Why Chelsea chose ‘elite’ Mauricio Pochettino as perfect manager to spearhead revival
In appointing Mauricio Pochettino, Chelsea hope they have — at the second attempt — landed the perfect manager to build a new era under Todd Boehly and Co.
Pochettino, who is set to finally be confirmed as boss this week, interviewed for the job when Thomas Tuchel was sacked in September, but Boehly and co-owner Behdad Eghbali opted for Graham Potter instead.
Chelsea have now moved to correct what Boehly and Egbali have privately acknowledged was a mistake, handing Pochettino the return to a top Premier League club he has wanted since being sacked by Tottenham in 2019.
Chelsea conducted a thorough, six-week search for Potter’s permanent successor, led by co-sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley, but in so many respects Pochettino has long been the obvious choice — and not just because he is a free agent.
Unlike Julian Nagelsmann, Luis Enrique and Ruben Amorim, who were all considered, the Argentine knows the Premier League inside out after 18 months at Southampton and five-and-a-half years with Spurs, and already has a home in London, splitting his time between the capital and Barcelona.
He has a record of playing attractive, high-octane football; is equally comfortable managing star names and developing young players; has a proven track record of bringing unity and values to a club; and returns to English football with a point to prove, still without a trophy on these shores — the only caveat to his excellent work at Spurs.
As much as anything, however, Chelsea’s new owners were attracted by Pochettino’s collaborative approach and potential to build a project, which set him apart from other candidates.
Boehly and Egbali were unsure, for example, if they could work with Nagelsmann, despite the 35-year-old German being a compelling candidate on paper. Nor was Luis Enrique considered a good fit, while Vincent Kompany, who was also discussed, is regarded as a potential candidate for the future rather than now.
Pochettino, though, is seen as an elite coach with the personality and temperament to work with Chelsea’s new hierarchy and unify the club. He is, after all, the manager who enjoyed the best working relationship with Daniel Levy at Spurs, once spending a summer white-water rafting with the chairman, and worked with three sporting directors in north London in Franco Baldini, Paul Mitchell and Steve Hitchen — with a particularly close relationship with the English pair.
Chelsea believe Pochettino can get the best from their unpolished gems, expensive investments and established stars alike
Even in the snake pit of Paris Saint-Germain, where Pochettino was in charge for 18 months before he was sacked last summer, the 51-year-old did as well as any coach under the Qatari owners and, significantly, has retained strong relationships with a many of the squad, including Kylian Mbappe, Marco Verratti and Neymar.
Pochettino finally won silverware in Paris, delivering the French Cup and Ligue 1 title, but just as significantly, perhaps, proved capable of handling the politics of a dressing room packed with egos and fierce competition for places, which Chelsea have also taken into account.
Under Boehly and Egbali, the Blues have hardly behaved like a club committed to building a sustainable long-term project by sacking two managers in seven months, but the aim is still ultimately to move away from Roman Abramovich’s hire-and-fire approach and challenge for honours with a stable platform.
Pochettino has already proven his project-building credentials at Spurs, transforming the club from the chaos of Tim Sherwood’s scorched-earth tenure to European Cup finalists.
Along the way, he developed Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Kyle Walker, Heung-min Son, Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli into among the finest players in the world in their positions and built a thrilling, hard-running team around a group of young, malleable and often homegrown players.
Chelsea expect him to similarly build around a core of young players and believe he has the human touch and coaching pedigree to get the best from their unpolished gems, expensive investments and established stars alike.
Conor Gallagher, Mason Mount, Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Wesley Fofana, Enzo Fernandez, Mykhailo Mudryk, Levi Colwill and Benoit Badiashile are among those who could benefit from a coach who has a fine record at improving players — and, notably, producing England internationals.
Pochettino’s connection to Spurs might have been a concern for the owners, but they were encouraged by the response of supporters online and, anyway, the former Espanyol boss was admired by Abramovich and has long been considered a viable appointment for Chelsea.
In the end, Chelsea’s apparent mistake in opting for Potter over Pochettino has worked in both parties’ favour. A celebrated former Spurs boss is a far more palatable choice for fans today than he would have been in replacing the popular Tuchel, while Potter is a much easier act to follow than the Champions League-winning German.
After the depths plumbed this season, Chelsea can surely only go up, and the belief from the club is that Pochettino has all the qualities to lead them back to the very top.