Thomas Tuchel has been a game-changer in more ways than one since he took charge of Chelsea, turning them into Champions League winners within four months and taking them to the top of the Premier League after 10 games of this season. The former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain coach has not only overseen an incredible transformation at Stamford Bridge but also set an impossible standard by which every top club is now attempting to measure their own hiring and firing decisions in the managerial department.
Every big club in crisis wants to find their own Tuchel, a midseason saviour capable of performing the same kind of footballing alchemy that the 48-year-old masterminded at Chelsea following his appointment last January, but they are all discovering that there is no alternative version of Tuchel in the field of potential candidates right now.
Barcelona are in desperate need of a world-class coach after sacking Ronald Koeman last week with the five-time Champions League winners languishing in midtable in LaLiga, while sources have told ESPN that Manchester United are assessing possible replacements for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer because of the team’s inconsistencies under the Norwegian. And with Nuno Espirito Santo sacked after just four months in charge at Tottenham Hotspur, the 2019 Champions League finalists are another heavyweight club facing the challenge of finding an elite coach.
Had Tuchel been available, it is safe to assume that Barcelona, United and Spurs would all be scrambling to appoint the German. But there is a problem facing those clubs, and even the likes of Real Madrid, which reappointed Carlo Ancelotti in June because of the lack of an emerging coaching star to replace Zinedine Zidane: The realistic candidates are either too inexperienced or, like Antonio Conte, have an abrasive personality that has proved to be a turn-off to those charged with hiring a new coach. However, sources have told ESPN’s James Olley that Spurs are in advanced talks to appoint Conte, meaning another club has reverted to a manager established at the elite level rather than take a chance on a less accomplished coach and back them to make the step up.
Within the game, there is a view that there are established, title-winning super-coaches, such as Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Tuchel and Diego Simeone, who are now out of reach to potential suitors because they are already being well-paid and firmly established at powerful clubs. There is then a level just below that, including PSG’s Mauricio Pochettino and Bayern Munich‘s Julian Nagelsmann — coaches who are rated highly, known to make teams better and are in top jobs, but are yet to win major honours. And then comes the gap into which Barcelona, United and Spurs, and even Newcastle United, find themselves — the field of coaches who still have question marks over their ability and who are likely to prove too much of a risk for clubs who need to win again, and quickly.
In Barcelona’s case, there is Xavi, a gold-plated club legend who has spent the past two years coaching in Qatar with Al Sadd. Xavi’s ties with Barcelona may see him appointed at Koeman’s successor, but there will be doubts as to whether the 41-year-old has built up the coaching credentials to take on a huge rebuilding job at Camp Nou.
United’s reluctance to dismiss Solskjaer in the wake of last week’s 5-0 defeat at home to Liverpool is, according to sources, partly down to the absence of an obvious replacement. Erik ten Hag has won successive league and cup doubles with Ajax, but the jump from the Eredivisie to the Premier League is a significant one — just ask Donny van de Beek — so turning to Ten Hag would be a gamble that United would not be prepared to take.
While Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers remains an option, his appointment would come with a hefty compensation bill, while his reputation for the teams he has coached in the Premier League fading at the end of a season is an issue he has to overcome.
Graham Potter is proving himself to be a rising star at Brighton & Hove Albion, having served his managerial apprenticeship with Ostersunds and Swansea City, but Spurs already decided to look elsewhere when considering the 46-year-old as Jose Mourinho’s replacement in the summer and United, having got it wrong when appointing David Moyes in 2013, will be wary of hiring a manager without at least one major trophy on his CV.
Steven Gerrard is proving himself in management at Rangers, where he won the Scottish title last season, and Porto‘s Sergio Conceicao is another who is building an impressive reputation around Europe. Christophe Galtier is now developing an exciting team at Nice after guiding Lille to the Ligue 1 title last season, but at 55, he can hardly be described as part of the next generation. And then there is Paulo Fonseca, sacked by Roma last season, who seems to be on every managerial short-list, but never actually persuades a top club to appoint him.
All of the above might be the next big thing, but they are likely to need to take another step up the ladder before a club of United’s or Barcelona’s stature looks to appoint them. And that is the problem those clubs face. They can’t afford to take chances if they are to catch up with their rivals.
Two years ago, when Solskjaer was in a period of poor results at United, I spoke to a senior figure at Old Trafford to ask who the club believed were in the next wave of coaches capable of emerging as heirs to the likes of Klopp and Guardiola. Three names came in reply — Tuchel (then at PSG), Nagelsmann (then at RB Leipzig) and Pochettino, who had just been sacked by Spurs. The response highlighted that United were keeping a watching eye on the emerging coaching talent and, ultimately, they were proved to be correct. But two years on, all three of those names are now firmly out of reach because of the clubs they now work for.
There are no Tuchels, Nagelsmanns or Pochettinos on the market right now. Some would point to the availability of former Real coach Zidane or ex-Chelsea and Inter Milan boss Conte, but Zidane has shown little appetite to coach anywhere except the Santiago Bernabeu, and Conte’s reputation for adopting a scorched-earth approach in his recent jobs had, up until now, proved a deterrent to his appointment at another major club since leaving Inter.
Everyone wants to find their own Tuchel, but nobody has yet been able to identify who the next one is.