It’s taken a while, but Mauricio Pochettino is finally confirmed as Chelsea manager.
Despite the fact it’s been an open secret for several weeks now, with tabloid interest having long since moved on from his appointment to juicier topics of who he might sign, who he might bin and what precisely is to be done with Romelu Lukaku, it’s still going to take a bit of getting used to. Former Chelsea managers end up at Spurs, not the other way around. It is against the natural order of things.
What it should be, though, is an excellent appointment. Anyone still making silverware jibes has long since missed the point or is simply being deliberately obtuse; if the man’s pots with PSG don’t count in his favour because anyone can win there, then his lack of trophies at Spurs don’t count against him because nobody can win there.
In Pochettino, Chelsea have a manager who could be right in the sweet spot between Thomas Tuchel, a proven winner but abrasive and a touch short-term, and Graham Potter, a long-term project manager who was making a leap in level that proved slightly beyond him.
Pochettino can bridge that gap. He will be less likely to antagonise Todd Boehly than Tuchel. He will be better at dealing with an elite squad than Potter. It will be agony for Spurs fans, but Chelsea really should be on to something here.
Pochettino’s oft-repeated mantra at Spurs was “You sign a contract to train, not to play”; it’s a managerial philosophy that will need drumming home at Chelsea. Whatever pruning and repairs are made to the squad in the summer – and one assumes they will be many and wide-ranging – there are still going to be an awful lot of players around the place. And next season at least there will not be an awful lot of football to go around with no European commitments.
Managing that squad and keeping everyone if not quite happy then at least on the same script is the most important thing for Chelsea next season to begin correcting the errors that have led them here; they could not have picked a better manager for the task.
What Pochettino is unlikely to do is replicate the sort of instant success Antonio Conte enjoyed when walking into Chelsea in 2016 after a similarly shambolic campaign. But expectation from around Chelsea and the fans appears to be more reasonable now. Significant improvement is necessary, but that improvement will be coming from such a low base as to render even a meaningful challenge for the top four a decent managerial effort even with (or despite of) the inevitable transfer largesse we’re about to witness.
For all the flaws in Chelsea’s squad, it already contains several components that look ideal for Pochettino. It’s sometimes easy to forget that when Pochettino arrived at Spurs the likes of Kyle Walker and Danny Rose were seen as lost causes and liabilities. He turned them into England regulars and crucial members of his team. At Chelsea he has Reece James and Ben Chilwell who are already at the level required.
Enzo Fernandez is just the thing for a Pochettino midfield and there are plenty of players for the attacking positions around the central striker. We wouldn’t even rule out Pochettino making Lukaku work to be honest, but that along with centre-back appears to be the outfield areas where Pochettino has the most work to do to make this team look a) competent and b) like a Pochettino team.
It is likely to take a while for it to come together. It took Pochettino two years to make Spurs a really good team and three-and-a-half for them to hit their peak.
But he knows what he’s walking into at Chelsea and why this is the right time to do it. From the outside, it’s easy to wonder quite what appeals about a club in such an apparent mess for a manager who has been notoriously selective about the jobs he takes having twice now spent a year out of the game since leaving Spurs and PSG.
Yet it is Chelsea’s current state that makes it so appealing. Every game which Chelsea play now only makes Pochettino’s job that little bit easier. The worse their state appears to be when he takes over, the greater the control he will have over what happens next.
It’s what he had when the going was good at Spurs and what slipped away as things started to go wrong. It’s what he never had at PSG. It’s what he expects to now get at Chelsea. Boehly has shown the sense to appoint Pochettino; now he must have the sense to let him work.
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