Thomas Tuchel: Inside the mind of someone obsessed with the winning touch

C Christian Heidel laughs as he recalls a story that sums up Thomas Tuchel's obsessive attention to detail. “We were at a training camp in Austria and we played against Olympiakos,” says Mainz's sports director. Thomas was looking closely at the grass. He was measuring height by sniffing the grass. This field got me so excited that it asked me to transfer the fielder to Mainz. The next day, the fielder called me and said, 'I heard we're going to talk about a contract. No deal but it shows how perfectionist he is. ”

Heidel, who gave Tuchel a break when he took charge of Mainz's first team, in 2008 is not the first to admire the Chelsea manager's pursuit of excellence. Hans Komm, who taught physical education at the German high school Simpert-Kraemer, remembers a young talented athlete with a surprisingly bright tactical mind.

“You can see him trading players on his team during a volleyball lesson. Kazan,” says Komm. “He showed great discipline when there was an important goal to be achieved. I have never seen him drink alcohol. He was very friendly. But sometimes he would talk to his friends in the last row or play volleyball with his feet, which had to be given up. ”

Growing up in the small Bavarian town of Krumbach, Tuchel was the best football player in his class and helped his team win the German Schools Championship in Berlin 1987. He played the lead for TSV Krumbach and was seen to be on the right track after joining FC Augsburg in 1988.

Still, difficulties were coming. A slow but clever defender, Tuchel is by Augsburg and Stuttgart Kickers. The side joined SSV Ulm, appointing Ralf Rangnick as coach three years later.

thomas tuchel (circled) after helping his team to win the german schools championship in berlin in 1987.
1987 in Berlin after Thomas Tuchel (circled) helped his team win the German Schools Championship. Photo: Hans Komm

Rangnick is described as the father of modern German football, which opened Tuchel's eyes to positional play. Still Ulm. knee injury that forced him to retire at age.

The man who led Chelsea to the Champions League final against Manchester City on Saturday had to adjust his ambitions to earn a business administration degree and work. As a bartender in Stuttgart.

It will never take long. Heidel describes Tuchel as a "football lover" and says he doesn't know anyone who understands the game better. Andreas Rettig, Augsburg's sporting director, told Tuchel Under their Under – coach 2004 a demanding individual was “100% convinced by the rate” of their ideas.

“He thinks about football 24/7,” says Heidel. “Every training needs to be perfect. He plays the game in his head beforehand. Everything has to go according to plan, especially the tactical discipline – where the players stand, where they should go. This makes it very difficult to play against the teams that Thomas coaches. ”

thomas tuchel at training with mainz in 2009.
Thomas Tuchel with Mainz 2009. 'Every education should be perfect,' says a former colleague of mine. Photo: Frederik von Erichsen / EPA

Tuchel was offered a return to football when Stuttgart's manager Rangnick asked him to manage Under – 15 p. “He was the first coach I ever had at a professional club,” says Andreas Beck, Germany's former international player. “It was another level.”

Beck isn't surprised to see Tuchel explode during Chelsea's games. Being 47-years-old can be tiring and working hard with it. Before coming to Chelsea in January, Tuchel was known for his combustibility. Despite being successful at Borussia Dortmund 2014–2017 and Paris Saint-Germain gaining a domestic treble last season, he was fired after a hiatus due to transfer policy with sporting director Leonardo on Christmas Eve.

“It's important that Thomas is a part of all decisions,” Heidel says. “Not the type of coach you can give him 10 – 12 players and say “Play with him”. Everyone is lucky as they usually win more games than they lose. If there is a loss, it is almost like physical pain. He is very emotional. He can blow up players because he is so eager to win. But also someone to hug them later. ”

thomas tuchel celebrates with andreas christensen after chelsea reached the champions league final.
Thomas Tuchel celebrated with Andreas Christensen after Chelsea reached the Champions League final. Photo: Glyn Kirk / AFP / Getty Images

While Heidel says there are some strange things going on, when Tuchel reaches the end of the road in Mainz, the two are on good terms. “Thomas is a good guy, believe me,” Beck says.

Tuchel, mentor to the late Hermann Badstuber, coached Beck again after he moved to Stuttgart's Under – 19sin 2004. “He had a very close relationship with the players,” says Beck. “It wasn't just a player-coach relationship. We were like brothers. Other players felt it – Mario Gómez, Sami Khedira, Adam Szalai.

“She appreciates people willing to suffer. Then it feeds you with knowledge and energy. You can't get candy from him because you're good. You have to do something for the compliment. He once said: 'The moment I don't criticize you, you know something is wrong. ”

Despite Tuchel taking Stuttgart to Alt – 19 title 2005, he got fed up with his club personality and opted to renew his contract, opening the door for Augsburg to hire him. “I'm going to do this for low money, but you have to support me as a coach in my training,” Rettig says. “He didn't have the full UEFA license. We made a deal. It was six and a half months in Cologne. This was very demanding for him, but he wanted to invest in his education. ”

Tuchel was taught by Erich Rutemöller, the former head of training for aspiring coaches at the German Football Association. “He understood educational science, sports medicine, physiology and psychology,” Rutemöller says. He was already a very good student. It was pretty quiet. He was watching and listening. And he was smart. He knew what to do and how to get along with different participants. But he wasn't the big guy in the lessons. ”

Still, Tuchel made his presence felt in Augsburg. “He had problems with referees,” Rettig says. “After receiving penalties for his behavior from the Bavarian Football Association, I said that he had to pay the fines himself. "Okay, I'm responsible for my behavior," he said. It wasn't a question of money to him. It was a matter of greed. He wanted to win. He didn't think to save a few euros by calming down. ”

Tuchel wanted to know. “When I was in Hoffenheim with Rangnick, Thomas invited me to Augsburg,” Beck says. He asked for information on Rangnick. He wanted to know everything about our innovations. ”

An identity was formed. Tuchel was promoted to first-team coach of Augsburg II and played some cool football. Still, Rettig felt disappointed. “At this level there was a gap between the opinions of the players and their quality,” he says.

