Throughout his tenure at Chelsea, Thomas Tuchel has always played fair with the media. Of course, he will protect his players if necessary and won’t reveal all the details of the day-to-day events at Cobham, but when a topic comes up in a press conference, the German never hesitates to give an honest answer.
This approach served the Chelsea head coach incredibly well during the second half of the season in which the club was put up for sale by Roman Abramovich and forced to operate under the strict sanctions imposed on the Russian oligarch. by the UK government and the EU.
Tuchel has become a statesman figure, a trusted, empathetic and reassuring voice amid the chaos. It won him the hearts of many Chelsea supporters and cemented his position at the club to such an extent that the new ownership group led by Todd Boehly view the 48-year-old as an indispensable figure.
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So when Tuchel speaks, it’s worth listening to him. And that brings us back to comments made by the 48-year-old in October. The talking point that day was the football calendar and the increasing demands placed on top players. The German’s position was clear.
“I think there are too many games and too many competitions for the best players in clubs,” Tuchel said. “The game is for the players and for the spectators – and the spectators want to have the best players on the pitch. They want them to be fit, healthy, hungry and you can’t always provide them if you play at so many matches in so many different competitions.
Tuchel’s view has almost certainly been reinforced by what happened at Chelsea during the rest of the campaign. In December, injuries and a series of Covid cases took their toll on the Blues squad. Yet they kept playing as the players were rushed and pushed to the breaking point.
In January, Chelsea’s Premier League title bid was over and Tuchel admitted his side were mentally and physically fried. “We’ve been playing since November,” he said. “We are the team that plays, plays and plays. We have to recharge the batteries and disconnect. That’s my feeling.”
Chelsea would go on to play 63 games in all competitions during the 2021/22 campaign. Still, it was far from an anomaly at Premier League clubs. Liverpool, who beat the Blues in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup finals, also reached that tally. Man City reached 58. West Ham United 56.
And let’s not forget that this was following a condensed 2020/21 campaign due to the Covid-19 pandemic, after which the European Championship and Copa America were also contested. It’s no wonder that Tuchel highlighted the problem of players suffering from burnout.
This summer – with the first-ever Winter World Cup at the end of the year – should have been the opportunity for the players to take some well-deserved rest. Yes, they receive huge salaries, but they are not robots. Periods of rest, both mental and physical, are needed, as well as time with their families, which is rare during the campaign.
Instead, there’s more football: the Nations League to be exact. England, for example, are playing four matches this month, the first of which was the 1-0 loss to Hungary yesterday (Saturday). Gareth Southgate’s side didn’t play well and deserved nothing from the game, but it should come as no surprise that the performance was lackluster.
Of those who started for the Three Lions in Budapest, seven have played over 3,700 minutes – the equivalent of 41 full matches – for their club in the 2021/22 season. Four had passed the 4,000 minute mark, or 44 full games. And that doesn’t even take into account training and travel. It’s just too much.
“As players we can talk about holidays or rest, but we have no say in that,” Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne said earlier this week. “We follow what we have to do and that’s it. We have just over three weeks off every twelve months. The underdogs don’t understand how a player feels after a season.”
De Bruyne is right; it’s impossible to understand how top players feel after a difficult season. But what the spectators appreciate and can appreciate is the quality of a match, the performance of their team. That’s what they’re paying for after all, and there has to be some value for money.
As Tuchel pointed out, the fans want to see the best performances in the world at their highest level. They want “fit, healthy and hungry” players on the pitch, they want them to be ready to produce impressive moments and they want them to be able to create memories that last for decades.
But that can only continue to happen if the sport’s leaders heed the warnings that coaches and players have heeded. Tuchel said his piece, De Bruyne too, like many others across the Premier League and European play. It is time they were listened to.