Thomas Tuchel – In Good Conscience

Thomas Tuchel tried to explain the loss to VfL Bochum in a way that would explain the complexities of the game. On the stat sheet, it was a game that Bayern Munich had dominated and yet they left without anything for the third time in just one week. A crushing defeat to their title rivals in Bayer Leverkusen and another in the first leg of the Champions League against Lazio. They bounced back with a 2-1 win vs. Leipzig, before being knocked back down to Earth in a 2-2 draw vs. Freiburg. Already being out of the DFB Pokal, there is now a real chance that the famed FC Hollywood would be without a trophy by season’s end for the first time in over a decade.


Leon Goretzka’s description of it all was ‘a horror movie’. If there were words to describe the 10 months that Tuchel has been at the helm in Bavaria, it would be just that. On an individual level, this has seemed like a long time coming for the manager. It’ll end for him in May as the club and himself came to mutual agreement that he leave Allianz Arena come the culmination of the season.


Seeing the man now, the beleaguered nature of him, cuts a considerably different figure to the fiery man that has travelled through Mainz, Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint Germain and Chelsea. A man known to battling anyone and everyone, from his adversaries to his own players to his own board members, the battle now seems to be within himself.



Human beings have battles within themselves all the time and the brain is the epicentre of it all. Sigmund Freud tried to explain the human conscience in a way that would explain the complexities of the human brain. The id – the instincts -, the superego – the morality-, the ego – the reality.


In essence, the latter was supposed the balance the extremities of the instinctual and morality to get a good balance. When one is uncontrolled, it becomes for an unbalanced human being with behaviour that calls for inspection. Through a combination of events, one seems to think that Tuchel is having this struggle in more ways than one.


The Id


The id of man are the base level desires. It is what you enjoy, obsess over. Football is like that to Tuchel. His obsession was infectious. Satiated before by being able to play it, the chronic knee injury curtailed that career but it blossomed into a coaching one. The description of “footballaholic” for Krumbach born man was the most apt it could be. When someone is in love with this so much, it can be intense. So intense that it can spill over. 


Taking over from Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund, he would take the same verve to the yellow part of the Ruhr. Dortmund had been famed for their rock and roll football under the predecessor. Tuchel looked to amalgamate with more control. The influence of Pep Guardiola on him was clear and the German was one of the few who constantly pushed the Spaniard to his max, even in recent days. 



The real turning point for his Dortmund tenure would be from an external factor, one beyond football. A man bombing the team bus before a Champions League game the next season saw it suspended on the night but played the next day. This with the backdrop of frustration of the failure to keep their best players going directly against the model of Dortmund. The relations soured to a point where post his time there, the Dortmund CEO, Hans-Joachim Watzke ‘a difficult person’. That passion of Tuchel is a double-edged sword where as much as it can draw you in like a moth to a flame, it can send you running when the flame turns into a tempestuous fire. 


It is a clear thread throughout all of his clubs since he has left Dortmund. Often at his clubs, they revolve around his attitude towards the board. The spat with Mislintat, which meant the scout would be banned from the training ground. It would go on with Leonardo, the sporting director of PSG in the German’s tenure there. Again, recruitment was what troubled him the most. He also had troubles with players. His relationship with Mbappe had its ups and downs, particularly with the public spat in February 2020. The case of Lukaku’s interview is more on the player, as evidenced by events prior to and after his one year under Tuchel but it was one of few cases where Tuchel’s man management seemed to backfire with one of his playing squad. 


Bayern Munich probably have the worst squad they have had since the days of 2010/11 but they are not this bad. Tuchel has managed to turn a number of players against him. The Joshua Kimmich debacle has descended into such a state where the once immovable presence in the team was finding himself affixed to the bench. Similar problems with Thomas Muller have occurred. As it did to with Leon Goretzka. All three were part of the midfield and it is that part of the pitch that continues to cause such problems in Bavaria.


It is not just with them two either. Matthijs de Ligt has also found himself in a precarious situation on the back of Tuchel not favouring him over Dayot Upamecano and Kim Min Jae. Even the purchase of Eric Dier, which perhaps was with the idea to go to a system of three at the back, has even brought in more competition for the Dutchman. As much as Tuchel had problems with the solutions that De Ligt provides in defence, his treatment of the centre back disillusioned him to the point where it was beyond repair.



It has created a split in the squad but it is a complicated split. You see, much of Tuchel’s methods were avant-garde. His whole idea was that training should be the most difficult thing for a player in the week. The game should be easier, when you’re on the pitch thinking of solutions.


It is not a new idea at all and something that players that have been part of winning machines regularly talk about but Tuchel’s way was more that the tactical thinking on gameday be a relief compared to training, rather than simply players playing against their counterparts and the opponents not stacking up to that level. 


Interestingly enough, Tuchel discarded the idea of 11v11 games because, in his words, “we’ll never be able to do that”. Instead were the misshapen pitches, such as the hourglass pitch in preparation for a game against Stuttgart so that the players would funnel the ball through the centre of the pitch or defenders holding tennis balls while defending so the urge to grapple and hold attackers would be physically impeded. With these methods, he rose through the ranks coaching at Stuttgart, Augsburg and then Mainz youth team. It would continue at Borussia Dortmund after the sabbatical. 


Offensively, Dortmund were a joy to watch. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s three-pronged attack in 2015/16 was perhaps the best in Europe. Yet a sign for things to come transpired against the newly Klopp-led Liverpool. Dortmund were 2 goals to the good in a Europa League quarter final away at Anfield. The home team needed 3 in order to overcome the away goals. Despite Tuchel looking to gain more control and have the team play in that fashion, the team still managed to succumb to a defeat. They were unable to stem the tide for the next 30 minutes as Liverpool scored three without reply. 



When he turned up in Paris, at his behest the talents of  Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti, Thiago Silva and Marquinhos. A team with more than enough to win the Champions League. The league was a full gone conclusion but Europe was where the main challenge lay. A fateful Parisian night for all is perhaps the changing point for Tuchel, not as a man, but more so as a tactician. 


A Champions League endeavour where Paris Saint Germain was defeated by a Manchester United team harangued with injuries and suspensions. PSG were missing Cavani and Neymar but they still had more than enough, in quality and chances on the night, to win the game. The last-minute penalty from Marcus Rashford was a hammer blow to all in Paris. From then, it has felt like Tuchel has quelled his tactical ‘Id’. 


The Superego


It became a different Tuchel. Tuchel had always been known for his tactical flexibility but you could see he had changed from someone who wanted to have the control on the ball to control off the ball. Marquinhos in his tenure regularly found himself as the defensive midfielder. Idrissa Gana Gueye and Ander Herrera were signed in the summer of 2019.


If you will, the Superego, one which balances the basic instinctual need to entertain and attack, of Tuchel’s coaching mantra had developed. It is what was able to take that PSG team to within one game of winning the Champions League, albeit thwarted by the all-conquering Bayern Munich team, courtesy of Kingsley Coman. It descended from there as COVID, injuries, more disagreement with the board and a general downturn in mood saw Tuchel without a job by Christmas. 


Kingsley Coman: Bayern’s French Talisman in Attack


When Thomas Tuchel was appointed manager of Chelsea at the end of January 2021, people’s perception of the team he would build was much different to what transpired. After what many had seen of him at the previous two clubs prior to his last gig, no one would have expected the impact that he would have had. Neither in achievement or the playing style. Once he became the manager, who really thought they would be Champions League winners of 2020/21 and deservedly so? Further, who would think that they would do so in the way that they did?


The hallmark 3-4-2-1 he established at Chelsea helped to keep the backdoor shut, something they previous struggled with. They had a plethora of talent but the problem was putting it together. Along with Tuchel’s tactical acumen,  the axis of Kante and Jorginho in the middle of the park was especially strong. They complimented each other in a way where it was not one making up for the other’s weaknesses to create one whole player but a jigsaw fitting together to create a whole picture. 


The depth of characteristics within the squad brought the best out of Thomas Tuchel. Whatever tactical solutions he needed for that day, he was able to find it from fitting a selection of players together. Guardiola’s long explanation of Tuchel’s Chelsea to Rio Ferdinand was an apt explanation of a team able to do two contrasting things within a split second. It is how Chelsea were able to successfully outmanoeuvre the former Barcelona and Bayern coach in Portugal on that day in 2021. 


