When listening to Newcastle United fans and certain allegedly well informed journalists/pundits who still advocate that Alan Pardew remains as our manager, there is an all too common, but dangerous myth that runs through their defence of the indefensible: that Newcastle are incapable of attracting a better manager than Alan Pardew to work under the constraints that Mike Ashley imposes on the club. These constraints are usually characterised as:
- working with limited transfer funds
- working with a low wage bill
- limited control over the player recruitment
- a low base salary for the manager (relative to Premier League standards) and
- the requirement to work under a blueprint that centres around developing players and selling them for a profit.
During the periods of speculation surrounding Pardew’s future, various media sources put forward lists of potential candidates for the Newcastle job. These lists tended to focus on relatively uninspiring domestic managers with Premier League experience such as Sherwood, Hoddle, Pulis and Bruce – perhaps created with a nod to Ashley’s preference for plucking figures from a 90s Panini sticker album to run the club. These lists only served to further promote the myth that the Newcastle job is not sufficiently attractive and that, even if a manager was willing to take on the job, he would be no better than Pardew.
But the truth is that there are candidates outside of the litany of managers who have pinballed from one lower midtable Premier League job to another who would be willing to work at Newcastle United and could comfortably perform this role in a more convincing, entertaining and above all successful way than Alan Pardew, even taking into account the constraints set out above. The restrictions that Pardew is operating under are by no means unique – in fact, having minimal control over transfers and limited funds set aside for transfers and wages is an extremely common scenario in European football. Yet there are managers who are capable of not only coping in such straitened circumstances, but thriving. One such individual is Thomas Tuchel.
Widely regarded as one of the brightest managerial talents in Germany, Thomas Tuchel resigned from his job as Mainz manager before the beginning of the 2014/15 season and has not yet taken up a new position (Roberto Di Matteo’s appointment at Schalke removes one of the jobs that Tuchel had been touted for in the German media). Fluent in English, Tuchel is rumoured to want a new challenge and has previously been linked to jobs in England with Tottenham and Southampton.
Tuchel was appointed as Mainz manager in August 2009 after they had been promoted to the Bundesliga. During his time there, he broke a club record for the number of seasons spent in the Bundesliga by ensuring Mainz’s survival for six consecutive seasons (to put this achievement in context, their appearance in 2013/14 was only their eighth campaign in the Bundesliga in their entire history).
Tuchel not only did a fantastic job in establishing a relative minnow such as Mainz in the German top flight (finishing 9th in their first season after promotion), he in fact did far more than just survive. As of 14th February 2014, Mainz were statistically the fifth-best Bundesliga team (by total number of points gained) since Tuchel took over at the beginning of the 2009-10 season. Only the giants of German football – Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke – had obtained more points than Mainz in that period of time.
Furthermore, and quite unlike a certain Alan Pardew, Tuchel has shown an ability to learn from his mistakes. After Tuchel led Mainz to a fifth place finish in 2010-11 and Europa League qualification, Mainz could only manage consecutive 13th place finishes in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons (with important players such as Holtby and Schurrle having departed before the start of the 2011-12 season). Lessons learnt, Tuchel bounced back with a 7th place finish in 2013-14 and another Europa League qualification before handing in his resignation.
Transfers and wages
Tuchel’s successes at Mainz were achieved on one of lowest wage bills in the Bundesliga. The Mainz wage bill for 2013-14 was estimated to be approximately€20m (roughly £15.5 million). Although wages at German clubs are generally lower than Premier League clubs, by comparison Newcastle United’s wage bill for 2012-13 (the most recent available figures) was nearly 4 times larger at a total of £61.5 million. It is also unlikely that Tuchel’s salary demands would be exorbitant – his salary at Mainz was believed to be as low as €1m. From available media reports, this figure would not appear to be much more than the salary that Pardew is alleged to be on. Mike Ashley would also be delighted to discover that Tuchel’s success came despite working with a very small transfer budget. Over Tuchel’s five year reign, his net spend totalled a paltry €1.1m (based on figures from transfermarkt.com).
