Pep Guardiola was not so much the one that got away – rather the one that was never going to come.
Abramovich would have loved to see the Catalan impose his brand of football on Stamford Bridge after seeing him conquer Europe with Barcelona. But it was Manchester City who lured Guardiola to England – giving him the freedom to shape them in his own image.
For a man so careful about moulding his legacy, it’s safe to assume Guardiola would have seen Chelsea as too great a risk to his reputation. Abramovich’s hire ‘em, fire ‘em policy would be too volatile for a man who finished his first season at the Etihad trophyless.
Tuchel is not Guardiola, but Chelsea have stumbled upon him by circumstance and now stand with 90 minutes of being crowned kings of Europe at the expense of the City manager.
Should the German mastermind a third straight win against Guardiola it will serve as compelling evidence of his status as the greatest threat to City’s domestic dominance next season. It will also endorse Abramovich’s trigger-happy approach to managers having turned to Tuchel in January after ruthlessly sacking Frank Lampard.
He has overseen a remarkable turnaround in Chelsea’s fortunes, guiding them to fourth, as well as the FA Cup and Champions League Finals.
Yet – this being Chelsea – failure to win in Porto on Saturday night, thus making it a trophy-less campaign, with four defeats from their last five games, it would cast doubt over Tuchel’s position going into his first full season in charge. He is expected to be handed a new contract but Champions League Final defeat would open up a corridor of doubt.
Few could argue against the fact that Chelsea are on an upward trajectory under Tuchel but Abramovich’s reign has been built on achieving excellence. Top four is a minimum requirement, a consequence of missing out on the title, rather than a target in itself.
Perhaps Abramovich and Tuchel will discuss as much at the Estadio do Dragao when the Russian is expected to be in attendance. They will meet for the first time and Tuchel will hope it will be in celebration, rather than commiseration.
For his part, he has made it clear that he sees himself at the Bridge for the long term.
“I’m just so happy to be here,” he said. “I have never felt so good since I was in Mainz and this feels like the perfect place and the perfect moment. I’m so happy to be here, so whatever will come will come. We cannot force things, but, of course, this is my point of view and this is very clear.”
Long term at Chelsea is a relative concept, but history tells us anything other than victory against City will leave Tuchel in a precarious position. Yet victory could go a long way to convincing Abramovich the man he was only prepared to hand an 18-month contract to, is capable of mounting a serious challenge to Guardiola’s dominance.
Tuchel said: “We are well aware that Man City is the benchmark with this team and manager over the last years, but in football you are always able to close the gap. We have done that twice and we will try again.
“How did we do it before? We were courageous and brave, we suffered together and we were strong as a team with belief and quality and we did show up in every single minute. This is pretty much it.
“It’s always tough to play against City, Bayern or Barcelona when Pep is at the sideline. They create and he creates this team with this huge belief, and this huge success, and continuously winning mentality.
“So they are maybe at the moment the strongest team in Europe and maybe in the world, and they have a huge gap, they have built a huge gap between them and us in the league. But we closed the gap for 90 minutes in Wembley, we closed the gap for 90 minutes at City, and this is what we want to do tomorrow.”
If Chelsea can do that, Tuchel will surely be able to name his own terms.