Thomas Tuchel has been a revelation since he replaced the iconic Frank Lampard as the Blues’ boss in January but in a new interview he admits that he questioned the decision made by Roman Abramovich to axe the club legend.
Former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain head coach Tuchel was tasked with arresting a mid-season slump when he was drafted in to replace Lampard, whose expensively assembled squad had suffered a disastrous dip in form which had threatened to exclude them from the top four, and entry into next season’s Champions League.
It proved a masterstroke. Tuchel quickly steadied the ship at Stamford Bridge, overseeing their move up the league table in the coveted top four and, more impressively, beating English champions Manchester City in the Champions League Final to re-establish the Londoners as one of Europe’s elite teams.
But according to Tuchel himself, he was initially hesitant to take the job, and queried the board and Roman Abramovich’s decision to part ways with Lampard, a player who will forever be considered an all-time great at Stamford Bridge.
“I actually said to the board in the first phone call, ‘Are you sure of doing this?’ because they will not like you and maybe he deserves more time because when I think of Chelsea I think about Frank Lampard, John Terry, Petr Cech, Didier Drogba,” said Tuchel in an interview with Sky Sports.
“I think about [Lampard] in the very first moment. He embodies everything that Chelsea is for: hard work, aggressive player, a big leader but at the same time a normal guy always on the pitch and such a team player. A true, true legend.”
Lampard, who captained Chelsea to Champions League glory in 2012, has so far resisted any urges for a quick return to management, reportedly turning down advances from Crystal Palace before they eventually settled for another legendary Premier League midfielder in Patrick Vieira.
But given Lampard’s status within the club, and the respect he generated within the first team squad, Tuchel says that his first order of business was to detail to the players that needed a “fair chance” to install his methods into the group, even if some members of the squad were unhappy with Lampard’s removal.
“I clearly understood that the choice was more or less made and it was like the chance ‘take it or leave it’,” he elaborated. “Then I hoped for a fair chance with the players because of course if you step in there is not everybody happy from 20, 22 players.
“You cannot expect everybody to be happy with the manager gone, because for sure he had a very good [Champions League] group stage, good results and good performances and sometimes he was also simply unlucky [from] what the data showed to us.
“But I said very early, ‘Listen guys, I did not push him out, I’m just here now to continue the way in the matter I can do it, because I can do it only my way.
“Let’s try to be open and give us a chance together and from there we go. Like I said, I’m in a top club and what I experienced from day one was a fantastic support in the club: super-organized, a lot of top quality support and a strong group on the field which was a pleasure to work every day with. It’s like this since day one.”
If there was rancor among some sections of Chelsea support in January, that has very much been eclipsed by the two shiny new trophies inside the Chelsea silverware cabinet which have been won since Tuchel took charge.
The Champions League success was achieved well ahead of schedule, leaving a clear target for Tuchel and co. this season: close the gap between his side and the three teams who finished above Chelsea last season, Man City, Man United and Liverpool.
Sunday’s away fixture with Arsenal, in which record signing Romelu Lukaku is poised to make his second debut for the club, will go a long way to confirming if Chelsea are to be considered realistic title contenders – and the spirit inside the club suggests that with Thomas Tuchel in charge, anything is possible.