Subject: Let us help you! (Manager search)
Did you see our last email? I hope so, though I understand you’re currently holed up in the bunker below Hotspur Way trying to figure out what to do about Tottenham Hotspur’s current managerial situation.
Mauricio Pochettino does seem like a good fit, doesn’t he? But maybe you’d like to do your due diligence and also not have to pay an release clause for another manager. Well, here’s another option, and it comes from a well of talent which you should be very familiar with at the moment. See the attached memo. And remember, this is just an idea. You don’t HAVE to do this, we’re just presenting options.
Here to help,
Cartilage Free Captain
Name: Thomas Tuchel
Team: Unattached (most recently Chelsea)
Cumulative ELO rating: 1985
Champions League (Chelsea, 2020-21), Club World Cup (Chelsea, 2021-22), UEFA SuperCup (Chelsea, 2021-22), Ligue 1 (PSG, 2018-19, 2019-20), French Cup (PSG, 2019-20), French League Cup (PSG, 2019-20), French Super Cup (PSG, 2018-19, 2019-20), German Cup (Dortmund, 2016-17)
Thomas Tuchel is perhaps the most naturally talented manager currently without a club at the moment. Tuchel is a tactically-minded German manager from a modest pedigree — as a player he had a middling professional career as a central defender, with 8 caps with 2nd division Stuttgart and 64 caps with third division German side SSV Ulm 1846. Tuchel hung up his boots at the age of 24 due to persistent injuries, but it was at Ulm where he first encountered the man who inspired him to go into management — Ralf Rangnick. Tuchel started his career as an assistant at Stuttgart, eventually taking his first head coaching job at Augsburg and shortly thereafter moving to Mainz where he made a name for himself as a promising young tactician.
Tuchel succeeded Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund after Klopp left for Liverpool as the two managers’ gegenpressing tactics were somewhat similar. Tuchel had a successful stint at Dortmund, though he was never able to lead them to a title over Bayern Munich while there. He eventually was poached by PSG, was fired 18 months later despite PSG winning their Champions League group, and landed at Chelsea in January 2021 where he won the Champions League for the Blues. Tuchel was dismissed earlier this year after the club was sold to a consortium headed up by Todd Boehly.
If you wanted to pick a manager with nearly the diametric opposite tactics to Antonio Conte, you’d probably pick Thomas Tuchel. Whereas Conte sets his teams up with a low block, counterattacks, and prescribed passing patterns across the pitch to open up space, Tuchel is a gegenpressing, tactically flexible manager who wants his team to have the ball and who can adjust play based on opposition weaknesses. Think of him as a combination of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. Sounds pretty good, right?
It actually is. Tuchel has played with a bunch of different tactical formations, but his favorite across all his managerial stops is probably either a 4-1-4-1, or a hybrid 4-2-3-1 which operates as a 3-4-3 in attack. Either way, Tuchel’s formations rely on a deep lying creative central midfielder (e.g. Julian Weigl at Dortmund), who can dictate tempo, recycle the ball, and also screen the defense if needed. It’s a critical role, and Tuchel’s teams typically also have two other CMs that are more like attacking 8s in possession in front of them. The width is generally provided by the fullbacks, which can push higher to create overloads, or one fullback can attack with the other tucking inside to create a back three when in possession. Tuchel’s gegenpressing teams set up in a medium to high block and press from the front, trying to win the ball back high up the pitch instead of defending deep and countering.
This was used to great effect early in his career at Dortmund and at Mainz, but was less successful at PSG — where, again, he had difficulty getting Neymar to press from the front (LOL). Likewise at Chelsea the Weigl role was played initially by Jorginho, and while Tuchel won a Champions League with the Blues, things fell apart after the ownership change and when the £275m of new signings didn’t immediately mesh with the side.
Tuchel wants his players to solve problems and think for themselves — no automatons here. That actually puts him in contrast to top managers like Pep, who have a more prescribed system, and definitely to Antonio Conte. And to make Tuchel’s tactics work, he requires creative players who can adapt quickly and pass out of sticky situations.
