Thomas Tuchel's sacking had very little to do with Chelsea's indifferent form. Tuchel was called into a face-to-face meeting on Wednesday morning and informed his 589-day tenure at the club was over. He was genuinely stunned by the news and leaves having won 60 of his 100 games in charge, including the 2021 Champions League Final.
Tuchel's 100th game ended in a shock 1-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in Chelsea's opening Group E UCL match on Tuesday. And there have been losses to Leeds (3-0) and Southampton (2-1) this season. But it was actually a 4-0 pre-season defeat to Arsenal that first made Chelsea's new American owners realize a change might be needed.
Tuchel cut a frustrated and frazzled figure after that heavy loss in Orlando, venting about the lack of movement in the market. And at that point, Tuchel was well within his rights to bemoan a turbulent summer that started with sanctions and saw a new American-led consortium replace Roman Abramovich.
Tuchel's added responsibility worked against him
But Tuchel was handed such an active and integral role, far beyond his remit under Abramovich, and it was his frostiness behind closed doors, coupled with poor communication skills, that ultimately led to his downfall.
LA Dodgers minority owner and now Chelsea chairman Todd Boehly is very much the face of the new ownership group and has been supported in transfer dealings by fellow board member Behdad Eghbali, the cofounder of Chelsea's majority shareholder, Clearlake Capital. The pair put their faith in Tuchel and told him a budget of in excess of $300 million was available.
Both made it crystal clear to Tuchel that he would have full autonomy over transfers, at least in the short term, until a new sporting director was appointed. But in return, the 49-year-old German was told he must buy into the new structure and (as importantly) culture of the club.
Tuchel initially relished the added responsibility, proffered out of a bizarre mix of desire and necessity, providing a long list of potential incomings, including Raphinha, Richarlison, Ousmane Dembele and, later in the window, Frenkie de Jong. But his assumption was Marina Granovskaia would still do the majority of the leg-work.
Yet the former Chelsea director, known for her contact book and tough negotiating skills, left in June in a major board shake up, leaving Boehly to assume day-to-day control over transfers.
Boehly was reliant on Tuchel as interim sporting director
As interim sporting director, Boehly brought a refreshing, personal and unorthodox approach. This was clear with the signing of Brighton's Marc Cucurella, which came about after Boehly hosted an informal meal to get to know other Premier League executives in July. Brighton's chief executive Paul Barber attended setting in motion the transfer.
But Boehly is also clearly reliant on others for football knowledge and often briefed (much like a politician, or the business executive he is) before meetings with essential information at his fingertips. As a result, Tuchel's input was paramount, especially in such a fast-moving window. And he was directly accountable as a result. That made his public criticism of the lack of activity earlier in the window unwelcome, especially considering he knew the level of spending to come.
Sources tell CBS Sports there was a clear breakdown of communication starting during the preseason tour of America and intensifying after the loss to Arsenal. Preseason results shouldn't matter, but this one did, more so due to Tuchel's fiery reaction than the actual score itself.
In addition, Boehly's expectation was that Tuchel would part of the transfer pitch and available to take daily calls. Tuchel didn't warm to day-to-day contact, especially not when busy planning for a new season or preparing for games. A WhatsApp group was started to ensure quick back and forth (and in a slightly less intrusive way) but Tuchel was not a fan.
In essence, Tuchel craved the power of decision making whilst still putting all his time into head coach duties – something that just wasn't possible with such an inexperienced interim sporting director.
Chelsea's new owners wanted a different fit
And the problems ran even deeper. There was also a personality clash. Boehly is not only trying to build success, but intent on changing the structure and culture at Chelsea. That means personality and fit are as important as how talented a football coach is.
It is also why Chelsea's new owners used their first 100 days in charge to assess every area of the business, and that included an appraisal of Tuchel's role and responsibilities.
The animated German may have endeared himself to Chelsea fans by so often wearing his heart on his sleeve – something apparent in the 2-2 London-derby draw with Tottenham, which included a firm and lingering handshake with Antonio Conte. But sources say behind-the-scenes that same passion painted Tuchel as too maverick.
Away from coaching, the German wanted the club to be empowered by his views, but expected delegation to fulfill them. And he got angry, as any coach would, if football sessions were interrupted.
But it simply wasn't possible to let him only focus on football with the new ownership group just three months in, and after significant board overhaul during a vital transfer window – one that became even more important following the outgoings of Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Romelu Lukaku.
Tuchel felt Granovskaia, still contracted as an advisor at the club, should have been asked to play a more active and in-person role in transfers over the summer. He was also upset at the departure of technical and performance advisor (and former Chelsea goalkeeper) Petr Cech.
From the ownership group's perspective, long before poor results arrived, there were lingering doubts as to whether Tuchel could fit in with the new board and input aggressively and personably enough to attract certain targets and unite a somewhat divided dressing room.
Tuchel may argue the new structure was too chaotic with so many big changes. It's a fair criticism of an ambitious strategy. But Boehly ultimately wanted a head coach who could pitch in off the football field.
Chelsea have sacked Thomas Tuchel. He was informed this morning. The decision is not only down to mixed results or a reaction to the poor Dinamo loss alone. It’s part of a wider summer of strategic change, too.— Ben Jacobs (@JacobsBen) September 7, 2022
Could Tuchel have done more to attract players?
Sources also tell CBS Sports that the new owners felt Tuchel could have done more in the failed pursuit of Raphinha and Jules Kounde.
Boehly agreed a verbal package for the latter with Sevilla but always knew Kounde was undecided amidst growing Barcelona interest, so he wanted Tuchel to really sell the club to the player. But Tuchel was not entirely convinced, especially with a range of other center back options. Kounde realized this pretty quickly. His decision to join Barcelona was influenced by the fact Chelsea kept him hanging for much of the summer.
