It was in the California heat that Jose Mourinho built the first great Chelsea side of the Roman Abramovich era. Countless hours were spent on the training pitches at UCLA in the summer of 2004 in which the self-proclaimed Special One forged an unbreakable bond with his players that carried them to back-to-back Premier League titles.
Such was the success of the trip that America – and specifically Los Angeles – became Mourinho’s go-to location for pre-season training camps. He took Chelsea back twice, oversaw visits with Inter Milan and Real Madrid, and in the summer of 2017, brought out Manchester United to the West Coast.
“Here [at UCLA], we have everything,” Mourinho told the LA Times that summer. “The facilities are very good. The organization is very good. Since 2004 I am still searching for the first mistake, but the first mistake has never arrived. It’s amazing.
“The players like to come here. This country gives us soccer people a little bit of freedom that we don’t have in other places. The players can walk outside, can sit in some place and have a drink together. They can go out shopping. They can have a social life.”
The days of Mourinho are, of course, long gone at Chelsea. Yet pre-season visits to the United States remain. And this summer Thomas Tuchel and his players will be flying out to Los Angeles for a six-day stay in which they will use the facilities at UCLA. Then come friendlies in Las Vegas, Charlotte, and Orlando.
It will be an intense tour, and there is much work for Tuchel to do as he attempts to construct a side capable of challenging Man City and Liverpool in the Premier League. And it’s that stay in LA that will be crucial to Chelsea’s season.
Unlike last summer, in which players returned in stages due to participation at Euro 2020 and the Copa America. Tuchel should have his full squad to work at UCLA – the players who are currently away on international duty are expected to report back on July 9, the day Chelsea fly out to the States.
It is imperative new signings are also on board. Jules Kounde’s arrival at Stamford Bridge is expected, but Chelsea have yet to submit a formal offer to Sevilla for the France international. That must change soon. And while talks have been held with Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele over a free transfer, no contract has been agreed upon as yet.
Tuchel’s first pre-season at Chelsea was disjointed. Travel restrictions due to coronavirus meant there was no money-spinning tour and a short trip to Ireland had to be ended early after a player tested positive for Covid. Add in the late returns of several key players, and it’s something of a surprise that the Blues started the 2021/22 campaign so strongly.
It will be different this summer. Tuchel and his players will have time together on the training fields to work on structure, shape, and patterns of play – which may benefit Romelu Lukaku if the Belgian remains with the club. There will also be the opportunity for Tuchel and the squad to bond off the pitch; that was difficult last season given the Blues’ relentless schedule.
It’s a quirk that the Todd Boehly era begins with a tradition established during Abramovich’s tenure. But the hope must be that Tuchel can replicate Mourinho’s 2004 formula and construct a Chelsea side on the pitches at UCLA that can compete for the Premier League title once again.