“I love it when other people are happy,” Thomas Tuchel said, imagining the after-party if Chelsea beat Manchester City in the Champions League final on Saturday night. “It means more to me around Christmas that I have good presents for others. It’s very hard to give me a gift. Maybe I’m not the guy to dance on the table, but I will be so super-happy if we win and I see my team, my staff, the families, and when I feel what it means to my family. This is huge for me.”
Five months after arriving in London, Tuchel sounds as if he is in a good place. The acrimonious manner of his split from Paris Saint-Germain, who sacked him on Christmas Eve, is in the past. Tuchel has barely put a foot wrong since joining Chelsea in January and, in contrast to the snappy persona he often presented at PSG and Borussia Dortmund, is in a compelling and playful mood as he prepares to face City in Porto.
Almost everything suggests that Chelsea picked well when they replaced Frank Lampard with Tuchel. Although they lost the FA Cup final to Leicester a fortnight ago, they qualified for the Champions League last weekend and stand 90 minutes from becoming European champions for the second time.
Their revival is down to Tuchel, who has united the dressing room and created a tactically cohesive unit. “I like a lot that the players here don’t go by instinct into the same groups,” Chelsea’s manager said. “They mix and I’m very happy that I don’t have to do it. I told them after two or three days here: ‘I like this a lot and don’t change it.’”
The concern when Tuchel joined was whether he would be able to handle the internal politics at Stamford Bridge. He admitted at the time that he was surprised when Chelsea, languishing in ninth place, offered only an 18-month deal. Yet Tuchel, who began his management career at Mainz in 2009, got on with it. The abrasiveness that overshadowed his spells at Dortmund and PSG has not been seen and Tuchel would be happy to discuss an extensionthis summer.
“This is very easy,” he said. “I’m so happy to be here. I never felt so good since I was in Mainz [he left in 2014] and this feels like the perfect place and the perfect moment for the perfect place. Whatever will come will come. We cannot force things, but this is my point of view.”
Tuchel, who studied for a business administration degree and briefly worked as a barman in Stuttgart after injury forced him to retire aged 25, is a football obsessive. It can be amusing to watch him hopping up and down on the touchline when Chelsea’s moves break down but he does not mind if his players think he is off the wall.
“It’s good if they laugh about me,” he said. “We should not take ourselves too seriously. I feel respect if they don’t laugh about me in a disrespectful way. We laugh about each other and I need to laugh about myself. There is no funnier place than a dressing room. There is no funnier place on earth. It’s impossible.
“If they sometimes think the coach is crazy, good. If they sometimes are even a little bit in fear, good, even better. A little bit of fear is always good. And if we can laugh it out and if they are not scared to express their feelings, then it’s the way. We are all a little bit crazy.”
Tuchel’s tactical nous will be challenged by Pep Guardiola but he will not try to second-guess Manchester City’s manager. “It is always difficult to face Man City, Bayern or Barcelona when Pep is on the sideline,” he says. “Maybe they are the strongest team in Europe and maybe the world and they have built a huge gap between them and us in the league but we closed the gap for 90 minutes [in winning at City this month]. At Wembley [in the FA Cup], we closed the gap again for 90 minutes and that’s what we want to do again.”
Chelsea will have to be at their best. “Maybe we are slight underdogs but that changes nothing,” Tuchel says. “I want to encourage them to be brave, stay active, defend and attack with aggression.”
Tuchel lives a quiet life away from football. He meditates, reads, spends time with his family and thinks about his team. “Normally during the season, I drink no alcohol,” he said. “A glass of gin and tonic maybe but it’s almost zero.”
Yet Tuchel will let loose if Chelsea overcome City. He thinks about knocking back the gin and tonics. “We will have fun,” he promises.