Two Champions League finals with two different clubs in two seasons. In fact, two Champions League finals in the space of nine months. That is quite some accomplishment, unprecedented for a coach, but Thomas Tuchel is not satisfied yet. Having only taken charge of Chelsea at the end of January, he is now just 90 minutes away from achieving what he came so close to doing with Paris Saint-Germain last year: winning the most coveted trophy in club football.
It’s pretty unbelievable. If anybody had told me at Christmas, I’m not sure I would have believed it. It feels like a big reward. When you finish a season and you know you have one more week that’s only you and another team [preparing] for a big final in the Champions League, it’s a big gift. I’m very grateful to be part of a team that’s in the final again. I’m really looking forward to it. We’re coming out of crucial weeks and the season has not finished yet. So we need to forget our results – we need to forget all the praise for the performances – and refocus, recharge. It’s not the time to lay back and reflect on what we’ve done. We’re in the middle of it and it feels great.
Pretty much all of it was there when I stepped in. That was my first impression from the first training session. I felt like a part of this team and I felt this openness, courage and activity in our defence and in our attack. It was the kind of energy you really like to feel on the sideline when you coach a team. We’ve also had a little bit of luck and some very good performances, and as a consequence good results in very tight matches. From there this bond could build – and it is a strong bond in the dressing room. They have huge solidarity; they defend very well as a team, they attack as a team and they have an incredible work ethic. The atmosphere is excellent.
I am absolutely motivated by the process. Stepping in in the middle of the season was not easy, but the simplicity of the circumstances, to just have this group… It was very clear that we don’t let any player go, we don’t bring any player in – it was about this group of players. Then it was hard to leave my family in Paris, because of Brexit and [COVID-19], and to come here alone, but it was also a very simple approach to my life. So it was all about coaching, being in a hotel room, having my two suitcases and diving into this club and pushing this team. That was not always nice but it was very, very clear, and it was a very simple approach to my professional life. I could feel in a very strong way that this makes me happy. This is a big part of my personality: to be out on the pitch, to feel a part of a competitive club. Every day felt like a big reward: to push players, to think of solutions, how to push the team, how to influence them. This is pretty much the best motivation I could ever get.
Maybe it was a good thing that we didn’t put too much [pressure on] ourselves and didn’t expect too much. We felt it was quite an adventure that we stepped into in the middle of the season. The decision was made in 72 hours, but I had a feeling it was the right thing to do and I trusted my gut and I trusted my feelings. There was no time to overthink it and there was also no time to overthink our expectations. We dived in. We expected a lot of ourselves: to give 100%, to push the team and to not accept boundaries or limits. I take care not to expect too much because you don’t know where it’ll end up, and there are too many things you cannot predict. It’s about injuries, it’s about luck; decision-making by referees, momentum in games. Luck is so hugely involved. It’s not done yet. It’s not the time for praise; it’s not the time for reflection. You have to finish the job.
No, maybe not. There will be some changes. But still, we beat them. Will it be like we have a big advantage? No, absolutely not. He can’t be sure that he’s played our team yet, the team which will play the final. It’s the same for us but we know very well that it will start from scratch and we need another top performance. We need true belief, which we have now, and we need luck in little situations. But the good thing is we beat them twice in a very short period of time, and that gives us a very genuine feeling of self-confidence.
It’s always so, so tough to play against his teams. I played against his Bayern team and now against his City team. I watched his Barcelona team to learn from him and his team about football – how you can defend, how you can attack – for years and years. They did it in Barcelona at the very highest level that maybe ever existed until then in European football. It was a pleasure to watch. It was the same to have the chance to compete against him in Mainz and Dortmund. He built winning machines and this is what he has done now, here in England. I don’t hesitate to say that City and Bayern have been the benchmark in Europe this season and last. We’re trying to close the gap and the good thing is, in football, you can close gaps in 90 minutes. That is absolutely possible and that’s what we [aim to do] in the final.
Sleeping the night before is not guaranteed, so maybe you wake up very, very tired. It’s not like you imagined it as a young boy, when you’re so excited because you can watch the game on TV. As a coach you wake up pretty exhausted, thinking about solutions, thinking about line-ups, thinking about what to show, what not to show, which sessions, when to do the sessions… Normally I take a nap, a deep sleep, after lunch and then finally arrive pretty nervous and pretty excited. As a child you dream of these matches and it’s like watching the moon: it’s so, so far away. But once you’re in it, you’re just in it; it’s your work and you just do the work again. You cannot go back to being the little boy, even if you try.
Well, it’s the toughest competition. This is the competition I watched as a little boy on TV and I have so many memories of all the German teams who were involved. When you walk out the first time and you hear the Champions League song playing, it’s huge, it’s simply amazing. I feel very, very thankful to have this life, to be out there with this mix of excitement and pressure. That [record] is simply amazing but it doesn’t change anything for me, because I wasn’t aware I’m the first coach who’s done that. It’s about being the best in the moment, not creating some numbers or records. It’s about now and tomorrow; enjoy and work hard for it.