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- German association football manager and former player
Thomas Tuchel made a piece of history this week, becoming the first Chelsea manager to reach Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup finals, and the fact he has done it all inside a year would suggest he is on course to become one of the club’s greats.
But what if he cannot win the Premier League? Already 10 points behind leaders Manchester City, anything less than a victory over Pep Guardiola’s team on Saturday lunchtime would effectively end Tuchel’s hopes of doing so this season.
Guardiola is on course to win his fourth League title in five seasons at City and his status as one of the club’s greatest-ever managers is secure, but the absence of a Champions League success is a significant gap in the Spaniard’s long list of achievements with the club.
Tuchel took four months to win the Champions League for only the second time in Chelsea’s history, beating Guardiola’s City in Porto, but would he always feel a sense that something important was missing if he did not lift the League title with the Blues?
“Me personally? If we weren’t now sitting in a press conference, I would say ‘yes’! It would be like ‘argh, we should have, argh’. I don’t know if we can do it in the 18 months (of my contract) or whatever, it depends on many factors. But, yes, yes, I have the desire to win the Premier League with Chelsea. A clear yes.
“Will I be unhappy for the rest of my life if we cannot make it? Maybe not, but I would be absolutely furious with myself if we didn’t try.”
Tuchel was awarded a two-year contract extension for winning the Champions League, which means, under the terms of his present deal, the German will also have next season to try to win the League title.
Many Chelsea fans would be delighted to see Tuchel handed another extension. But history tells us that managers do not traditionally hang around too long under owner Roman Abramovich at Stamford Bridge, so he may already face a race against time to join the list of managers to win the League since the Russian billionaire took control.
Jose Mourinho, in two separate spells, Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte are the three managers to have delivered the League title for Abramovich. Other than Tuchel, only Roberto Di Matteo has helped Chelsea become European champions, in the same season in which he also won the FA Cup.
Tuchel has already done enough to be judged a better Chelsea manager than Di Matteo and all of Abramovich’s other managers who did not win the League - Claudio Ranieri, Avram Grant, who reached a Champions League final, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink, Andre Villas-Boas, Rafa Benitez, Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard.
But he admitted himself that winning the Champions League owes to an element of good fortune and momentum, so there will always be a debate over whether or not Tuchel’s achievements bettered, or even matched, those of Mourinho, Ancelotti and Conte if he does not win the League.
Eras and circumstances would have to be taken into any debate, and Tuchel could make a case for the fact that he is currently attempting to overhaul one of the strongest opponents in the competition’s history - although Mourinho would have something to say about that given the dominance of Manchester United and Arsenal before he won Chelsea’s first title in 50 years in 2005.
The four seasons in between Ancelotti’s 2010 victory and Mourinho’s in 2015 had been the longest gap between title successes during the Abramvich era, but it will be five seasons since Conte’s 2017 title win if Chelsea fall short again in this campaign.
“Both (the Premier League and the Champions League) are very difficult and very different,” said Tuchel. “The Champions League is more like a tournament, more knockout games. You need a bit of luck in the draw, maybe if a team suits you well or if you have the momentum.
“But it is the toughest tournament in the world, whereas the Premier League is the toughest league. I don’t think you can compare them because they are so different. And like I said, I have the 100 per cent desire to win the Premier League with Chelsea. So we will try and will not hide from the fact that this is the goal.”
Just as Abramovich would never want Chelsea to become known as being a ‘cup team’, Tuchel will not want to be remembered as one of the club’s great ‘cup managers’ - however impressive his historic first year has been.