Jurgen Klinsmann won the World Cup and European Championship with Germany during a glittering career in which he played for Inter, Tottenham and Bayern, among others. As a coach, he led Germany to a third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup and managed the U.S. men’s national team from 2011-16. In addition to an ESPN.com column, he is a regular guest on FC Daily.
Taking over as manager midway through a season is all about adapting quickly, and Thomas Tuchel will have been busy since replacing Frank Lampard at Chelsea last week. He was coaching on the touchline one day after arriving, had another game at the weekend and now prepares for a visit to Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham on Thursday. Oh, and there was the end of the transfer window — phew!
Thomas’ experience with Paris Saint-Germain was a reminder that things can happen overnight in football, both negatively and positively. I am sure he looks back at his time as an amazing experience, with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe as the main aspects of the team, but having seen it was not enough to win the league and cup and reach the Champions League final, he probably will approach Chelsea a little differently, even if the goal is similar: win trophies.
The best managers have ways of settling and putting their stamp on a new club. Mourinho, for example, understands what is needed and does not fool around. He is very clear and his specific way of doing things might be connected to a style of play that does not please everybody, but pretty much wherever he has been, he has won.
It is important to stick to your own personality. Mourinho does not make promises he cannot keep; he goes into a new job and says, “this is me, I have to do it my way,” and his success proves it works. Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp is the same, only for him it is playing attacking-minded, 200 mph football! If you look at the top managers, they all have their trademark.
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Everyone talks to everyone else in football is an industry and so, before he arrived in London, Thomas will have been discussed by the Chelsea players. This can help a new manager; Thiago Silva and Christian Pulisic, for example, can spread the message that the man they worked with — at PSG and Borussia Dortmund respectively — is a good guy and a positive person who is full of energy and inspiration.
Thomas knew Pulisic as a teenager and now gets an older, more mature footballer who can get even better playing a style that suits him: a fast-paced, transitional game, with high tempo and high pressure when possible. Pulisic has a presence and personality on the field; he is demanding of the ball and has proved that he made the right move to join Chelsea.
A lot of expectation will be on Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to find top form under their fellow German. It is true that they have found it difficult in England, but both are difference-makers and part of that category of players, who move from one Champions League club to another because of what they offer. Thomas has to look at why things have not worked out yet, and maybe his evaluation will be that they just need a bit more time.
Werner can play wide, where there is more space for his speed than as a No. 9; when he is in a one-on-one situation and makes the first move and you don’t have the ball right away as a defender, he is gone. But deep inside, he is a goal scorer; that’s what he lives for. And that’s why he should take the next penalty when he gets a chance, even after missing his last one.
Forwards just have to live with the fact that goals come in certain stretches; one day you’ll miss a penalty or a one-on-one, the next day the ball will seem to go in easily. You are driven by numbers and want to compete with others at the top level; just consider Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who are looking at each other every day and have been for 15 years.
I used to look at Marco van Basten. I always admired him and, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was the most complete striker in the world. We played many times against each other, whether it was him on AC Milan against me with Inter Milan, or his Holland against my Germany. Sometimes he won and sometimes I won.
Havertz has the possibility to develop into a more complete player and is still in his development, even if he has already proved a lot. Coaches often say that talent is only 50%, and Thomas will have a big say in building the other 50%, just as Lampard had a say and Peter Bosz had a say at Bayer Leverkusen. There is so much more to come from Havertz, physically and as a personality.
With a team full of different people from different backgrounds, every minute you can spend time with them helps. Learn about their non-football life, for example; players like that appreciation of who they are and want input to become a better athlete and human being. It is easier to make all this work within a national team environment because you have more time for individual meetings.
With a club, though, everyone is constantly on the go. Players have to manage their private lives and families, plus you play every three or four days. It is not surprising they leave the training ground quickly to get other things done!
Beyond dealing with individual players, a manager’s biggest task is to run the inner circle of the club and building awareness of the existing culture — from history to community to media to ownership goals — can take time. You have to enjoy dealing with all that stuff on a daily basis, but also need help, so the staff you bring play an important role.
There will definitely be assistant coaches to prepare training sessions and examine the technical side; maybe there is an analyst, too, and perhaps also a lead scout, a physio or head of medical. That support network was important to me when I took over as Germany coach in 2004 ahead of the World Cup. You build your own team and act as guide for a field of experts who have to be empowered and trusted.
It is also important to accept you will make mistakes and understand how to move past difficult times. Top managers don’t get stuck on two or three losses and doubt themselves; they know how to maneuver through the bad days and give stability to the team. It is essential to get the message across to players that, even if things are not sunny today, they will work out.
To achieve success at a new club, every manager needs time. A strong relationship between ownership, board and coach can help achieve that, but football is such a results business that the old saying “the day you are hired is the day you are fired” applies more than ever before.
There are many reasons a partnership does not work out, and it is all part of the managerial learning curve. So while it might have been a shock for Thomas to be let go by Paris after doing so much that was positive, he took the message and moved on to his next adventure, which challenges him to adapt to England and the expectation that comes with being in charge of Chelsea Football Club.