Thomas Tuchel fails to heed familiar warning as latest failure leads to PSG exit
“You come at the King, you best not miss” declared Omar Little in The Wire, the award-winning HBO drama which can arguably lay claim to being the greatest TV series of all time.
Stick up man Omar, portrayed by the brilliant Michael Kenneth Williams, lived by a strict moral code yet made his living robbing drug dealers and staying alive “one day at a time.”
Throughout his time as the Baltimore Housing Project’s own version of Robin Hood, he made numerous high profile enemies; one of those, Stringer Bell, sends arsonists to burn down his apartment.
One of those, Stinkum, is killed as Omar seeks revenge. The other, Wee-Bey, is shot in the leg, at which point Omar taunts him with the aforementioned one liner.
Initially, the line originated with Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th Century American philosopher and poet, who proclaimed: “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”
Either way, it is a concept which Thomas Tuchel is yet to master.
Once again the German, widely seen as one of Europe’s smartest tacticians and a fine coach on the training ground, finds himself without a job.
Just four months after leading Paris Saint-Germain to the Champions League Final – ultimately going down to Bayern Munich – and having won six trophies with Les Parisiens, including back-to-back Ligue 1 crowns, Tuchel has been dismissed.
Despite topping their Champions League group once more this term – setting up an opportunity for Remontada revenge against a sub-par Barcelona in the last 16 – and being just one point off the top of the French table, the 47-year-old has been removed.
The timing, Christmas Eve, appears brutal.
But the period between Wednesday night’s 4-0 win over Strasbourg and PSG’s next match, against Saint Etienne on January 6, is the biggest gap in their calendar this season – barring international breaks – making it the ideal period to get rid of a manager they no longer want, and bring in one, Mauricio Pochettino, whom president Nasser Al-Khelaifi rates as among the world’s very best.
Pochettino, reinvigorated after 13 months away from the spotlight since his Spurs exit – ironically also dismissed just months after reaching the final of Europe’s biggest club competition – is the ideal candidate and previously represented Les Parisiens as a player.
The Argentine has never been shy in declaring his affections for the club and the city. In 2016, the 48 year-old admitted it would be “a dream” to return and for Pochettino, the opportunity to return to management in Paris offers the ideal platform to win trophies, with his lack of silverware the only slight against the ex-Espanyol, Southampton and Spurs manager’s legacy.
Ultimately, trophies, attractive football built around the talents of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, and an ability to bring through young talent weren’t enough for Tuchel, who again has been swept aside amid a breakdown in relations with those above.
It is not the first time.
In 2014, Tuchel stepped down as Mainz boss with one year left on his contract, but was forced to sit out the entire following season amid an acrimonious split; “We have different ideas about respect,” was the later assessment of Mainz president Harald Strutz.
Fast-forward to 2017 and he duly departed Borussia Dortmund under a cloud, despite his final act being success in the German Cup.
Rifts between the club’s hierarchy and Tuchel had grown from cracks to chasms, played out in public, with Tuchel effectively pointing the finger at CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke for “making” the players play just 24 hours after team bus was attacked with roadside bombs ahead of their Champions League quarter-final with Monaco at the Westfalenstadion.
The open warfare between the pair came nine months after Tuchel’s relationship with Sven Mislintat, then the club’s chief talent spotter and scouting guru, became irreconcilable with Mislintat effectively banished from the training ground. Unfortunately for Tuchel, general manager Michael Zorc backed Mislintat, increasing his powers at the club in the aftermath.
Dortmund’s final parting shot at the end of his reign was scathing: “The well-being of the club Borussia Dortmund, which is much more than just sporting success, will always be more important than individuals and any differences that may exist between them.”
Time has largely healed those wounds. But forgotten they aren’t.
However, in Paris, he raged against the machine once more.
The first time, he saw off Antero Henrique, the former sporting director, but the ex-Atletico Madrid director’s position was, in truth, already weak with Leonardo’s return.
The ex-AC Milan manager rejoined the club for a second spell in 2019, having only resigned his role in 2013 after being handed a 13-month ban for pushing a referee. Despite the manner of that exit, club president Al-Khelaifi hailed him for “an excellent job” and “bringing a lot of credibility to the sporting aspect of our project.”
With Henrique’s exit, Al-Khelaifi gave Leonardo the keys to the kingdom once more. And in Leonardo, Tuchel found a formidable foe.
Tension between the two gradually rose after the Champions League final, most notably over the exit of club captain Thiago Silva; Tuchel wanted to keep him, while Leonardo did not want to hand him a new deal.
Edinson Cavani, Tanguy Kouassi, Thomas Meunier and Adil Aouchiche also departed for nothing, and amid early season injuries, Tuchel went public in an attempt to exert pressure on Leonardo to improve the squad.
“If it stays like that, we can’t talk about the same goals,” he said.
Rafinha, Moise Kean, Danilo Pereira, and Alessandro Florenzi duly arrived but Leonardo hit back at the German: “I did not like the statement of the coach Tuchel. I don’t understand it and I did not like it. The club did not like it.
“If someone is not happy, we can talk, there is no problem. But If he decides to stay, he must decide to respect the choices of the sports management.”
It was very much a reminder to stay in his lane, but with his contract up in 2021, Leonardo was already seeking replacements.
However, this week a clumsy interview in his homeland, in which Tuchel was quoted as saying he had, at times, felt more like “a sports politician or sports minister than a coach” during his tenure was the final straw.
He attempted justify his comments immediately after the win over Strasbourg: “It is possible they translated incorrectly.
“I just said that PSG are unique and that it’s a big challenge for me. It’s always been like that.
“I like this challenge and nothing has changed.”
But it cut no ice, and Leonardo had already seized his opportunity. A matter of hours later, he informed Tuchel personally that his time at the club was over.
Undoubtedly Tuchel will return to management soon enough. The Premier League is on his agenda and there is no mistaking that he is a talented coach.
However, club chiefs will be all too aware of the reputation he is developing for being a tricky character – rather than those misguided comparisons with Jurgen Klopp – and there will be questions over his ability to manage upwards behind the scenes.
When he is given his next opportunity, he would be best remembering the words of Omar.
Otherwise his prospects at the elite level face ending up not as Wee-Bey, who survived Omar’s attack, but rather more akin to Stinkum.
Is Mauricio Pochettino the right fit for PSG? Have your say here.
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