Exposed Boehly can make Tuchel as powerful as Guardiola and Klopp | Jacob Steinberg
As recently as a week ago Marina Granovskaia was telling figures inside football that she had not decided whether to continue working for Chelsea’s new owners. Granovskaia was as active as ever in discussions with agents about potential signings and, despite the director’s long-standing ties to Roman Abramovich, there was a feeling that any announcement about her future would be unlikely until the transfer window was over.
That all changed on Monday morning. First came the announcement that Bruce Buck, another associate of Abramovich, had agreed to step down as chairman. Then, in a development that caught a fair few people by surprise, it emerged that Granovskaia would indeed be the next high-profile departure. Ties with the previous regime were being cut and, though there were initially suggestions that Granovskaia would keep her job until the end of August, by the end of the day several sources were tipping her to be gone before the end of the week.
After all, why stick round? When Internazionale opened talks over signing Romelu Lukaku on loan last week, it was Todd Boehly leading negotiations on Chelsea’s behalf. Boehly, Chelsea’s new co-controlling owner, has been hands-on since his consortium’s takeover and, in a noticeable shift in how business was often done on Granovskaia’s watch, the American moved quickly in discussions with Inter, with an agreement over the terms of Lukaku’s loan reached on Tuesday evening.
There was no attempt at a face-saving exercise. Granovskaia, not Boehly, was responsible for spending £97.5m on Lukaku last summer. The logic was simple: Lukaku wanted out after a disastrous season and Thomas Tuchel was never going to stand in the striker’s way, so Boehly backed his head coach and did a deal that should allow Chelsea to switch their focus on to building a squad capable of challenging for major honours next season.
At the moment, however, the thought of Chelsea catching up with Manchester City and Liverpool in one window feels unlikely. There are holes to plug in defence, improvements required in attack and not much time to act before the season starts. Tuchel, who gets on well with Granovskaia, could do with players arriving sooner rather than later.
It means the spotlight is on Boehly and his fellow owners already. On Wednesday morning it was confirmed that Granovskaia, who looked after transfers and player contracts, is leaving. A club statement revealing the figures on the new board said that Granovskaia would offer assistance for the duration of this transfer window – “to the extent required to support the transition” – and stated that Boehly, who has no experience of the inner workings of European football, would operate as Chelsea’s interim sporting director until a full-time replacement is found.
Talk about jumping in at the deep end. “Boehly clearly believes in himself and he is obviously a very clever man,” one figure with deep knowledge of the transfer market says. “But football is unlike any other business.”
It is a fair comment. The intention remains for Chelsea to find a sporting director – Andrea Berta could be a good fit if he can be lured from Atlético Madrid and there have been links with Michael Edwards, who is leaving Liverpool – but the situation is not ideal. Boehly is learning on the job and, along with landing Tuchel’s targets, he must also hold talks with Petr Cech to provide the technical and performance adviser with assurances over his role.
Cech can be forgiven if he is mulling over his future. Yet Boehly needs to avoid too many complications in one summer. Chelsea have not challenged for the title since 2017 and are lagging behind City, who have bought Erling Haaland, and Liverpool, who have replaced Sadio Mané with Darwin Núñez.
City and Liverpool, unlike Chelsea, have been able to conduct their main business quickly. There are no glaring weaknesses in their squads, even if City remain keen to bring in a left-back and additional midfield cover. They have both recruited efficiently and Chelsea, who must also be wary of Tottenham making moves under Antonio Conte, have a lot of ground to make up.
The change of ownership offers the west London club a chance embrace a more considered recruitment model. Tuchel’s squad is not built in his image. Whereas City and Liverpool have tended to buy players suited to playing for Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp respectively, Chelsea have been more scattergun. They have spent a lot of money, but is there a footballing identity? A clear playing style? Or has Tuchel simply been using his tactical expertise to make the most of a talented but unbalanced group?
Boehly can introduce a different approach. He can back Tuchel and make him as powerful as Guardiola and Klopp. He can ditch the ruthless, short-term culture that has gradually turned Chelsea into a highly effective team.
Yet there is so much to do this summer. Chelsea cannot go into the season with their options at centre-back made up of Thiago Silva, who turns 38 in September, and the inexperienced trio of Malang Sarr, Levi Colwill and Trevoh Chalobah, especially if César Azpilicueta is allowed to join Barcelona. A situation which could have been avoided by hanging on to Marc Guéhi or Fikayo Tomori last summer, given that Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rüdiger were running down their deals, must be addressed swiftly; interest in defenders such as Sevilla’s Jules Koundé and RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol has to be acted upon.
Chelsea have to be decisive. In midfield they must consider whether to shift N’Golo Kanté or Jorginho, both of whom are out of contract next year, and bring in a younger alternative. In attack they must try to attract worthwhile offers for inconsistent players such as Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech.
A lack of ruthlessness has been an issue under Tuchel, whose attacking problems were not solely down to Lukaku. The manager wants to sharpen up in the final third. He is chasing City’s Raheem Sterling, whose statistics are impressive, and likes the Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembélé, who is interested in joining Chelsea on a free. Everton’s Richarlison and Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku are other targets, and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski would be a dream signing for Tuchel.
However Lewandowski favours Barcelona and is being heavily pursued by Paris Saint-Germain. Attainable strikers are few and far between, especially with Haaland at City, Núñez at Liverpool and Harry Kane out of reach at Spurs. Chelsea could be forced to compromise and, having tried Lukaku as target man, there is a sense that Tuchel could move to a more nimble attack, with Kai Havertz continuing to operate as a false 9 and creative players buzzing around the German.
That could work. It could make Chelsea more unpredictable and exciting. Or, given that City and Liverpool have just signed glamorous No 9s, it could leave Tuchel’s side short of reliable finishers. The problem, ultimately, is that there are so many unknowns at the club. It has been a dizzying few months and the pieces are still falling into place. Time to get to work.