There is a story from Thomas Tuchel’s time at Paris Saint-Germain that probably goes a long way to highlighting the potential dangers when the players are wired differently, perhaps, than your average dressing room.
When Tuchel was appointed as PSG’s manager in 2018, the former Borussia Dortmund head coach was taking charge of a collection of superstars including Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria and various other A-listers.
Tuchel’s appointment interrupted a pattern of PSG hiring big-name managers who had won the game’s major trophies. And he soon found out it can be tough — as his successor, Mauricio Pochettino, would almost certainly agree — to deal with the politics and egos and sensitivities at Parc des Princes.
Six months into the job, Tuchel was asked at a news conference whether Mbappe deserved to win the Ballon d’Or. The manager’s response was to say that Mbappe would probably win it several times in the future but that he expected another French player, Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, to be honoured that year.
The following day, Tuchel was summoned to the office of Antero Henrique, then PSG’s sporting director. Mbappe’s father had taken those comments as an affront and complained to the club. Tuchel was taken aback by the fuss it had created. But he listened, took it in and learned a lesson: sometimes it is better to accept a superstar’s ego, indulge that player and treat him differently to the rest.
OK, it is an extreme example, but this is something Graham Potter might also have to keep in mind now he has left Brighton & Hove Albion to manage a club that, earlier this year, could call themselves the European and world champions. Trophies, for Chelsea, are considered almost mandatory. The dynamic changes when, in many cases, these are players with much more glittering CVs than the man they will call The Boss.
The people who know Potter best say it does not have to be a big issue. They talk about a man with different layers to his personality. They point out that, as well as a deep knowledge of his profession, Potter has a master’s degree in leadership and emotional intelligence. He understands the human psyche. He knows what makes a footballer tick and how to get the best out of his players.
Still, though, there are obvious challenges to overcome now we are living in an era, it seems, when a manager has to win over the players rather than, as it used to be, the other way round.
Tuchel had the force of personality to punish Mbappe and Adrien Rabiot when they turned up late for a team meeting with PSG. Anything else would have looked weak and risked diminishing the manager in the eyes of the other players.
On other occasions, the German was willing to substitute Mbappe when he must have known it would create an almighty fuss. Mbappe responded the first time by stomping off the pitch and avoiding eye contact with Tuchel, who tried to embrace him. The next time it happened, manager and player exchanged some heated words with their hands held in front of their mouths. Tuchel knew it was important to show everyone, not just Mbappe, that he was in charge.
And now, after three years at Brighton, one of the challenges for Potter is to show he can do the same at an elite club where, for all the goodwill, it is still just a fact that he has never managed a single game in the Champions League.