10 Jul Pochettino is saying all the right things since taking Chelsea job
Chelsea have a manager in charge of the football team again. Mauricio Pochettino will be the fourth boss the squad have had to answer to in the space of 12 months. But after a year of chaos at Stamford Bridge, the former Tottenham Hotspur and Paris Saint-Germain coach has already drawn a line under what has gone before.
Jose Mourinho made a bold statement when he declared himself as the “Special One” on his Chelsea unveiling in 2004. Jurgen Klopp did the same when promising to win the Premier League within four years (he took five, but won the Champions League in his fourth season) in his first news conference at Liverpool in 2015. Both men projected their strength of character at the first opportunity, and it paid off. Pochettino has done the same at Chelsea, but the hard work now begins on the pitch.
Actions will ultimately speak louder than Pochettino’s words, but the 51-year-old’s introductory news conference Friday was akin to a State of the Union address. Issues were dealt with, principles were spelled out and Pochettino projected his personality to make clear that managing a club as demanding and complex as Chelsea was a motivation, not a burden.
All of the above should be basic elements of taking charge of a top club, but none of Pochettino’s three immediate predecessors in the role last season — Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard — were able to tick the necessary boxes.
Tuchel, a Champions League winner at the club in 2021, failed to embrace the change of ownership at Stamford Bridge last summer. He was unable to align with the vision of his new boss, Todd Boehly, and was fired a month into the season.
Potter was handed the chance to build Chelsea in Boehly’s vision, but the former Brighton & Hove Albion manager lacked the personality, experience and confidence to ride out the storm of negative results that followed. He lasted seven months in the job. Then came Lampard, a legend at Chelsea as a player but a man whose managerial record did nothing to inspire a sceptical squad in need of direction. His period as caretaker manager — just over two years after being fired from the full-time job at the same club — resulted in a run of eight defeats and just one win in 11 games in charge.
Pochettino’s turbulent stint as PSG coach will have prepared him well for Chelsea. In the French capital he had to deal with the demands of the club’s Qatari owners and the difficulties of managing the superstar personalities of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. Two years at Parc des Princes will feel like a finishing school in managing the dressing room and the boardroom — two distinctly different challenges that he will have to negotiate at Chelsea.
His first appearance in front of the cameras suggested he has learned from his PSG experience and also from the failures of Tuchel, Potter and Lampard. By making it clear to co-controlling owners Boehly and Behdad Eghbali that they need his permission to enter the dressing room at Stamford Bridge, Pochettino not only sent a message to the owners that he was in charge of football matters, but also to the players.
That was a grey area last season, with neither Potter nor Lampard ever conveying the sense that they were in charge. When Boehly addressed the players and described results and performances as “embarrassing” after a home defeat against Brighton in April, he was doing the manager’s job and, therefore, diminishing him in the eyes of the players. Those same players now know that Pochettino has asserted his authority to the owners, and they will respect his strength of character in doing so.
By telling club-record signing Romelu Lukaku, who spent last season on loan at Inter Milan, that he expects him back at the club for preseason training this summer, Pochettino sent another message to the squad: the slate has been wiped clean, and he will make the final decision on whether players are part of the future or not.
And there are plenty of players still at Chelsea waiting to know whether their future is at Stamford Bridge or elsewhere. The ins and outs this summer have ensured that Pochettino has inherited a group of players in a state of flux: three players have been added to the squad, most notably £52 million forward Christopher Nkunku, while 11 players including Kai Havertz, Mason Mount and N’Golo Kante have left.
Last season’s huge outlay on new signings has yet to bear fruit, but Pochettino will have noted Mykhailo Mudryk‘s impressive performances for Ukraine at the European Under-21 Championship as evidence of the 22-year-old’s ability to succeed at the club after a difficult start. Youngsters including Levi Colwill, a U21 Euros winner with England, and Lewis Hall will also offer Pochettino the opportunity to hand youth a chance as he did so successfully at Spurs. He will believe he can quickly make Chelsea competitive again.
But the first stage of Pochettino’s Chelsea rebuild was in his opening news conference as the club’s manager, and it was his first big win.