In the first of a two-part exclusive interview with Thomas Tuchel, the Blues boss reflects on the summer’s football and some of his own players who caught the eye during it, in a way that would, as he explains, have had him copying them many years ago…
We start by asking him if he watched Euro 2020 closely…I would not say closely but from quarter-finals, semi-finals, final, I watched it closer and closer.
And is that pure enjoyment and leisure for you? Or is it still work?It is enjoyable to watch because it's not club competition so it does not feel like I should absolutely watch what's going on because it could be our rival or whatever. I have the feeling since a long time that national team competitions are different from the club competitions so it's pretty enjoyable to watch with friends, and it is every time during holidays so next to a barbecue or after a dinner, you can enjoy a football match and have some people around, and this guy is for Italy and this guy is for Switzerland or whoever. You can have these talks and disagreements and this is enjoyable of course. It is like being a real fan.
Did you not get offers to be on the TV as a pundit to talk about the games?I was so happy not to be on the TV, I can tell you!
Your own players kept everyone who follows Chelsea interested until the very end.
Of course, and even in the final I was not able to be completely supporting one team because we had three players with England and two with Italy. But it was nice to watch in the semi-final with Spain that our captain Azpi played, and in the other with Denmark, Andreas played a fantastic Euros.This made it very enjoyable for me, to see my players perform like this. At the same time, if they had not such a good Euros I was happy that they can go on holiday a bit earlier, and if they play good you are happy because they play good, as then they show how good they are.
Christensen, Kai and the captain
Talking about Andreas Christensen in particular, he obviously had to come through a traumatic experience early in the tournament. Were you worried in some ways about him having to cope with it?
Yes, but I know his coach a little bit as he was also coach at Mainz, Kasper Hjulmand, and I know Andreas of course very well. So I could suggest that they would deal with it – of course nobody wants to deal with it - but if you have to deal with it, that he's in good hands. And if you know the Danish mentality to put things into context, with a very intelligent approach to life also, and a very human approach to life, I was sure that they would do it in the best possible way.I was happy that they could turn things around and I was happy, of course, that Christian Eriksen was back out of hospital soon. Of course that made it very special for them.
Andreas’s performances after that were amazing, like they were for us, and he was a big part of a successful team.
In training have you seen him score a goal like his one against Russia?Yes, he scores in training and we are aware he has a strong shot. But it was a perfect moment for a goal like this, it was impressive.
You’ve mentioned your captain – for Cesar Azpilicueta to go from not playing for Spain for over two years and then suddenly go into a crucial game, and then to be a goal threat too, it is very impressive.Yes, he has that, he is such a reliable guy. Everybody can be so proud that we have him as our captain. He has everything you want from a captain. And I was sure if they select him, whatever the situation will be, you can rely on him and he will give 100 per cent.When I knew he will play in the last group game and I saw that it was a decisive game, I thought yeah, he is the guy you want to have on the pitch because he can deliver under pressure. This is what he does and this is what he's used to doing. He's a fantastic team player.
Another player who seemed to carry some of the momentum that he had at the end of the season into the tournament was Kai Havertz.For him personally he played a good Euros. He was a threat constantly in the German team for the others to score. Of course he had an excellent ending to our season and although the German team did not do so well at the Euros, I think he can personally be satisfied with the first steps he made here in England and with the outcome for him. There's things to improve, things to keep the level up high, where he can play and he proved that he can play. This is the next step.
Midfielders sending messages
Finally on players at the Euros, the one who now everybody is talking about is Jorginho, with Ballon d'Or suggestions even.
Absolutely, and it's good that they talk about our players first of all, and that it shifts a little bit and the guys like Jorgi and like N’Golo Kante are in the spotlight, because they are so, so useful and so, so helpful for any team in the world. And we are so lucky to have them.Mateo Kovacic is another of that kind, he has the same mentality, the same ability, so we are absolutely happy to have these three midfielders. They're such a big help to any team in the world. Their approach to football is they’re true team players. They are true helpers. They make things easy for the others, they don't hide from a lot of work, putting in a lot of effort for others.This is a fantastic message to football in general, that these guys come to the spotlight. They're famous for teamwork. This is good, it sends the right message.
It does seem that position on the pitch is being more appreciated now.
Yeah, somehow, I don't know why only now because there are fantastic midfielders in this world. They do so much for successful teams that it's good that they are in the spotlight.
Away from the Euros, Thiago Silva managed to recover from injury to play in the Copa America although you may not consider that the best news for Chelsea.I'm always happy if Thiago goes for a holiday and comes back with us for pre-season because at his age he needs a certain amount of training to play in an intense league like the Premier League. So now we will have a bit of a delay in his personal season when he comes back late from the Copa. I was a bit sad when they couldn't win at home against Argentina but I hope it's not too big a setback. He won it last time and he was a big part of it again, and of course he played a fantastic role in our half a year and hopefully he can conserve the spirit and the quality and the level of fitness.
Setting the standard
There used to be a time when managers would look at tournaments like the Euros and the World Cup for new ideas, trends and patterns to bring to the domestic game. You’ve already said you see a difference between club football and international football, so i sthat still the case?I think it is the other way around, and club football sets the trends nowadays. You have more time together and you have specialists in certain positions. If you don't have a domestic player, you can buy a player, so I think club football is the benchmark.There are also fantastic national teams out there. I think Italy was a well-deserved European winner with a coach who comes from domestic football, who knows how to build a team, who knows how to lead teams throughout tough seasons in Italy and England. He proved that and Italy seemed to be a very strong squad right from the start until the end. They played with a lot of quality, with high tactical discipline. It almost seemed to be like a club squad.But in my opinion, and it is only my opinion, it has shifted a little bit and the club football sets the standard.
It seemed the teams that did get to the final stages were strong teams as opposed to teams relying on strong individuals.
That is another good message. Football is a team sport and should be seen as a team sport, and you cannot win alone. You cannot even win with 10, if you have a red card, or if you play a whole season with 10 players you will not win the championship. You clearly will not win it alone. You can only do it with 11 and by 11, I mean 24 in the dressing room.If these easy and well-known messages are the new headlines, I'm happy.
When you were growing up, were those big summer tournaments things you really enjoyed, especially with Germany doing well?
Yes, I watched them like crazy. Those days when I was young it was not so common or even possible to watch any other league than the German Bundesliga for me. We had no chance to see English football, Spanish football or whatever, so to see all these players playing, it was a big, big adventure in front of the television.There was no better summer than a summer with a tournament, going out in the garden and playing the games after they had played on TV, and to have some new fancy names that you never thought about before and didn't even know before. After the games, we went straight out to football training and tried to be as good as the guys on TV.
In part two of the interview, Thomas Tuchel explains the philosophy behind his pre-season training, discusses preparing for the start of a Premier League campaign for the first time, and what is different about this stage with Chelsea from his previous clubs.