That could be an issue at Spurs the way they are currently constructed. If he’s offered and takes the job, he may want to do a significant clear-out of the current team, though it could take a while to mold the club in his image, and he may not get that much time (explained later).
But honestly, there’s a lot to like about Tuchel’s tactics. When working, Tuchel can provide fun, progressive, exciting football. But it doesn’t always work (e.g. Chelsea, where he couldn’t get anything out of Lukaku, Werner, Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic, or Ziyech), which is partly why he’s currently unemployed. (Boehly’s takeover also had a lot to do with this, but that’s another article.)
A lot of Tuchel’s strengths are stated above. He’s an excellent tactician with a malleable style of play. He has a proven record of success. He also trusts and gives chances to young players — Weigl was 18/19 when he broke into Dortmund’s first team, and it’s not difficult to see Tuchel giving opportunities not only to Oliver Skipp and Pape Sarr, but also players like Djed Spence, Destiny Udogie, and Bryan Gil (assuming... y’know.) Tuchel could potentially do very good things with a team full of young, talented, dynamic, and skillful players, though it would also likely result in a few old hands and fan favorites shifted.
His tactical flexibility is also a plus, as Tuchel doesn’t appear to be afraid to shift to another plan if things aren’t working out. That’s huge and speaks well to his ability to out-manage opposition head coaches and get the most out of individual matchups.
Tuchel has two main weaknesses as a potential successor to Conte at Tottenham Hotspur. First, he’s another ex-Chelsea manager. Spurs have now appointed three of them in the last decade — Andre Villas-Boas, Jose Mourinho, and Antonio Conte — and all of them have gone down in flames. Now, there’s a difference between correlation and causation, but boy howdy it sure does make you wonder why Daniel Levy seems to go back to the Chelsea Reject Well so often for his hires. Hiring Tuchel doesn’t mean that he’s going to flop at Spurs, but it would not be a popular appointment with the Tottenham faithful. They’ve been hurt too many times.
The other weakness of Tuchel is, honestly, his personality. I’ll be blunt: Tuchel is kind of a dickhead. He’s a perfectionist and extremely demanding of his players. He’s been described as “megalomaniacal,” “combustable,” “prickly,” and someone who “makes waves.” His personality grates on certain players or types of players, and his style hasn’t always meshed well with the ethos of the clubs that employed him.
That, honestly, makes me nervous. We’re coming off of a nearly four year period where we have employed ex-Chelsea, defense-oriented, “win-now” managers with acerbic personalities and a history of creating toxic messes. Tuchel doesn’t tick all of those boxes, but he does enough of them that I’d be concerned about his longevity at the club. The last thing Spurs can afford right now is a short term or transient manager at a critical time in the club’s development. And when you're a German guy who looks like a cross between John Waters and the giant from Twin Peaks it's really not helpful when your personality also screams "jackass."
Likeliness of being hired
Probably pretty good, if they offer it to him. Someone along the line was leaking to the press that Tuchel would be interested in the Spurs job, which makes sense — it’s a good job! New stadium, decent amount of money, competitive in the best league in world football, and all that despite a very long period without any silverware. The main question, and that we’re still waiting on, is whether he’d want to join with ten matches to go in the season, or if he’d want to come in with a clean slate in the summer. If Tuchel is really Levy’s first choice, those are all things that can be worked out.
Grade if Hired: A for tactics, C- for personality
In researching Tuchel for this piece, I came to develop a much greater understanding of and respect for his tactics and potential, and a shit-ton of wariness for his attitude and personality. Our main interaction with Tuchel as Spurs fan was the infamous handshake with Conte after the 2-2 draw this season, which frankly didn’t put him in a very good light. It would be all kinds of ironic if the walking corpse with the aggro hands were to succeed Conte at Spurs in the very same season.
Tuchel is not a “vibes manager.” He’s not the arm-around-the-shoulder type and he’s probably never going to be described as cuddly or warm. That doesn’t feel especially good at a time when supporter morale is at a pretty low ebb, and Tuchel’s past affiliation with the lot in south London gives him a negative handicap. Even though he’s a talented and young(ish) manager, appointing Tuchel feels like a bit of a recipe for disaster. All that said, it feels a bit like that line from Arrested Development: