‘My job at Chelsea was not finished… I came here to close a cycle’

Thomas Tuchel, who was in Kerala recently for Ayurvedic rejuvenation therapy, speaks about his time at Stamford Bridge, the competitiveness of the Premier League, his managerial future and who he will be keeping an eye on at the World Cup

Thomas Tuchel, who was in Kerala recently for Ayurvedic rejuvenation therapy, speaks about his time at Stamford Bridge, the competitiveness of the Premier League, his managerial future and who he will be keeping an eye on at the World Cup

A picture of Thomas Tuchel with a fan at the Kochi airport popped up on social media last month. ‘He is going to be the assistant coach of Kerala Blasters,’ someone joked.

He didn’t speak after being sacked by Chelsea in September. So nobody knew what he was up to. Speculation had run rife about the future of the man who led Chelsea to Champions League glory and guided Paris Saint-Germain to back-to-back Ligue 1 titles.

That picture on social media suggested that the 49-year-old German, widely considered one of the best managers in world football, was in India. He indeed was — at the Sitaram Beach Retreat in Thrissur in central Kerala, to be precise, for Ayurvedic rejuvenation therapy.

Although he had been reluctant to speak all along, he relented in the end. And he spoke at length – a few hours before catching the flight back home. Excerpts:

How do you look back at your days at Chelsea?

I loved every day at Chelsea. It came to an end too early for me. But it was out of my hands.

This is also what you sign up for. You sign up for the good things if you’re a football coach, but sometimes things are out of your hands; you have to accept it and make the best out of the situation.

Are you still a bit upset with the way you had to leave Chelsea?

Yes, I am upset. And I am sad because I think my job at Chelsea was not finished. I had a fantastic relationship with the players. We had a fantastic relationship with all the staff. We had overcome an incredibly demanding time in changing ownership and being sanctioned [by the UK government]. And before that we had COVID-19. So it was pretty demanding, but it was also very, very bonding. So we did this together, and I was in for the long run. I was ready to go a long way because I felt happy, but the owners had a different idea, and you have to accept it.

How do you look back at Chelsea’s magnificent Champions League campaign in 2020-21?

It is the highest level of a tournament you can play. There are so many close games; the level is so high you can never expect to win it. When I look back, I think we played the role of an underdog. The focus was on the [Premier] League when I joined Chelsea. The club was placed ninth in the league, and we wanted to make it to fourth place if we wanted to qualify [for the following season’s Champions League]. Even that [qualifying] was quite an achievement.

You played several memorable games on route to the title. Which are your favorite ones?

The semifinal win against Real Madrid was special. It was during COVID-19 and there were no spectators. The [first-leg] match was at the training ground of Real Madrid. The circumstances helped us a little bit, but we made the best out of it. There were many games that I was really happy with — the ones against Real Madrid [2-0 at home]Atletico Madrid [2-0 at home]Porto [2-0 away] and the final [1-0, against Manchester City].

What brought you to Kerala?

I was curious. One of my assistant coaches, Benjamin Weber, was here six years ago. He told me good things about this place. I have always been aware of the principles of Ayurveda. After a long period of coaching, there was a possibility of taking a break for me, so I came here. I came here to close a cycle, after my spell in Paris and then directly in Chelsea. It was almost like four years in a row. Both leagues have 20 teams and two cups and, of course, the Champions League campaigns. So a lot of matches. Also on a private level, it was a nice moment for me to close some things and to restart.

How has the experience been?

It was a fantastic experience. I feel energized. I feel calm. I could not have expected more. I would recommend this to everyone who wants to discipline the body and the mind.

What could your next assignment be?

I haven’t made a decision yet. It is now time for me to take a break. Some clubs have been calling my manager but we agreed that he would not call me here for these past 18 days.

Will you be tempted to coach a national side for a change?

Yeah. Why not? I would, I would. I did not give too much thought to it until now. But I would consider if it is the right team and if it has the potential to win trophies like the World Cup and Euro. If it is a competitive team, it’s a competitive nation, why not? But it’s not my main focus.

What if an offer came from England?

(Laughs) I see where you are going. But I think England has a good coach right now. The team is very, very strong and very talented. I think they will have a good campaign [at the World Cup]. As for everything else, I will not comment.

Your thoughts on Kylian Mbappe, whom you worked with at PSG?

He was a fantastic player at Monaco, too. He is one of the best strikers in the world. He is still young and there is a future ahead of him. He will still grow and he will still improve his game. And he’s always hungry to win, always hungry to score goals. There’s no limit to his capacity.

He is one of the key players for France at this World Cup.

Your top teams for the World Cup?

Brazil, France, Argentina, Germany and England. Belgium and Senegal [could spring surprises]. And don’t forget Spain. At the World Cup, I am looking forward to watching the players I trained.

Why is the Premier League the world’s most popular football league? Is it the toughest league for a manager, too?

I agree one hundred percent, because the level of competition is so high. The best coaches work in the Premier League and the best players play in it. And they play not just in two or three clubs. They play in six, seven or eight clubs. So almost every weekend, every three days, you have at least one or two [great] matches. Being in this league is really demanding. It is, at the moment, the best place to be as a player. And as a coach, let’s say not the best, but the most competitive.

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