graham Potter as our new Head Coach! 🤝
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) September 8, 2022
Graham Potter appointed on five-year deal at Chelsea
New manager Potter has predictably been welcomed with open arms, with Chelsea Chairman Boehly commenting that “he is a proven coach and an innovator in the Premier League who fits our vision for the Club,” in their recent statement.
In reality, it’s a gamble for both parties. Despite his success at Brighton, the Englishman has never won a trophy in his home country, or previously managed a club of Chelsea’s stature, with all the egos and expectations that brings.
Potter himself will be wary of his new employers’ reputation for sacking managers on a whim, despite signing a five-year contract.
Given no English manager has ever won the Premier League, he may well have to break records to avoid the revolving door at Stamford Bridge.
Whether Potter can navigate the dual responsibilities of success on the field and managing owner expectations off it remains to be seen.
With no Premier League fixtures for Chelsea until October, and a mid-season break for the World Cup in November, it may well be January before the new manager’s progress can be assessed.
That also coincides with the next transfer window - when another Chelsea move for Ronaldo can’t be ruled out given the circumstances.
It could be an interesting New Year in West London.
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