Ken Early: Tuchel’s influence apparent as players adapt to new era

Frank Lampard was never likely to be given time to learn on the job at Chelsea

 

Thomas Tuchel, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Antonio Rüdiger seem unlikely to travel to many Chelsea matches by Tube but, if they ever did, they would most likely emerge from Fulham Broadway station and turn left down the Fulham Road.

Just before they arrived at the Britannia Gate entrance to the Stamford Bridge complex, they would pass the Sir Oswald Stoll Mansions – a residential block built a hundred years ago to house British Army veterans.

Their eye would be drawn to the imposing entrance with its letters carved in stone. “In Honour Of All Our Brave Men – An Empire’s Tribute To The Valiant”.

The pillars either side of the gate are engraved with the names of first World War battles on land: “Mons, Marne, Aignes, Ypres, Festubert, Somme, Ancre, Arras, Messines, Cambrai, Oueant, Le Cateau” and sea: “Heligoland Bight, Falkland Islands, Dogger Bank, Jutland Bank, Surrender Of The German Navy”.

It would be a reminder, if they needed it, that they’ve come to a place where the pomp of empire is still a matter of fierce and jealous pride, a club that was once nicknamed after the local army veterans’ home, where nobody has forgotten who was on the other side at Jutland or the Somme.

One curious aspect of Frank Lampard’s sacking was the speculation about how the Chelsea fans would have reacted had they been present in the stadium. Lampard had great times with those fans, mostly as a player but also as a coach, most memorably in two wins over Tottenham and the FA Cup win against Liverpool just before the first lockdown.

Those were the days when it felt as though Lampard might restore to Chelsea something that had been lost ever since Roman Abramovich arrived and turned them into a superclub overnight; a sense of tribal connection between the fans and the players who represented them out on the field.

It’s hard for a superclub to hold on to that. Abramovich moved Chelsea to the top of the football food chain, they’re a club that can afford to have top players in every position, not a player-factory like West Ham or Southampton.

Chelsea are represented by brilliant mercenaries, who are delighted to play for them yet would also be delighted to play for any other clubs that could offer them comparable money and success. Most modern Chelsea greats fall into that category: Gianfranco Zola, Didier Drogba, Eden Hazard, Frank Lampard himself... all great players, but if you could have a team full of great players who also happened to bleed Chelsea blue – well, that would be even better.

This was the beautiful dream that last season blinded Chelsea fans to the fact that Frank Lampard’s Chelsea team was worse than Maurizio Sarri’s by every measure.

Football fandom is a subjective business, and most Chelsea fans defiantly insisted that this was the most excited they had been about the team in years. Under Lampard, Chelsea finished fourth and won no trophies while Sarri had finished third and won the Europa League. Lampard was widely declared to have ‘overachieved’.

Towering iceberg

The merry ship of Lampardian fantasy was always destined to crash into the grim towering iceberg of the objective reality that, as a coach, he was not up to the level of his players.

Seeking to defend his nephew’s record on TalkSport, Harry Redknapp asked rhetorically: “Did he bring the players in? Did he bring the Germans in?” But even the youngest of these Germans is more proven than the novice manager who didn’t seem to know what to do with them. Kai Havertz is only 21, but his track record as a player already includes four seasons at the top level, while Lampard had only one as a coach.

The contradiction of Lampard is that he wanted to be given time, but he didn’t want to take his time. One season at Derby was all it took to convince him he was ready to lead one of the world’s biggest clubs, but even the best managers usually aren’t great after just one season. Why should the Chelsea board be expected to give Lampard time on their account to learn the job, when he hadn’t been prepared to put in the time himself?

Thomas Tuchel has put in the time: five seasons at Mainz, two at Dortmund, two and a half at PSG. Despite nearly ten years of top-level experience, he is famously terrible at managing up, meaning Chelsea is his perfect club.

At Chelsea managing up is irrelevant and the less time you waste trying to do it, the better for all concerned. Chelsea had the best upward-manager of all time in Carlo Ancelotti, a man of charm, humour, wisdom and serenity, a winner of major titles as player and coach across four decades and five countries.

He won the double in his first season and Abramovich still sacked him for not winning the league in his second. You can’t schmooze Chelsea into keeping you on, so best to concentrate on managing down.

That’s what Tuchel is good at, and his influence is already apparent in Chelsea’s performances. The initial approach has been more patient and defensively more stable; Edouard Mendy has not had to deal with a single shot on target in either match against Wolves or Burnley compared to 35 in his previous 10.

Tuchel has ended Marcos Alonso’s long, pointless exile – he hadn’t played since September – and was repaid with a brilliant goal.

A new manager means everyone gets a fresh start – Alonso, ‘the Germans’ who have been disrespected, even Mason Mount (it’s awkward being the teacher’s pet). Some Chelsea fans might still pine for Lampard, the young king taken from them too soon but the players have moved on already.

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