Mauricio Pochettino’s appointment at Chelsea has been one of the worst-kept secrets in football in the last couple of months. After an exhaustive search that took a list of candidates, interviews and heavy media speculation, the Argentine is the undisputed choice of Chelsea’s under-pressure hierarchy.
After ending a chaotic season ending 12th in the Premier League with their worst-ever points total in the competition, alarm bells are ringing aloud from Stamford Bridge. Hence, the search for a head coach shows they have learned from the hasty appointment of Graham Potter.
This well-considered approach led by Laurence Stewart, the technical director, and Paul Winstanley, the director of global talent and transfers, has led to the unanimous vote of the popular Argentine.
Of course, this is the most significant appointment in the Todd Boehly/Clearlake era after their litany of errors and miscalculations during their first 12 months as stakeholders in European football. Getting the Pochettino appointment right will determine the direction of the club under the American owners.
Having been thrown into the deep end following Roman Abramovich’s sanctioning and subsequent auctioning of the West London club, Boehly & co perhaps underestimated the need for stealth in a careful overhauling as they changed too much too soon.
Thomas Tuchel’s shock sacking was followed by an overdue dismissal of Graham Potter, with Frank Lampard’s ineptitude at this level further exposed by a soulless end to the season. Although hopes of a top-four finish were far gone and only an inspired run in the Champions League could salvage the poor season, Lampard’s interim spell registered just one win from 11 games.
A calamitous attempt to appeal to the match-going Chelsea fans put an end to the toxic atmosphere at games but did little to improve the results, now, the new man needs to press a hard-reset button.
Poch the coach
Pochettino seems to possess that button as he is suited to the task at hand and despite being widely regarded as a legend at Chelsea’s bitter London rivals, Tottenham, Poch has made a career out of building lasting team principles and improving players.
Chelsea sceptics will point to his perceived nearly-man reputation at Spurs but José Mourinho and Antonio Conte failed to build on or match Pochettino’s achievements in North London, showing his expertise in maximizing his assets.
Hitherto, the 51-year-old galvanized a lowly Espanyol side on the brink of La Liga relegation in 2009 into a comfortable mid-table position. His next managerial step was taken at promoted Southampton who he led to an eighth-place finish, their highest league position since 2003 and most points tally since the Premier League began.
Pochettino signed for Tottenham in 2014 and reached the League Cup final in his first seven months (losing to Chelsea), before overseeing consistent runs for the title and top four places while leading them to their highest points tallies and first-ever Champions League final in 2019.
Notably, his Southampton and Tottenham teams topped the charts for distance covered per game in four of his six full seasons. The story of Tottenham as a club before and after the Argentine prove he was an anomaly, a proven overachiever.
Pochettino may have had his pedigree somewhat dashed in an awkward spell at Paris Saint-Germain, yet he signed off with a Ligue 1 title, French Cup and the French Super Cup. The all-star forward trio of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar undermined the manager’s preferred high-pressing style of play but he was able to record remarkable UEFA Champions League knockout victories over Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, only losing to the finalists in both seasons in charge.
Pochettino returns to the Premier League to lead a wounded heavyweight with unlimited resources, ambition and lots of talented young players waiting to explode. The ex-Argentina international can be forgiven for yet having a point to prove at the top level.
Given there is no European football for the Blues next season, Pochettino is in a familiar scenario of having to build from the ground up. Chelsea can only improve in every aspect from the new campaign after being one of the worst teams in the entire league in 2022/23.
Club structure and standards
The mood soured to embarrassing lows at Chelsea after so much upheaval in the staff, spending more than £600 million on 19 new players and having four different coaches all contributing to their lowest top-flight finish in 27 years.
Chelsea’s owners are to blame for quickly establishing themselves as very hands-on directors who were intent on doing things their own way, despite a lack of experience in the field and the laid-down foundations of success they met. This saw chairman Bruce Buck, club director Marina Granovskaia, and technical and performance advisor Petr Čech, leave the club within a matter of weeks.
Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali have shown naivety with genuinely good intentions, but leaving the managerial search to the new football directors and finally appointing a man with a reputation for moulding identities, means they are learning from their mistakes.
Although Boehly is successful in elite-level sports through his part-ownership of the Major League Baseball side, Los Angeles Dodgers, he will have found some harsh realities of the football transfer market.
Lampard had some words of advice for the incoming manager based on his previous knowledge of the Chelsea dressing room as a player and manager.
“There’s a lot of work to be done. That’s my synopsis after six weeks, the basics that I keep talking about – standards are so relevant to this club at the minute. Standards collectively have dropped – I can be honest about that as it’s my last game and I might not see some of them that much anyway!
“Standards as a collective for a club like Chelsea have to be at the maximum or you won’t be physically competitive enough, or you won’t be able to play at a high level, high speed the Premier League demands.
“If you’re not together in the dressing room and vocal in the dressing room, and driving each other and competitive because ‘I want your place and you want mine’… Every top team has to have that.
“When I came in, very quickly I could see that wasn’t there enough. Of course, a very good manager can help that but everyone has to take responsibility.”
It is clear that Chelsea need a clear direction, purpose, and a long-overdue squad overhaul as they had to deal with a squad of 33 players this season. However, the profile of their January acquisitions has pointed towards highly talented Under-23 players.
The likes of Enzo Fernández, Benoît Badiashile, Noni Madueke and Mykhailo Mudryk have already shown flashes of brilliance, meaning there are no doubts about the amount of untapped potential there.
While big-name players were being frozen out and others sought a way out, the morale of the overall group was impacted as the team and squad struggled for dynamics. Crucially, establishing his squad and improving the fitness levels in order to instil an aggressive winning attitude would be top priorities for Pochettino.
He will seek upgrades on positions and competition for places while looking to improve the defensive midfield, centre-forward and goalkeeping positions. As all of Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Cesar Azpilicueta, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mateo Kovačić could be on their way out, this team could be looking very different by the start of next season.
Malo Gusto, Christopher Nkunku, Levi Colwill and Ian Maatsen are immediate additions to the squad while the future of Romelu Lukaku also needs to be assessed and decisions will be made on the young players to go out on loan.
It may have been a limp campaign throughout for the Blues, but they will surely improve and evolve under Pochettino. He must hit the ground running with his football decisions.