Thomas Tuchel admits the invasion of Ukraine and the horrors of war in Europe are clouding life at Chelsea and could turn public feeling against the London club owned by Roman Abramovich.
‘We should not pretend that this is not an issue and I agree,’ said Chelsea’s head coach, when asked ahead of tomorrow’s Carabao Cup final how he felt about the naming of Russian oligarch Abramovich during parliamentary debate on sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime.
‘The situation for me and for everybody here, for the players, is horrible. Nobody expected this. It’s pretty unreal, it’s clouding our minds, clouding excitement towards the final and it brings huge uncertainty.
‘Much more to all people and families who are actually in the moment more involved than us, and our thoughts are obviously with them, which is absolutely most important.’
Tuchel said he agreed with the decision to strip Russia of the honour of hosting the Champions League final, as confirmed yesterday by UEFA, with the end-of-season showpiece moved from St Petersburg to Paris.
‘We absolutely understand the decision and it is for absolutely the worst reason,’ said Tuchel, who won the European title last year, when the final was switched from St Petersburg to Porto due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He also confessed he would prefer to talk purely about the football but realised it was impossible amid events of such magnitude, and recognised that Chelsea, the only Russian-owned Premier League club, might be a target for the backlash of anti-war sentiment.
‘To a certain degree I can understand critical opinions towards the club, towards us who represent that club,’ said Tuchel. ‘I can understand that and we cannot fully free ourselves from it. Maybe people understand that me as a coach or the players, we don’t have the insight what is really going on.
Thomas Tuchel and Roman Abramovich greet each other after the Champions League final
Abramovich could face sanctions due to his links to Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia
‘We have not so much inside information than you think, and in the very end — and don’t understand me wrong — I think it’s also derived from the team and from the staff, and I include myself, to be maybe not political.
‘At the moment we don’t feel responsible for all this. We feel that it is horrible and there can be no doubt about it. War in Europe was unthinkable for me for a long period. The impact is clear and the discussions have an impact. Let’s be a bit more patient and understand what the measurements will be and then we have to maybe deal with it.’
Abramovich bought the club in 2003, investing hundreds of millions in pursuit of success, winning the Premier League five times and the Champions League twice, while transforming the landscape of English football.
The 55-year-old Russian, who has not been resident in the UK since he withdrew a visa renewal application in 2018, has rarely been seen watching his team since, but he was in Abu Dhabi earlier this month to see them win the Club World Cup for the first time.
Chelsea are hoping to add the Carabao Cup to the Club World Cup they won earlier this month
He vigorously maintains his independence from Putin, and yet there is a relationship and there have been calls for Abramovich to have his assets seized, including Chelsea, led by Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda in South Wales.
There has been no action against him but the threat of more retaliatory sanctions against him and other Russian oligarchs remains possible depending on developments in Ukraine, and this makes life distinctly awkward for the free-thinking German coach.
‘I am aware of all these scenarios and all these discussions at the moment,’ said 48-year-old Tuchel. ‘I would love to take my right not to comment on this until there is a decision made. But we are aware of it and it’s distracting us, it’s worrying us.’
However, Tuchel has admitted that Chelsea have been affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Ahead of the game, Wembley’s arch was lit up in the blue and yellow of Ukraine’s flag last night in a show of solidarity.
Decisions such as whether to select Kepa Arrizabalaga or Edouard Mendy in goal, whether to rush Reece James back after his return to training or whether to leave record signing Romelu Lukaku on the bench, all pale somewhat into insignificance.
And Tuchel admitted Russia’s invasion could not be brushed aside because the first domestic cup final of the season is looming. ‘The situation is too big and it is not an isolated situation somewhere,’ he said.
Tuchel believes people may turn against Chelsea due to the club being owned by Abramovich
‘It concerns Europe, it’s in Europe and we are part of Europe. We cannot say let’s put this to the side. It’s the opposite. We have to live with it right now. There is no running away from it.
‘There is no shutting the doors and now we focus on football. We are still privileged to live in peace and freedom right here where we are right now.
‘And I don’t think this will go away, that my mind is clouded. It will not go away for anybody. The issue is too big.’