Watch Thomas Tuchel during a press conference and it will come as no surprise to learn that the key quality he seeks to instil in his players is calmness. Giovanni Trapattoni he is not. Nor even Jürgen Klopp, the coach with whom the Paris Saint-Germain boss is most frequently compared, given their shared career trajectories from Mainz to Dortmund – Tuchel replacing Klopp both times – before taking the helm of a frontline overseas giant.
With his own playing days cut short by injury, and only 35 when appointed by Mainz, Tuchel has had to rely on attributes other than star power and seniority to command respect. Think studiousness, tactical flexibility and, yes, calmness. “‘Calm’ means having the ability to focus on ourselves and not lose our concentration because of external things,” he says, fresh from leading Paris to a second Ligue 1 title in two seasons under his reign. “We’ve been prone to do that, but we’re doing it less and less.”
Even before joining Paris, Tuchel had shown a willingness to protect his players, sometimes from their own club officials but more often from the media. For the tall and svelte native of Krumbach, Bavaria, calmness is dependent on walling off his squad from destabilising forces. “We try to give the media as little as possible to write about when it comes to external factors,” he says. “When there are some conflicts, we try to solve them within our environment. These [conflicts] become bigger once they get outside. This just sidetracks you.
“So ‘calm’ is to train, to prepare games, to have individual meetings, to be honest with each other, to be ourselves. This is an art form which is not easy to do in Paris, of course, because here it’s more about the show – and Paris is all about standing for something special. But it’s always important to create strength through calmness.”
Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!
In the past, some critics have interpreted Tuchel’s insistence on serenity as aloofness – though taking over from Klopp at two different clubs was always going to cast his reflective personality in stark relief. While the livewire, bear-hugging Liverpool manager wears his emotions on his sleeve, his Paris counterpart cuts a more inscrutable figure on the sidelines. Instead, Tuchel believes it is a losing proposition to try to keep his squad in a state of heightened intensity, particularly when faced with a long season during which some games count for more than others.
Ask him, for example, what his final message is before sending his players out for kick-off. “Bon match!” he says, laughing. “The last words I say aren’t always much, actually. We play so many matches – 50 or 60, playing every three days – that it’s just not possible to find some special final words every time. Therefore, it happens at certain moments, perhaps moments when no one expected it – and not the moments when people on the outside might think, ‘There’ll be a big talk today.’
“In my view it’s often enough to put your arm around a player, wish him a good game and just say, ‘All the best, you can do it and I have faith,’ and give him the feeling that everything’s OK. Maybe for games where the players don’t expect much, it’s necessary to give them an extra push or calm them. But mostly we leave it to just an arm around them, saying best wishes for the game.”
If Tuchel’s pre-game speeches do not always keep players on their toes, then his tactical choices often do. The 46-year-old has long experimented with formations, typically taking input from his players, and that versatility has continued at Paris, where finding the best balance in a squad teeming with talent has been a major challenge. His latest solution has been a 4-4-2 to accommodate the Quatre Fantastiques (Fantastic Four): Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, Ángel Di María and Mauro Icardi (or the now-departed Edinson Cavani).
“When all the attacking players are fit, it’s difficult to fit four players into three spots,” he says. “Not in terms of not wanting to make tough decisions – I don’t have a problem making tough decisions – but there is too much quality for not enough positions. That’s why we chose to take more risks to play with four attacking players, stressing the fact that they needed to adapt to our defending.”
So far that strategy has paid off but as soon as it stops working, expect Tuchel to try something else – calmly, of course.