PSG's decision to sack Thomas Tuchel brings to a close a spell in France that had appeared doomed since the summer.
Tuchel must have known that this day would come. His relationship with the club had steadily deteriorated throughout this tenure, and the seeds were sown almost as soon as his arrival in June 2018. Here are the five key stages of the divorce.
NINE MONTHS IN: The first fiasco
Tuchel's first season was mixed. The team showed it could play an attractive style of football, with a commitment to attack. The PSG side gave their supporters a European night to remember, beating Liverpool 2-1 at the Parc des Princes. At that point, PSG were convinced they had the perfect successor to Unai Emery, but that feeling was fleeting.
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On 6 March 2019, PSG looked like fools again. The Parisians were eliminated in the round of 16 in their second leg match with Manchester United, who were missing many of their big name players. They won the domestic title, but failed to win the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue.
SUMMER 2019: The dressing room begins to doubt, and Leonardo arrives
Despite those disappointments, Tuchel was given a contract that ran until 2021, but senior playing figures started to criticise the German. Le Parisien newspaper revealed in 2019 that players were disconcerted by his lack of tactical focus and the amount of game time given to Julian Draxler.
That summer also saw the return of Leonardo, an executive who was previously heavily involved in the establishment of PSG as a new European force. He had ties with the Qatari owners and was integral to the playing side. That would be a mounting concern as far as Tuchel’s future was concerned.
FEBRUARY 2020: The Mbappe episode and the issue of management
Despite those misgivings, PSG ended 2019 top of Ligue 1 and top of their Champions League group, holding off Real Madrid from pole position. But the style of play had deteriorated, and fans and press were beginning to doubt the ability of Tuchel to improve things. Too much reliance was placed upon star strikers Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, who would grow disenchanted with his boss.
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At the beginning of the new year, PSG’s match schedule was frantic. There were two national cups, the league and a Champions League tie with Borussia Dortmund. On 1 February, in a home game against Montpellier, Tuchel withdrew Mbappe after an hour. A furious Mbappe left the pitch without any gesture or acknowledgement of his boss. It was one example of a difficult relationship between the two.
His touchline manner was questioned by the squad. His close relationship with senior figures in the side, particularly key player Neymar, was no longer as strong as it was. The problems with Mbappe, a centrepiece of the Parisian project, further undermined their trust in his ability.
OCTOBER 2020: Disputes with Leonardo become public
The tension between Tuchel and Leonardo had long been rumoured in the French press, but things spilled out into the public arena in September. Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani, two veterans of the PSG squad, had left over the course of the summer as their contracts expired. However, there were no senior replacements for the pair as the club wrestled with the financial impact of the coronavirus, and Tuchel felt compelled to talk down the club’s ambitions for the season, saying: "If it stays like that, we can't talk about the same goals."
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Sporting director Leonardo was particularly upset by the comments from the coach, and while in the mixed zone after PSG’s win over Angers, said: "We did not like the comments, the club did not like them. Me, personally, I didn’t like it. If someone is not happy, it’s easy, we talk, there is no problem. But if we decide to stay, we must respect the club’s policy, the house rule and the club’s approach."
Clear, crisp and to the point. Tuchel was given last-minute recruits of Moise Kean, Danilo, and Rafinha. But the split with the sports director was now laid bare.
DECEMBER 2020: Disappointing results and an interview too far
The first half of the season was disappointing, in light of the club’s lofty ambitions. Even with the mitigating factor of the coronavirus and the overhaul of the sporting calendar causing fatigue and injuries, the level of PSG’s performance caused concern. The buck would ultimately stop with Tuchel.
Third in Ligue 1 after 17 games, beaten by rivals Marseille and Lyon at Parc des Princes and away at Monaco, the club was more than disheartened. In the Champions League, Neymar and his teammates had avoided embarrassment by snatching the top spot of the group. But the form continued to worry the club executives, who decided to use the winter break to take stock of Tuchel’s position. He no longer had unanimous support.
On Wednesday, the day before his dismissal, the former Dortmund boss gave an interview to German channel Sport1. He let it all out: “A club like PSG has many influences that go far beyond the interests of the team. I just love football and, in a club like here, it's not always about football. There, I say to myself: 'But I just want to be a coach.'" Words that undoubtedly, beyond his sporting performance, sealed his departure.