“This is scary.”
They were the first words of Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel as three written media journalists – this reporter included – moved towards his big desk, adorned with UEFA Champions League branding and some ghastly-looking orange bottles of Gatorade drink (it’s basically Lucozade) with our voice recording devices in hand.
Tuchel? Scared? What on earth could one of the best coaches in world football possibly be sacred of? Well, a press conference seemingly.
You see, for the first time since taking charge at Stamford Bridge ten months ago, the German was in a room full of written journalists. Us supposedly fearsome English hacks who can make or break a head coach’s career in this country.
Ever since he replaced Frank Lampard, unless you were one of the Premier League or Champions League broadcast rights holders, you would only see Tuchel marching around in his technical area or over Zoom, which has obviously exploded in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic since March last year.
But this time, there was to be no Zoom call with Tuchel, or Hakim Ziyech for that matter who also conducted a press conference after Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Malmo in the Champions League in Sweden on Tuesday night.
As you probably all well know, Sweden has taken a very different approach to Covid-19 than pretty much everywhere else. As the rest of the world was shutting down and going into lockdowns, Sweden stayed open for its residents.
It was seen as a very different response to the threat posed by the pandemic. Life could still be normal in Sweden, you could still go out for dinner or down the pub (which is an incredibly expensive thing to do in the country, by the way).
This reporter got a funny look from the receptionist when entering the hotel with a face mask upon arrival in Malmo on Monday afternoon.
In the football world, clubs are going to great lengths to keep them Covid free but even then, it can be breached. N’Golo Kante was the latest Blues player to contract the virus just a few weeks ago.
All Premier League clubs are continuing to conduct post-match and pre-match press conferences over Zoom with managers. Indoor working areas are very rarely accessible still and having a face-to-face chat with a manager or player? Absolutely not a chance.
But in Sweden, things are different. Malmo have been conducting in-person press conferences with their manager Jon Dahl-Tomasson for some time now as life has carried on as normal in the country.
On Tuesday, it was not a UEFA directive for Chelsea to have Tuchel meet the written media for the first time. The Blues were not forced to do it, but they did.
Some Premier League managers have held in-person chats with the media but they have mostly been abroad in European competitions.
So, what was it like?
Those of you that have logged into YouTube to watch the broadcast sections of Tuchel’s press conferences will know what he is like. A very deep thinker, incredibly analytical, occasional deadpan humour and quite a polite man.
In person, he is exactly all of those things but what came across startlingly was the aura and presence of Tuchel when he entered the room. You looked up from your live blog to see the head coach of the reigning European Champions.
He emerged into the media working room at the Eleda Stadion wearing a beanie hat probably one size too big and his massive Chelsea emblazoned puffer jacket, flanked by one of the members of Chelsea’s excellent communications team to keep an eye on proceedings.
The German is very engaging and personal. Tuchel is usually staring at a TV screen when speaking to the written press but here, there was no screen. He looks you right in the eye when you ask a question, as if he’s telling you specifically the answer and it is for your ears only.
You daren’t look away or you feel like you could face his wrath like whoever the player happens to be nearest him on the touchline when a Chelsea move breaks down and he goes through his emotions.
That is not to say that Tuchel is a scary man. Far from it in fact, but he certainly does have a presence about him. Perhaps this is what the Blues players are experiencing at Cobham on the training pitch and why it has been a huge success since he arrived in SW6.
He knows what he wants from his players and he knows how he wants to answer a question from journalists who might be looking to trip him up. Tuchel has yet to do that with the English media, only admitting a German reporter managed to get an unexpected answer out of him on Erling Haaland last month.
Of course, Tuchel went on a bit of a long-winded answer talking about “half spaces” and “counter-attacks and precision in the last metres” as he usually does but he keeps you interested and keen to understand more about what he’s telling you. It lasted for about eight minutes, then a quick “thanks” and off he went back to the safety of the Red Zone where only players and officials are allowed to be along with some very select club officials too.
On a personal level, this writer hasn’t even been to the Cobham training ground yet this year as it is off limits. Football, especially in England, is still very much holed up in bubbles and keeping players as far away from any potential interaction as much as is humanly possible.
In Sweden, there are no bubbles. There’s no vaccine passports, no social distancing. No matter how much Chelsea would try, their team hotel was not their own, the rules are different in the Scandinavian country.
Managers, head coaches and players have been effectively cut off from a very select few since March 2020 when Mikel Arteta’s positive Covid test triggered everything. It is not back to normal, it won’t be for some time, but hey, at least Thomas Tuchel has actually seen our faces now.
Source by Football London