Chelsea have opened talks with Brighton’s Graham Potter over their vacant manager’s job after sacking Thomas Tuchel in the wake of Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat at Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League.
Potter is Chelsea’s first choice, with Mauricio Pochettino their preferred backup option should talks break down and Zinedine Zidane another on the shortlist. Potter has a release clause that is believed to decrease each year and is currently about £16m.
Tuchel’s departure follows a disappointing start to the season, with the club having also been beaten by Leeds and Southampton in the Premier League, and has been on the cards after Tuchel’s relationship with the co-owner Todd Boehly unravelled during a chaotic summer transfer window. The pair had all but stopped communicating.
Chelsea have spent a record £266m in one window to bring in Wesley Fofana, Marc Cucurella, Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly, Carney Chukwuemeka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang among others. That increased the pressure on Tuchel but not all were his signings and there were other instances of the ownership attempting to foist players on him.
One example was the case of Anthony Gordon, whom Tuchel did not want. Boehly’s data analysts had pushed for the Everton midfielder after being impressed by some of his performance metrics. Tuchel came to feel he had too many players to accommodate and not enough he could count on.
Chelsea paid £55m for Cucurella despite having the England left-back Ben Chilwell in their ranks. It is unclear quite how badly Tuchel wanted or needed Cucurella, who Manchester City had chased before deeming him too expensive.
Chukwuemeka, the 18-year-old rising midfield star, was more of a club signing. Boehly is determined to foster a second track of players within the first-team squad, comprising a significant number of academy products and young prospects.
Tuchel was prepared to allow the academy product Armando Broja to leave, believing he was not yet ready for his team and with West Ham having offered £30m. But the club ended up giving the striker a lucrative new six-year deal, leaving Tuchel under pressure to give him minutes.
There are other players Tuchel was prepared to move on only for them to stay, including Hakim Ziyech, who was of interest to Ajax. In terms of the incoming business, Tuchel said last Friday that the club had probably overpaid – out of necessity. “It’s maybe hard to argue when they say it’s way too much money,” he said.
Tuchel admitted there was “always a risk in everything and in every last-minute deal” when he considered the deadline-day loan signing of the midfielder Denis Zakaria from Juventus.
Boehly learned that some senior players were unhappy with Tuchel’s tactics and is keen to make his own appointment. Chelsea used three formations in Zagreb, one of which included using Sterling in central midfield.
The squad were surprised to be given time off after the 3-0 defeat at Leeds in August and some wondered whether Tuchel would have taken the same approach in the early part of his reign.
“On behalf of everyone at Chelsea FC, the club would like to place on record its gratitude to Thomas and his staff for all their efforts during their time with the club,” a statement said. “Thomas will rightly have a place in Chelsea’s history after winning the Champions League, the Super Cup and Club World Cup in his time here.
“As the new ownership group reaches 100 days since taking over the club, and as it continues its hard work to take the club forward, the new owners believe it is the right time to make this transition.
“Chelsea’s coaching staff will take charge of the team for training and the preparation of our upcoming matches as the club moves swiftly to appoint a new head coach.”
The sacking took place face-to-face with the owners on Wednesday morning at the Cobham training ground and Tuchel’s three coaches – Arno Michels, Zsolt Löw and Benjamin Weber – are expected to depart.
Tuchel has been extremely outspoken about the squad’s readiness to compete, beginning with his explosive remarks after the 4-0 defeat by Arsenal on the club’s US tour. The owners began to see the same complaints from him and the same excuses but no solutions, with Zagreb representing the nadir. “At the moment, everything is missing,” he said on Tuesday night. The owners have felt his comments affected the players’ confidence.
Tuchel felt isolated after the departures of his close allies Marina Granovskaia, a director, and Petr Cech, the technical and performance adviser. The US tour was heavy on tension, as a number of players in the travelling party faced uncertain futures. Tuchel frequently cut a frustrated figure.
Tuchel took over from Frank Lampard in January 2021 and won the Champions League four months later. An anticipated Premier League title challenge the following season failed to materialise, with Romelu Lukaku’s club record arrival not bringing the desired impact, but the campaign was significantly complicated by the situation surrounding Roman Abramovich’s ownership. Tuchel led the team to the FA Cup and Carabao Cup finals but lost both to Liverpool on penalties.
Tuchel has struggled to contain his emotions in recent weeks, being sent off against Tottenham and deemed “largely culpable” for his clash with Antonio Conte, and shown a yellow card in Zagreb. Chelsea are five points off the top of the Premier League and three points off fourth spot.