There is something obsessive about football in Mauricio Pochettino. One of his habits after a game is to go home and sit down with a glass of red wine and watch more football. European football. Argentinian soccer. Game after game. He says he finds it relaxing.
Pochettino will therefore not ignore the challenge he will face next season at Chelsea. He’s also self-aware enough to know that he won’t solve Chelsea’s problems just by walking in the door. Of all the things wrong with the London club this season, the identity of the first-team manager doesn’t necessarily top the list.
Chelsea should feel lucky to have Pochettino. Whether or not they do is questionable. London club followers have set the bar high in terms of who they think is a good fit for their football club. As Graham Potter discovered, these expectations extend to how a Chelsea manager should behave and how he should speak. Odd.
But they should feel lucky to have Pochettino and, more broadly, English football too. The Argentine is an elite coach, a shrewd footballer developer and a smart manager. Whether that’s enough to sort out Chelsea, only God knows.
This is the beginning of the new Chelsea, episode two. Episode One didn’t half have an enticing trailer. Hire a bright young manager renowned for team building and player development and allow him to build a team in his image over time. It went very well until the results turned bad and then President Todd Boehly tore up his own script and kicked him out.
Chelsea will be blessed with a manager of Mauricio Pochettino’s elite caliber
Frank Lampard has struggled during his short tenure at the club and left the former Tottenham boss with a tricky turnaround job
And so, via Frank Lampard’s vaguely embarrassing short tenure, we’ve come to episode two. At least this time none of us are under any illusions. New Chelsea is pretty much the same as the old Chelsea, just dressed in a different outfit.
If Pochettino doesn’t turn this great club around and put them back in the Champions League positions next season, he will undoubtedly be on the right track as well. But at least we know that now.
The good news is that Pochettino will find some very good footballers waiting for him at Cobham’s training ground at Chelsea. The bad news is that there are too many of them and not all of them play in really important positions, such as centre-forward for example.
Of all the puzzling things that have happened since Boehly’s Blue Partners Limited wrested Chelsea from the hands of Roman Abramovich following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the way the club has stockpiled expensive footballers with seemingly no strategy has perhaps been the most disconcerting. There have been some good ones, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the good ones.
Chelsea will soon find that Pochettino wants to be through it all. The former Tottenham manager has a way he likes his football teams to play and a way he likes his players to be. Both physically and emotionally.
The Spurs side that steered Leicester close to the finish line in that wondrous Premier League title duel in 2016 were athletic, powerful and exceptionally committed.
Those who deviated from the creed did not hold out. Peak Pochettino football is played with intensity and selflessness. It’s no surprise players such as Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen have flourished under him. Likewise, it came as no shock when he couldn’t get his message across during his last assignment at Paris Saint-Germain.
Sounds like a good job for South America. Manchester United would have felt that too. He approached this one before Erik ten Hag surprised him. A return to Tottenham wouldn’t have felt right because there’s too much history there. Real Madrid? Maybe in the short term.
Chelsea drew 2-2 with relegation-threatened Nottingham Forest on Saturday
Todd Boehly’s stockpiling of expensive players has left Pochettino with a tough squad to manage
So Chelsea have the right man, but now it depends on what kind of Chelsea he wants to be.
Of all the puzzling moments scattered across the club’s recent history, none remain as vexing as the decision to sign a centre-forward like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on September 2 last year and then appoint a manager like Potter six days later.
This is exactly the kind of fractured thinking that needs to be relegated to Chelsea’s past. Unless they find a way to operate consistently and intelligently away from the training grounds, it doesn’t matter who is standing in their midst with the whistle in their mouth.
Pochettino’s inbox will be jam-packed. He doesn’t have a functioning striker and, no, Romelu Lukaku’s return doesn’t count.
One of the smartest and friendliest managers is back in the game and we should be grateful. But, for Chelsea, Pochettino should not be confused with the answer to their problems all on his own.
Whether or not Romelu Lukaku returns will be one of the key issues to deal with