Tuchel also has a great reputation for developing and improving players for sale onto bigger clubs. In his time at Mainz, players such as André Schürrle (Bayer Leverkusen, now Chelsea), Nicolai Müller (Hamburg), Ádám Szalai (Schalke) and Jan Kirchhoff (Bayern Munich) have been sold onto German clubs with greater reputations and players have been rewarded with international recognition whilst at the unfashionable Mainz. In an interview with bundesliga.com, Tuchel stated that he was aware that his role at a club like Mainz was to nurture players for the top four in the Bundesliga and that the measurement of success at Mainz had to be and was a different proposition than at the bigger German clubs – they had to measure the sales and individual development of their players as being their equivalent of league titles or cup triumphs.
Whilst not something any fan necessarily wants to hear, the ability of Tuchel to improve and nurture players would be music to Mike Ashley’s ears. It has long been a mystery to me that, given Ashley’s blueprint of buying low and selling high, he has not sought to employ a manager who has a track record of getting the best out of the players he has at his disposal and, as a groundbreaking idea, actually seeking to improve them through coaching and technical development. One only needs to look at the squandered talents (and, from Mike Ashley’s perspective, squandered potential income) of Hatem Ben Arfa, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Davide Santon, Moussa Sissoko, Vurnon Anita et al to see that Pardew quite clearly does not possess the right attributes and characteristics to work under a business model centred around increasing the value and ability of players. One can only imagine the frustration felt by Graham Carr as he sees the unquestionable talents of the players he has extensively scouted dashed against the rocks of Pardew’s antiquated training methods and negative footballing philosophy. Even the recent emergence of players such as Mehdi Abeid, Rolando Aarons, Ayoze Perez and Sammy Ameobi appears to have come about more by luck than any judgment on Pardew’s part. For example, Pardew has tried to offload Abeid in two consecutive summer transfer windows and on occasions cast aspersions on Ameobi’s future at the club.
Tuchel is renowned in footballing circles for his innovative training methods and has worked closely with Professor Wolfgang Schöllhorn of Mainz University to produce a unique training regime (the only other club to use Schöllhorn has been Barcelona). He is known for training his team on different size pitches on a regular basis – his most famous being rhomboid shaped, designed to prevent full backs from playing long balls down the line, but he has also trained on both circular and rectangular shaped pitches of vastly differing dimensions. He has also incorporated drills of playing 20-a-side games or 11 versus 11 in one half of the pitch to improve physical conditioning and speed of thought. This groundbreaking approach to training is designed to extract the most from the players at his disposal and could not be more different from what we know about Pardew’s outdated methods and Steve Stone’s desire for our players to “kick it longer”. Lewis Holtby, who was on loan at Mainz for 2010/11 season, has described working with Tuchel as “extraordinary”.
Tuchel also has an almost unrivalled work ethic – German journalist Raphael Honigstein described Thomas Tuchel as:
“An ultra-dedicated, obsessive 24/7 workaholic who can’t stop thinking about football. A regular day sees him at the training ground at 8.15 am. He spends two hours preparing the training session and after training and lunch, he usually stays behind to study video footage of the training and of the next opponents.”
Tuchel is well known for tactical flexibility and his preference to change formation and the starting eleven depending on the identity of the opposition. However, his preferred tactical set up is a 4-3-2-1 formation designed to control the middle of the pitch. Regardless of personnel or formation changes, Tuchel’s Mainz team was based around fundamental principles of hard and high pressing and swift counter-attacking football – an approach that could arguably get the most out of the current Newcastle squad. And in a significant departure from Alan Pardew’s questionable and repeated left back substitutions, Tuchel takes a rather novel approach to the utilisation of his substitutions. In the vast majority of matches, Tuchel would use his full complement of three substitutions and has even been known to leave some of his stronger players on the bench for certain matches in order to bring them on at a time when they can be influence the game most effectively.
In short, Thomas Tuchel would tick almost every box required for a manager at a club in Newcastle United’s position. He is a young, ambitious, progressive and innovative coach who will produce exciting and attacking football and ensure that his team punches well above its weight. He has a proven track record when it comes to succeeding with a limited transfer budget and using his coaching ability to extract the most of the playing resources at his disposal. The difference between a figure like Tuchel and Pardew could not be more stark. The long hoped-for sacking of Alan Pardew could present Mike Ashley with the perfect opportunity to really progress Newcastle United while sticking to his rigid business model. This potential opportunity is not wasted.