For the occupants of a Middlesbrough hotel, it may have been a surreal sight.
A lobby full of people in blue tracksuits who have nowhere to go and while away the time playing cards because one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world couldn’t afford to pay an extra day for their rooms.
“We didn’t know how we would arrive in a Champions League game, whether you had an airplane or not,” the German recalls of what he calls “crazy moments” today.
Thomas Tuchel admits that preparations for the FA Cup clash in Middlesbrough were far from ideal
“Or after you’ve played Newcastle, a long journey and you don’t know whether to travel by bus or plane. We played a game, the FA Cup game at Middlesbrough, where we went up the day before, but the rooms were only available until 12 noon the next day and all our staff was just sitting in the lobby because it was just the players and I had our rooms longer.
“It was a very strange situation for a club used to a level, organization and support that is usually absolutely superb.”
Tuchel tried to turn the negative into the positive. “It was absolutely nice to see that we can adapt,” he says. “We’re spoiled, but not so spoiled that everyone gets in a bad mood. We played cards together or watched a game live and it was nice to see that everyone was willing to adapt and give their best.
Things are different now. We’re speaking in a large boardroom in posh, historic Beverly Wilshere, where the club is relaxing on the first leg of its US tour, which will take it to Los Angeles, Charlotte and Orlando.
Its Tuscan stone walls and marble floors have welcomed presidents and celebrities (a statue of Marilyn Monroe stands in front of the main entrance). John Lennon settled here after breaking up with Yoko Ono. Elvis Presley was a regular.
Things are different now, with Chelsea in glamorous surroundings on their US pre-season tour
While no one’s heart hurts about being kicked out of their room at this hotel, the focus now is on making sure things get mixed up. Change has been in the air since the arrival of LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly and his staff in late May.
Players’ dealer Marina Granovskaia, Tuchel confidante Petr Cech and chairman Bruce Buck are all eliminated, along with a number of key players.
The result is that Chelsea is now catching up and the 48-year-old, who sees himself as a pure coach, is not moving on particularly comfortable terrain – with the new group in the transfer business (still with a sports director). arrive).
When asked for a word to describe the new era, a tired-looking Tuchel quickly replies. “Intense,” he says. “A lot has changed. I never imagined staying at the club longer than Roman, Marina and Petr.
“It (transfers) is not my favorite thing to do and in the long run the focus has to be on coaching because that’s what I’m here for,” he explains. “But at the moment, of course, my help is needed and wanted, and it is of course necessary for me to commit myself and take responsibility.
“I am in direct contact with Todd on a daily basis and sometimes more than once a day because we are aware that we are a club in transition and change. It’s important for me that the team is competitive, and for that we have to invest a lot of time and lend a hand. There is no other way.’
Tuchel confidante Petr Cech is one of several key departures at Stamford Bridge this summer
Tuchel says he is in direct contact with new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly on a daily basis
An important issue has already been raised. In what looks like a coup, Raheem Sterling has joined from Manchester City for £47.5million. The opposite of a coup, Romelu Lukaku has been loaned out on a year-long loan, 12 months after he rejoined the club for no less than £97.5million.
“There was never a meeting where I said: ‘I want this guy out,'” says Tuchel about the superflop.
‘Never. It was always clear to me – if he stays, we will do everything we can to put him in a better place, get him in better shape, improve my coaching style, our playing style so that he fits better.
“Romelu made it very clear that he wanted to leave and the owners made the decision to make the decision immediately.”
Is he disappointed with how it went?
“Disappointed is the wrong word,” he replies. “I don’t know a better word in English. It feels like I’m taking it personally – it’s never personal. I’m not happy that we couldn’t get more out of him.
“Maybe it just took a little longer. A little more fitness, a little more customization in our game. Who knows? But we won’t find out. After Romelu gave his clear opinion on the situation and a solution was on the table, the owners made their choice and had my blessing.”
Romelu Lukaku was loaned out to Inter Milan for £97.5million a year after his return to Chelsea
Raheem Sterling is likely to be the first of many newcomers to Stamford Bridge this summer
When asked to name a replacement, Tuchel was quick to name the City man keen to secure regular first-team football with just one year left on his contract.
“I immediately gave Todd his name,” he explains. “It’s horrible to play against him, horrible. The main point is its intensity and the amount of intensity reps it delivers. That’s just outstanding in recent years.
“He caused big problems when he played against us and when you dig deeper into his data and not just stats on his goal contributions, it’s excellent. This is exactly what we need to raise the level of our players. That’s why we’re so sure and that’s why he was at the top of the list for us.”
Sterling is probably the first of many. As we speak, Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly completes a £34m move from Napoli in London as Chelsea try to avoid a season of sanctions-induced purgatory.
Although he would never say it, one gets the impression – given they finished so far behind City and Liverpool last time out – that Tuchel would finish fourth if you offered it to him now. Moves elsewhere have not gone unnoticed.
Tuchel believes Antonio Conte may be building Tottenham’s strongest side ever
“If you look at Tottenham’s transfer time with Antonio Conte, it’s maybe the strongest team they’ve ever built. Man United won’t give up, Arsenal won’t give up, they’ve already made two big signings. Tuchel exhales.
“So we’re aware of the situation and trying to do our best to be competitive.”
But first things first and one last important question to answer. Who is in the lobby of Middlesbrough Chelsea card shark after the experience? Tuchel, the man with the odds against him, smiles before answering.
“We’ll find out in Vegas,” he says.