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peace maker How Thomas Tuchel shows he is able to manage Chelsea on and off field

Lukaku episode could easily have played out much worse, as Spurs boss Conte knows well


Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel (left) has hailed Antonio Conte as a ‘fantastic coach’ for getting the best out of Romelu Lukaku (right) at Inter. Photo: Getty Images

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel (left) has hailed Antonio Conte as a ‘fantastic coach’ for getting the best out of Romelu Lukaku (right) at Inter. Photo: Getty Images

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel (left) has hailed Antonio Conte as a ‘fantastic coach’ for getting the best out of Romelu Lukaku (right) at Inter. Photo: Getty Images

When Romelu Lukaku’s interview with Sky Italia first broke, Thomas Tuchel immediately got in touch with the Chelsea hierarchy to explain his thinking.

Their thinking, however, is perhaps the most instructive part of this. It quickly became clear that technical advisor Petr Cech and club director Marina Granovskaia trusted Tuchel’s instinct and were willing to back him on his approach. Even more importantly, all of that was with Roman Abramovich’s support.

Part of the reason Tuchel was relatively relaxed about it all was because he put it down to simple impatience rather than anything more serious.

Lukaku had finally found a system that was perfect for him at Internazionale, only for external factors – principally the Serie A club’s financial situation – to force him elsewhere. That, naturally, played into an initial frustration when his second period with Chelsea started slowly.

“I think it’s impatience more than anything else,” Tuchel said. “He is impatient. He wants big chances. But he is impatient and it is hard for him to accept that, sometimes, the grass does not grow faster when you pull it.”

That last line is a pointed one, because it could just as easily apply to other Chelsea managers. It was one of the reasons the Lukaku story felt like it had potential to go so much further than one interview, and have grander repercussions.

It recalled the days of around a decade ago, when a powerful Chelsea dressing-room would, seemingly, assert their authority over any manager that aggravated them.

This squad is nowhere near as spiky of the first Abramovich-era spine, but then the other side of that is Chelsea have never exactly empowered managers. They would never be Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, or even Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

That is why the decision to just leave all this to Tuchel may surprise some, even allowing for the authority that comes with a Champions League.

Chelsea sources stress that they have always been more patient than early perceptions from the Abramovich era have had it, right up to the fact that Claudio Ranieri was given all of that first season, and the owner repeatedly refused to move on Jose Mourinho in the dismal opening months of that 2015-’16 season.

The average span of all of this ownership’s permanent managers before Tuchel has been 18 months, which is above the current Premier League average of 14 months. Chelsea would say they only act when logic demands it, or situations become untenable.

It can also just be about the relationship between manager and club.

For evidence of that, and how Tuchel represents something of an evolution – at least in personality – many need only look across the line tonight in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final against Tottenham.

The return of Antonio Conte to Stamford Bridge is timely for two reasons. There was, first of all, how he got the best out of Lukaku at Inter. Secondly, how his reign showed the best and worst of manager experiences at Chelsea. The two issues are inevitably intertwined.

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Like Tuchel, Conte proved the immediate impact a proper coach can have on a club of such resources.

The Italian insightfully figured out a formation that worked with his previously ill-fitting squad, and Chelsea surged to one of the great Premier League titles in 2016-’17.

That empowered Conte in terms of profile, but not in terms of authority.

It is someway ironic now, but the manager specifically wanted Lukaku in that summer of 2017, and had already devised the role they would use to such devastating effect at Inter.

“That was a fantastic season because Antonio Conte is a fantastic coach,” Tuchel said of his rival’s use of Lukaku. “That system he played at Inter did not only suit Romelu and the second striker Lautaro Martinez, it fits the whole squad. If you don’t have five defenders, you cannot play with a back five. It’s as easy as that. If you don’t have a winger, you cannot play with a winger.

“Conte played 3-4-3 at Chelsea. At Inter, he played 3-5-2. Obviously he is adapting to his players and implementing his ideas, and this is what I do.”

Chelsea couldn’t do a deal in 2017 due to Mino Raiola’s approach to negotiations, and were forced into the compromise of Alvaro Morata.

That was one of many transfer decisions that ultimately frustrated Conte, although Stamford Bridge sources would say he didn’t exactly help the situation by discarding Diego Costa in the brutal way he did.

It felt like another power play, when more diplomacy was required.

Conte would say he wasn’t given the signings he deserved after winning the title with a squad that probably wasn’t title-winning quality. Chelsea would say Conte constantly went about this in the wrong way, creating a difficult mood around the club.

Tuchel has only said all the right things, however, which has never been more evident than with this Lukaku episode.

It is especially impressive since there were many in the game talking of how this would be when we’d finally see “the real Tuchel”.

He has become renowned as being superb when serene, but difficult when things get complicated. Tuchel has a temper. This was his first real “Chelsea crisis”.

He instead only showed deftness. He showed nuance. It could be heard in his explanations about the Lukaku situation yesterday.

“Like in every transfer, you have to accept there is a change of environment, a change of city, a change of culture, club, teammates, playing style and league.

“It’s our job to bring out the best of him, to find the right position, to find the right systems, the connections and to understand to which he has the good connection and which movement.

"This is what we do for every single player.”

The issue will no doubt inform some of the customary pre-game chat with Conte.

They have common ground. Tuchel would, nevertheless, hope for a different path in his own Chelsea career, especially after early success.

It was more than that which brought him backing with Lukaku, though.

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur
Live, Sky Sports, 7.45

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