Tuchel’s bombshell tops an extraordinary day

Seasons across Europe have come to an end – at least on the field. But in terms of action off the field, has there ever been a 24 hours quite like this?

Wenger, Valverde, Tuchel

From left - Arsene Wenger, Ernesto Valverde, Thomas Tuchel Source: Getty

It began with Barcelona confirming that Ernesto Valverde would be taking over from Luis Enrique, who stepped down after the Catalans were beaten to the La Liga title by Real Madrid in a season where the only silverware they claimed was Saturday night’s Copa del Rey.

Valverde is an interesting choice. He played at Barcelona for two years (1988 to 1990) but was never a regular starter and has enjoyed a solid if unspectacular managerial career, highlighted by two stints at both Athletic Bilbao and Olimpiacos. He placed between fourth and seventh each year at Atletico in his most recent spell and ended up with a 48 per cent winning ratio. Good, but is it good enough for the one and only FC Barcelona?

Then in Italy, another runner-up, Roma, said farewell to its manager, Luciano Spalletti. Spalletti’s circumstances are intriguing: this is the highest points tally the capital club have ever recorded, and even though they never really looked like unseating Juventus, the title challenge was legitimate and dogged.


As usual in Italian football, there is a sub-plot and a conspiracy theory. With Inter Milan in chaos – basically since the departure of Jose Mourinho seven years ago, if we’re honest – it’s no secret that they’ve made a huge play for Spalletti to take over. And given no other credible alternative has emerged as Stefano Pioli’s replacement, it’s safe to say that Spalletti is odds-on to emerge in the top job at the San Siro next season.

Then came the other kind of news surrounding managers: a re-signing (note the critical dash in that expression). Never before has such acrimony surrounded a manager being kept as has been the case with Arsene Wenger.

But life is all about making the most of the big moments and that’s exactly what he managed to do. A sparkling, heroic win from his team in the FA Cup final was all it took for owner Stan Kroenke to rubber-stamp a two-year extension to Wenger’s 21-year reign in charge.

Winning the FA Cup could – and probably should – have marked the perfect exit point for the Frenchman to make his exit. But if Arsenal don’t fight next year’s championship to the final day, look out. The trench warfare between #WengerIn and #WengerOut will get ugly. For a club that prides itself on class and dignity, his supporters better be prepared to don the riot gear if things go pear-shaped next season.

And finally, our zig-zagging tour of European dugouts took us to Dortmund for the biggest shock of all. Thomas Tuchel – the brainiac successor to Jurgen Klopp’s bespectacled, feel-good revolution – acrimoniously split from the Westfalenstadion.

While all the above announcements were surprising to some degree or another, this one rattled the continent, from boffins to football-loving baristas. Had a secret deal been done for Tuchel to go elsewhere?

As it happens, the best places he could have gone would have been Barcelona and Arsenal – especially the latter. Now (surprise, surprise) Italian papers have been scrambling to connect Tuchel to the Roma job; English papers have been talking up the idea of Tuchel replacing Claude Puel at Southampton.

Don’t worry, you didn’t miss Puel’s sacking as well – it’s just that everyone in England thinks he’s on the way out. That’s despite Southampton finishing a very respectable eighth, having lost their manager (Ronald Koeman) and best player (Sadio Mane) 12 months before (added to many others).


The last thing Tuchel should do is rush. In fact, he should take a break and let the dust settle. Only now are we learning the extent to what amounts to an all-out civil war at Dortmund.

“It’s not only about results,” said chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke in a club statement. “It’s also always about basic values like trust, respect, ability to work in a team and communicate, authenticity and identification. It’s about reliability and loyalty.”

But if there’s one thing that’s assured in football, it’s that time away form the game always doesn’t harm a reputation. In some cases, it can enhance it. And if a big club starts performing badly, guess who the first name linked will be?

Indeed, Paris Saint-Germain won’t be too happy about losing the title to Monaco and Unai Emery is in the gun – despite claims from chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi that he’s “200 per cent certain he will stay in place”.

Perhaps, but such is the life of the European manager, you never quite know what’s going to happen next.

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5 min read
Published 31 May 2017 at 10:56pm
By Sebastian Hassett