Xavi, on the other hand, with both Kounde and Raphinha was in daily contact with both players courting them with a clear plan. Tuchel was less personable, perhaps because he thought Raphinha was a lost cause and didn't desperately want Kounde in the end, but the new owners believe this put Chelsea on the back foot.
Then there was the much-hyped option of bringing Cristiano Ronaldo to Chelsea. Boehly was very keen, instantly clocking his worth to the brand but also arguing his goals would be of value in the short term.
Boehly was never prepared to sign Ronaldo without Tuchel's blessing and stuck to his word. But the fact Chelsea were even debating Ronaldo infuriated Tuchel, who made his position clear from the very first discussion. Tuchel knew what he would be getting after speaking to his close friend Ralf Rangnick and felt Boehly bringing up Ronaldo was a waste of precious time.
Deadline Day wasn't easy
Sources also tell CBS Sports that transfer deadline day was tumultuous. Tuchel became annoyed at the time it took to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and felt Granovskaia would have got a $40 million million deal for Ajax's Edson Alvarez over the line, especially after the player missed training to try and force a move.
Ultimately, the success and failure of targets is subjective and Tuchel and the new ownership group will naturally have different perceptions. But the club-record spend is there for all to see, which includes the $80m arrival of Leicester's Wesley Fofana, a move the old regime never thought possible this summer and advised accordingly earlier in the window.
Backing Tuchel so heavily, and trying to involve him in the business side of signings, perversely exposed his lack suitability to work under a new era. In this context, Tuchel's departure is really down to not being a fit for the future, especially as Chelsea move to a recruitment model similar to Liverpool's and become reliant on more data and majority or 'panel'-led decisions.
The other atypical thing about Boehly being interim sporting director is he has had plenty of daily face time with club staff and players, in stark contrast to Abramovich. This allowed him to hear first-hand accounts from all perspectives, including direct conversations with a number of key senior players.
Boehly spoke with Lukaku before his loan move to Inter and has developed a trusted relationship with captain Cesar Azpilicueta (who almost left for Barcelona) and Thiago Silva. His knowledge of what went on inside Tuchel's dressing room was well informed.
The player feedback was largely complimentary and showed a clear respect for Tuchel as a coach. But there were also calls for more hands on man-management. Armando Broja almost left for West Ham because he had no clear idea how often he'd play this season or whether he'd be loaned out, whilst Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic both expressed confusion over their role and game time. Ziyech ideally wanted a move to Ajax and Pulisic would have gladly left on-loan to Juventus had an offer come in.
Boehly is big on people culture
Boehly is ultimately trying to develop more of a people-led culture at Chelsea, where players and all staff feel valued and know their role. He believes this creates long-term loyalty to the club.
It's why Broja has now been handed a long-term deal. And even before the sale was complete, Chelsea made it a priority to keep their young and core star names. Reece James has already penned a new contract until 2028 and talks are ongoing with Mason Mount, who is also expected to extend.
Yet Tuchel's own contract extension never came. The German was under contract until 2024 after being rewarded with a new deal following Chelsea's Champions League triumph over Manchester City in May 2021.
Tuchel confirmed in mid-August that an extension was being discussed but it was only in its formative stages. No serious progress was ever made and there was never a point when any extension was close or even prioritized. Sources say Boehly told Tuchel Chelsea would only look at his future after the window shut.
Chelsea want Graham Potter
Chelsea will now turn their attention to appointing a replacement. They have four initial candidates on their shortlist with Brighton boss Graham Potter their top priority. The club are already preparing a proposal with Potter very open to the move. If all goes according to plan an agreement could be in place by Thursday.
Chelsea are preparing the contract proposal for Graham Potter but main priority will be discussing on long-term project. He’s the favourite — while Pochettino is now waiting for Chelsea to decide. 🚨🔵 #CFC— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) September 7, 2022
Brighton will discuss with Chelsea on compensation/clause right after. pic.twitter.com/d3M8jlBJVo
While Potter is clearly the front runner, Mauricio Pochettino is also under serious consideration. The aim is to speak to both candidates before making a final decision but the pursuit of Potter is moving very fast and in the right direction. Zinedine Zidane and Brendan Rodgers have also been touted but neither have been approached yet.
Should Potter leave for Chelsea, Brighton are thought to be keen on Rodgers, who may leave bottom-of-the-table Leicester due to the Foxes financial situation. Brighton won't stand in the way of Potter leaving and have already given Chelsea permission to talk to him. A $11.5 million compensation fee will be required. Potter's style of football and demeanor is of appeal. Chelsea also believe he'll work well under their yet-to-be-appointed new sporting director.
Monaco's Paul Mitchell is one of those candidates and is extremely enthused on the job. He worked with Pochettino at Tottenham with the ex-Spurs boss saying he was "very disappointed" when Mitchell departed in 2016. Pochettino is believed to have done everything in his power to change his mind. Unlike Potter, Pochettino is a free agent after leaving Paris-Saint Germain this summer..
Chelsea's new owners will now hold a meeting to address the squad, providing them with a proposed timescale for an appointment whilst reassuring them of the longer-term strategy in place. They know how important it is that they are transparent with the players given the current uncertainty.
It's dramatic and unstable times at Chelsea, with many fans also bemused by the timing and reasoning behind Tuchel's departure.
Finding the right long-term replacement will be the American owners most important decision to help bring calm and because the constant flux of change, whether through ambition or necessity, simply cannot continue.