Sometimes, Thomas Tuchel concentrates so much that he can not see a person standing next to him. It should feel like this this week.
On Tuesday, the giant and obsessive manager sent his weakened side, without Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain, against the resurgent Manchester United. If the PSG wins, the club will continue on its way to its last remaining obsession and, frankly, almost the only point of its existence these days: its first trophy of the Champions League. (So dominant is Paris at home that no one is excited about his imminent sixth French league title in seven seasons).
Off the field, Tuchel has another goal: to get his nemesis, Antero Henrique, replaced as sports director of PSG by his soul mate, Arsene Wenger. This is the German's chance to establish himself as the long-term guide of a giant club instead of being the last seemingly temporary PSG coach.
Like Wenger, Tuchel came to the top only in management and intellectual ability. He, too, was a defender with modest talent whose true passion was to train. After an injury that ended his playing career in the third division of Ulm, at only 24 years old, he coached youth teams in Stuttgart, Augsburg and Mainz, and graduated from a coaching course with high marks. After Mainz suddenly offered him a job as a first team coach, the first time he had trained adults at any level, he won more points than all four other Bundesliga teams in five seasons. Then he resigned, saying he could not continue with the club. In his next job, in Dortmund, he had an unenviable responsibility to replace Jurgen Klopp, but it could be said that it was better; his average points per game (2.09) was the best of any coach in club history. However, Tuchel resigned in 2017 after dealing with team executives and, after a sabbatical, joined Paris.
And so, an uncomfortable character had taken on an uncomfortable club. If the PSG stars had been the kind of people who wanted to try their best each week, they would not be playing in the French league. And nobody can tell Neymar, Dani Alves or Kylian Mbappe what to do. Tuchel understands that the coach is not the most important man in any club; He describes football as a "game of players". But how is this squadron managed?
Tuchel arrived learning very decent French (better than some players who have been at PSG for years). That helped him attract PSG fans: "Too-shell," like the French mangle his name, is more popular than his predecessors. However, language is also essential for his work. Tuchel believes in a deep communication that is different for each player. He becomes obsessed with what makes each man throb.
In Mainz, writes the German author Christoph Biermann in his book "Matchplan", Tuchel discovered that one of his players was motivated by money: winning bonuses and the dream of a lucrative transfer. That was fine with Tuchel; Understanding this made the art of man management easier. In PSG, he decided that what Brazilians most wanted by the squad wanted a coach was love. Tuchel says he hugs Neymar and that when the player is not around, "I write text messages to tell him that I still believe in him and that I'm sad that he's not here." This was not the approach adopted by his predecessor, Unai Emery.
However, Tuchel also subjects the PSG players to his fanaticism. Delgado at 45 years of age, boasts of having spent four weeks in Italy without touching pasta or pizza. The first time your PSG team took the bus to go to a game, the game creator Marco Verratti requested a Coca-Cola. Horror of horrors, he discovered that Tuchel had banned all soda and sandwiches. Verratti quickly caught the message.
Discipline has long been a problem in PSG. The players kept forgetting parts of the kit in the dressing rooms during training and going back to look for them. Being late for meetings was an epidemic. Eventually, Tuchel punished Mbappe and Adrien Rabiot by comparing them to the grudge game against Marseille last fall (of course, PSG won anyway). He has reportedly also gone to his players' favorite restaurants and nightclubs to speak with staff.
Tuchel also put pressure on his team in a tactical sense. For years, the PSG had only one march: a 4-3-3 based on possession and attack. But Tuchel is a believer in training that constantly changes and in attacking through midfield instead of flanks. PSG can now play in a 3-4-3 and even run in the counterattack.
The start of the season was excellent: PSG had 14 consecutive victories in the league, a French record, and obtained a slightly lucky qualification for the Champions League qualifiers after a 3-2 home victory against Liverpool. But things unraveled this winter.
In December, Henrique expelled Rabiot from the team because the midfielder refused to sign a new contract. Then, on January 23, Neymar broke his metatarsal bone again. You will miss the United games. Then, almost certainly, will be Edinson Cavani, after he has gone limping during the victory at home on Saturday 1-0 against Bordeaux. With Verratti just recovered from an injury, Tuchel is struggling to throw a midfield against the suddenly invincible side of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The PSG injury race is terribly unfortunate, but it also reveals a flaw in the club's recruitment strategy: after paying a combined € 400 million transfer fee for Neymar and Mbappe, the two most expensive players in the history of football , There was not enough To the left to build a deep squadron.
Since the new year, the unsurpassed team of Tuchel has collapsed. He lost the Guingamp team at home; He lost Lyon; and on February 6, PSG needed extra time to beat Villefranche of the third division in the French Cup.
Meanwhile, Henrique has been off the field. Last summer, he could not hire the defensive midfielder, which was Tuchel's priority. Days before the January transfer period ended, with Tuchel asking for two new midfielders, the Portuguese had not yet managed to sign one. The young Argentine midfielder. Leandro Paredes was expected to join Zenit St. Petersburg, but at the end of January, Tuchel joked: "I looked for him in the showers, in the locker room, with the goalkeeper, the physiotherapist … but he's not there!" Paredes finally arrived before the deadline, but he alone may not be enough.
Henrique's long-term project to hire midfielder Frenkie De Jong of Ajax also failed, despite long hours of negotiations at the Amsterdam Amstel Hotel. Perhaps predictably, the player chose Barcelona.
Tuchel is cautious when answering questions about Henrique: "I have my views, he has his own", but the two clearly are not the best friends. The departure of Tuchel from Dortmund after his clashes with the directors suggests a possible ending in Paris, but there is also a more hopeful scenario for him: that Wenger replaces Henrique as sports director. Nine months after leaving Arsenal, the Alsatian, 69, but with a look similar to 40, is bored and eager to return to daily football.
Wenger has advised the Qatar club owners from the beginning. In 2011, he told them it was a "truism" to buy the club. For a long time he has been a well-paid expert on the French television channel of Qataris, BeIN Sports. He has received many offers from clubs and federations in recent months, but the work that seems most interesting is that of Henrique.
Tuchel is a trainer of Wenger's own image: a cerebral and multilingual workaholic obsessed with diet, match statistics and beautiful football and, so far, anyway, he is not a trophy winner. In fact, Tuchel has not yet won a single title. But Wenger does not want to join PSG just to spend his days fighting: he wants long-term control. That would mean that Henrique is leaving.
A duo of Tuchel-Wenger capable of unleashing Neymar and Mbappe would be something to contemplate. But first, a PSG team with little strength must somehow find its way beyond United.