The Ego  


It only seemed that the final piece missing was the trademark centre forward to put the finishing touch to the general play at Chelsea. When the £97.5m was spent on Romelu Lukaku, it felt like this was a team that could push and challenge the might of Man City and Liverpool.


It was assumed that the eventual progression of Chelsea would see them became as well synced in their offensive play as they were defensively yet they weren’t able to ever put it together. At times, it was individuals being bad up top. The stodginess and dour formulaic patterns that Tuchel had entrenched into the team seemed to shackle these players along with that. Of course, as remarked by the man that he had taken distant tutelage from: “The most important thing is to have the quality in the final third.”


Alejandro Garnacho: A Flower in the Desert


However, the team as a whole became lesser than it was before. Earlier I spoke about how Jorginho and Kante were the lynchpin of that Chelsea team that was so successful. The degradation of them both, particularly the latter succumbing to a plight of injuries, shook the team to its core along with its other problems. The other alternatives for Jorginho, such as Saul and Kovacic, were not able to provide the same surety. 


He did not want to suffer that same way so he made as much noise as possible to ensure that a defensive midfielder would come through the door, much to the chagrin of Kimmich and Goretzka. Joao Palhinha was his man of choice and if not for Fulham failing in pursuit of his replacement, Tuchel may have got his wish. Alas, he did not and it caused the problems in the team on and off the pitch. Even now, with no signing, Aleksander Pavlovic has been parachuted in to play in the midfield to add some energy and prevent the lack of ability for Bayern to stop transitions coming their way.


The view is that with the lack of protection they get from their midfield and the ability for the defence to implode, Tuchel is backed into a corner of playing less expressive and stodgy football in order to limp this Bayern team over the line. Tuchel did not want to over expose this Bayern team in fear of what could happen at the defensive end when the offensive end is where their riches lay.


He prefers being bailed out by those ahead, what Harry Kane has been doing all season, rather than putting those match-winners in the best position possible. The likes of Jamal Musiala, Leroy Sane along with Harry Kane and the like should have been Tuchel’s priority and if he were in that position before he had undergone that philosophy implant, he might not be looking for a new job in the summer. “Until then, my coaching team and I will continue to do everything we can to ensure maximum success.”


Antonio Conte & Tottenham Hotspur – Pales of Insignificance


It is the most that Tuchel can give at this moment. In trying to balance everything, he has found himself in a mess. The past 2 years have been something of a microcosm of all the ill-fates he suffered in the previous 13 years of coaching, with little of the good. It might seem that such an extensive look into Tuchel’s past is not needed but in the same way a therapist uses free association to try and get unconscious mind to bright light its deeper fears, the events of Tuchel’s Bayern Munich are just that.


Now that his departure has been confirmed, Tuchel has said that he can be a “bit more reckless” and he isn’t “the only problem” at Bayern. What both pertain to is left to wonder but even if it is both to do with on and off the pitch, then it speaks to what Tuchel is. The complication of Tuchel right now is that it is not his ego trying to rein in either side of the id and superego of just one aspect of himself, it is the fact that his id man management style with his now superego type of football.


You look at the best coaches, the verve of Klopp and Guardiola can be matched because in the end, they are playing football that manages to speak to the child ideals in every football fan and player alike. The one that are formed when you are forming that id part of you. The complexities of Tuchel is shown by the fact that his rifts at Bayern eventually made it so he would leave. As Raphael Honigstein of The Athletic said, “Sentiment towards him was far more diverse. Some liked the man and his ideas. Some liked one or the other. Some liked neither. Some were indifferent.”


In the end, Thomas Tuchel has to deal with the complexities of this loss, just not at Bayern, but in the last two seasons of his job. It may be harder to explain away than that loss vs Bochum, which was the final game before the axe fell, but it needs to be done all the same. The battle within himself, as a man and his ideas, is spilling over onto the pitch with what his team serves up. 


By: Elijah Sofoluke / @AliquamScripto

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Clive Rose – Pool / AFP via Getty Images