The German has coped admirably in difficult circumstances but the club’s transfer plans are now being seriously impacted by government sanctions
Thomas Tuchel did wonderfully well to initially block out the impact of the sanctions placed upon Chelsea following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but now it feels like the ownership chaos is finally catching up with the club.
The uncertainty which has surrounded Stamford Bridge since the United Kingdom government decided to punish Roman Abramovich for his ties to the Kremlin is now evident on the pitch.
A once solid side is now leaking goals, as underlined by the dreadful defensive displays in the recent home defeats by Brentford, Real Madrid and Arsenal.
Tuchel is now longer sure whom he can count on.
After last week’s dire 4-2 defeat to Arsenal, the Blues boss said that he had got his starting line-up all wrong, which is believed to have been an admission that the players he picked simply weren’t as motivated as Mikel Arteta’s men, who are fighting hard to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League.
“You need to have the tactics right, and it is doubtful I had this right,” Tuchel told reporters, “and you need the team selection right, and again, it’s doubtful I had this right.”
The mood at Chelsea hasn’t quite plummeted as low as at Manchester United, whom Chelsea play on Thursday evening.
However, the ongoing search for a new owner is clearly taking its toll, with real-world effects reminding the players of the club’s perilous position on a regular basis.
Thomas Tuchel Chelsea GFX
Indeed, there are numerous empty seats at every home game now because of Chelsea’s inability to sell tickets under the terms of their sanction-hit operating licence, with only existing season-ticket holders allowed to attend.
The effect on the atmosphere has been obvious and the loss of vocal support, coupled with the mounting air of anxiety, has arguably played a role in the team’s horrible run of form at Stamford Bridge.
Then, of course, there’s the even more significant effect that Chelsea’s inability to make moves in the transfer market is having on the squad.
Last week, amid emotional scenes at Cobham, Antonio Rudiger informed the squad that he would be joining Real Madrid on a free transfer this summer.
The 29-year-old promised both his manager and his team-mates that he will remain focused during the final weeks of the season but, given the circumstances, that might be impossible, even for the man that Tuchel describes as Chelsea’s “aggressive leader” behind the scenes.
Rudiger has been a mentor for both Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr this season, while his outgoing personality and language skills have long allowed him to cross dressing room divides and unite the squad.
Tuchel appreciated that he was among the first Rudiger spoke to after finalising his move to Madrid.
“That shows me we have a relationship where we handle things directly and honestly and are not afraid to tell each other what we think,” the German told reporters ahead of the United game.
But there is no disguising the significance of the centre-half’s imminent exit, particularly as it could be an ominous sign of further unrest to follow.
“At the moment, it is not possible [to replace him] because of the sanctions,” Tuchel lamented. “And even when the sanctions are in the past, it will still be incredibly difficult to do so.”
The Dane requested that his move be kept private but it has been an open secret in the football word for some time now.
Chelsea have already instructed Blackpool loanee Dujon Sterling to return for pre-season but the sad fact of the matter is that Tuchel wants to sign two new defenders this summer and presently isn’t in a position to be able to make any concrete plans.
The sanctions forbid new signings and it could be a month before the takeover goes through, meaning Chelsea will be playing catch-up when it comes to challenging their rivals for transfer targets this summer, with Manchester United already looking at ways of strengthening their squad ahead of Erik ten Hag’s arrival from Ajax.
“Of course, we would have some targets [by now] and we would have for sure contacted some players and found out about their situations,” Tuchel explained.
“But our hands are tied now. We can still have the talks inside the building but we cannot act.”
Chelsea are doing what they can, though, drawing up wishlists based on the assumption the new owners will be keen to spend similar sums to recent windows.
The Blues will focus on signing a centre-back, with Sevilla’s Jules Kounde, Paris Saint-Germain’s Presnel Kimpembe and Atletico Madrid’s Jose Gimenez among their targets.
There’s also interest in signing a central midfielder, with West Ham’s Declan Rice and Aurelien Tchouameni both under consideration.
Bringing in a new forward has also not been ruled out, but it depends on offloading at least one of their frustrated forwards.
Romelu Lukaku has become hugely unpopular with the club’s fans, with his form having nosedived following his now infamous interview with Sky Sport Italia, and the new owners will have to decide whether to write off tens of millions of pounds on the club-record signing.
AC Milan could offer Romelu Lukaku a Chelsea exit, depending on the outcome of their current takeover
Sales cannot be seriously discussed, though, until the ownership situation is resolved. Nor can Chelsea look to tie down Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso, all of whom will enter the final year of their respective contracts come the summer.
The sanctions, which have resulted in players putting their own hands in their pockets to resolve minor operational issues around Cobham, remain a major problem for Chelsea, leaving them at a major disadvantage in their long-term bid to compete with Manchester City and Liverpool at the pinnacle of European football on an annual basis.
For now, though, Tuchel and his coaching staff are merely trying to focus minds on the upcoming FA Cup final against Liverpool.
The former PSG boss has also tried to dismiss the speculation surrounding his future by insisting that he has no intention of quitting the club.
“It is maybe for me very important to give this message: I’m committed, I’m looking forward to [the challenge] and I’m passionate about it,” he continued.
“And as soon as we can act, we will try to turn things around and maybe turn a disadvantage into an advantage. I don’t have the solution right now but we will try to stay positive about it.”
However, the feeling is if the crisis gets much worse, he could leave Chelsea. That is the grim reality of a mess all of the club’s own making.