Soccer

European Super League: Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel set tone for coaches to react to news on breakaway

Thomas Tuchel was the unlucky one, the first manager of a European Super League sent to fend off the barrage of bean balls from the media after the stunning events of the last 24 hours.

The Chelsea coach, a man who consistently reaffirms that his responsibility is to pick teams and develop players, found himself in the uncomfortable position of being club spokesperson after an announcement to fans that did not contain any statements from chairman Bruce Buck, director Marina Granovskaia and owner Roman Abramovich. Instead supporters of Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool — among others — were told by senior figures at Manchester United, Real Madrid and Liverpool that this was good for their club.

As Tuchel himself would admit on Monday, he was not the man to explain the intricacies of the Super League. He had only found out Sunday, after all. What he instead offered was a blueprint for managers when they address the press over the next week.

“I’m here to be in the hardest competition,” he told a press conference to preview Tuesday’s game against Brighton and Hove Albion that was understandably light on discussion about Graham Potter’s side. “That’s why I came here, that’s what I love, to play in the toughest competitions in Europe. That’s why I’m at Chelsea.

“As you know I don’t get involved too much with the subjects around us. I’m a bit sad that all the subjects are there now because normally I thought we can talk the Man City game and more important the Brighton game. This is maybe not the case today,” he acknowledged, offering every indication he had some interesting theories about why Tuesday’s opponents had been so dramatically underperforming their underlying analytics. 

As anger builds across Europe over the breakaway of 12 leading clubs, Tuchel could only preach patience and caution, urging supporters not to rush to judgement on a league that was decried across the continent before it was even judged. As he himself would acknowledge, it is not as though he can say anything else.

“I’m part of this club. I want to play these hard competitions and I trust my club to make the right decisions. It’s too early to judge everything.

“Everybody has to play his role and my role is to be a coach and to be focused.”

Want to hear more about the Super League proposals? Listen below as Luis Miguel Echegaray and Fabrizio Romano break down a stunning 24 hours and follow ¡Qué Golazo! A Daily CBS Soccer Podcast where we take you beyond the pitch and around the globe for commentary, previews, recaps and more.

As to how the players were feeling, the same message. “We trust the club. We’re employees of the club. It’s best if we do not get involved in sports politics. This is above our heads.”

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, it was not a topic on which Chelsea wished to dwell. It did not take long for suggestions of further questions on the matter to be addressed with a reminder that Tuchel has addressed the matter as much as he was able to. That rather begs the question as to when, if at all, those who were more intimately involved in the decision-making process behind the biggest rupture in European football for a generation will open themselves up to questioning.

Chelsea and the other breakaway clubs may not wish to fan the media flames, but they can hardly argue that they didn’t start the fire. They lit it and only now are trying to fight it.

The announcement of the Super League, hurried out just before midnight in the U.K. has already drawn condemnation from the footballing spectrum and beyond. While British prime minister Boris Johnson was promising the government would “look at everything we can do” to stop the breakaway of its “Big Six,” at Old Trafford and Anfield, banners were hung protesting decisions that were taken without any consultation with supporters. 

How Chelsea supporters might have reacted were they at Stamford Bridge against Brighton will be unknowable as Tuchel reaffirmed his message, this time directing it to fans.

“I don’t have the right to speak for fans. The fans are old enough to make their own opinion and have the right to speak up and support. Who would I be to judge for the fans what would be the reaction tomorrow?

“How can I sit here and judge what might be possible and what might be the reaction of supporters? I simply don’t know it. Let’s have some trust in our club. I have trust in our club.”

To trust a club is quite the ask when the club did not trust its supporters sufficiently to engage with them before presenting a fait accompli that is set to radically change the sport they love. But there is little more that Tuchel can say when he is put up to defend a plan he did not design. Expect Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Zinedine Zidane and the rest to tread a similar path over the coming days.



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