Interested in a new challenge, Tuchel became Under Mainz – 2008. Seeing Jürgen Klopp inspire Mainz before joining Dortmund, Heidel has never met such an interesting coach. He took note when he won the Mainz Under – the 19 Tuchel's first season, beating Dortmund in the decisive match for the title. “I watched it with Jürgen,” Heidel says. “After Jürgen said: 'There were 10 better players for Dortmund but they lost against a better team. ”

Heidel gambled, asking, a 34 – year old recruit who would initially become Mainz's manager in 2009 – 10 seasons. Tuchel was shocked. Mainz had just been promoted to the Bundesliga, but the impact was immediate. His team took his breath away: tactically flexible, fast and organized. “You felt stressed because of the cast,” Beck says. You didn't know how to play against them. They were very sharp. You couldn't predict which team would play. He always had a new plan. ”

thomas tuchel celebrates with andreas christensen after chelsea reached the champions league final.

thomas tuchel after being appointed as mainz's manager in 2009.
Thomas Tuchel, Mainz thomas tuchel (circled) after helping his team to win the german schools championship in berlin in 1987. after being appointed as its manager. Photo: Thomas Lohnes / DDP / AFP / Getty Images

Tuchel was an innovator who inspired Andre Schürrle and Lewis Holtby in Mainz. He cut corners of the training pitch to improve pass and movement. He decided that if the players could hold the tennis ball in their hands, they would stop grappling with their opponents.

It is not surprising that Tuchel, who has two young daughters with his wife Sissi, is known as a football professor. Mainz was a small club but made a huge sensation by winning at Bayern Munich in September 2010. “I've used it in my class for years as an example of tactical thinking,” Rutemöller says. “It was kind of 4-3-1-2 and it was very interesting. He had a plan in offense and defense. ”

Mainz punched above their weight and qualified for the Europa League. and beat Bayern again that year. Tuchel's staff scanned the press and stumbled upon Spielverlagerung, a tactics blog. Two of the young bloggers were Rene Maric, who is currently assistant manager at Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Martin Rafelt, who recently became assistant manager at Hajduk Split. They were thrilled when Tuchel's video analyst Benjamin Weber invited them to a meeting with Mainz's manager. Maric and Rafelt were occasionally asked to provide reconnaissance reports on Mainz's rivals.

“Thomas was very open,” says Rafelt. Interested in us. He asked us to write down all our ideas about how we can improve football. He said it could be crazy or stupid – put everything aside.

“They asked about an article I wrote about Swansea. This was Swansea's first season in the Premier League and they beat Man City. The article was about winning by playing as a down team. Mainz was still focused on the counterattack. It was interesting to them that they were inferior, but they could still do something with possession. Thomas is curious and wants to find out what he doesn't understand. ”

Mainz have been one of the few teams that could break Pep Guardiola's Bayern. “We were on the bus once and there was a documentary about Guardiola,” Heidel says. “They showed a map that looked like a kind of knitting pattern. But this was the transition pattern of Guardiola's players, and Thomas studied it for two hours. He was obsessed with learning this pattern. ”

Tuchel needed more. He left Mainz for a leave of absence seven years ago, during which he had an intense tactical conversation with Guardiola over dinner at a restaurant in Munich. Klopp's 2014. Tuchel was an energizing presence and Dortmund played brilliant football in his first season, keeping Guardiola working hard for his final title at Bayern before joining City.

thomas tuchel and pep guardiola before borussia dortmund's game against bayern munich in march 2016.
Thomas Tuchel and Pep Guardiola before Borussia Dortmund's game against Bayern Munich in March 2016. Photo: Boris Streubel / Getty Images

It doesn't take long though. Compared to Klopp, Tuchel seemed distant. Tensions about hierarchy grew. Dortmund couldn't keep their best players and Tuchel couldn't hide his disappointment and exhausted their players. The mood turned sour when a man named Sergei Wenergold tried to blow up Borussia Dortmund's team bus before the Champions League quarterfinals against Monaco in April, and it didn't help much. .

Relations with the board became more strained after the attack, and the victory over Wolfsburg in the DFB Pokal final was not enough to prevent Tuchel from leaving at the end of his second season. Hans-Joachim Watzke, Dortmund's CEO, has since described the manager as a "difficult person".

“Thomas has a very funny side,” Beck says. “He's a family man and has a warm side. He is very clever. But when there is something very hot inside you, something very cold also happens. You need both sides. ”

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Tuchel, who turned down Bayern before joining PSG

knows how to connect with people. Motivated Neymar and Kylian Mbappé in Paris. PSG reached the Champions League final last season before losing to Bayern.

PSG's loss is Chelsea's gain. Tuchel has been impressed by his warmth and tactical acumen since he took Frank Lampard's place. He transformed Chelsea into a cohesive unit and brought them in. While the 90 minutes were spectacular, victory over City will depend on Tuchel's unraveling of Guardiola's demise. He's going to need the perfect plan.

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