Mauricio Pochettino landing at Chelsea carries an irresistible sense of jeopardy

Argentinian will need time and must show he now knows how to tame chaos

“Every week I am fired,” complained Mauricio Pochettino last June, a few weeks before Paris Saint-Germain fired him. “I like Manchester City, because they gave Guardiola the opportunity to build. They gave him time. At PSG, you also need that. By giving serenity to this project, we will be close to winning the Champions League.”

Serenity. Yes. Well, good luck with that. One of the fundamentals of coaching is that vacancies rarely turn up at clubs where everything is running smoothly. Yet even allowing for this, Pochettino’s appointment at Chelsea carries its own irresistible quantum of jeopardy.

A coach who craves order and control, colliding head-on with an organisation that has spent two decades running on the fumes of chaos. A coach who values a tight-knit environment and close personal relationships, entering a club that has spent the last year trying to sign every professional footballer in the northern hemisphere. For better or worse, something is going to break here.

The broad brushstrokes of this deal make eminent sense. Chelsea are a big club in need of an elite coach; Pochettino is an elite coach in need of a big club. This is why all those rumours of a return to Tottenham seemed to be grounded more in fantasy than reality. Pochettino has made no secret of his desire to coach the biggest players on the biggest stages. Real Madrid and Manchester United have been actively courted in recent years. Why willingly take a step down to coach Oliver Skipp?


For Pochettino, Chelsea is about as perfect a job as he could have expected to get right now: a richly talented squad and an almost unlimited transfer budget with no immediate pressure to win anything. Even a top-six finish could be spun as progress from the Graham Potter/Frank Lampard tag‑team slapstick that has led them to their first bottom-half finish since 1996. This thing physically cannot get any worse. The laws of nature and financial gravity simply do not allow it. And so there are plenty of easy wins available for Pochettino in his first few weeks.

Simply projecting himself in a vaguely intelligible way would be a start. For all Potter’s qualities as a coach, perhaps his fatal failing was perception, the ability to own and captivate a room full of cynical grown adults, the capacity to adore the sound of your own voice.

Lampard had a different problem: an inability to make anything he said sound like it mattered. Watching him in these forlorn interim weeks has felt a bit like being trapped on the line with the world’s lowliest call‑centre operative. No, he can’t access your account details at this time. No, you can’t speak to a line manager. But in all seriousness, we’re just looking to get the three points and finish the season as strongly as possible.

Pochettino will enjoy a proper pre‑season, uncluttered midweeks and at least some input over recruitment, none of which Potter was granted. This alone should make Chelsea a more coherent, functional team with a basic idea of how they want to score goals.

Unlike at PSG, this is a young and hungry squad that will be receptive to a fresh message. Enzo Fernández is the box-to-box midfielder Pochettino has been craving since Mousa Dembélé left Tottenham. Reece James is the kind of player who could catapult himself into the world elite with a little quality guidance. Meanwhile a season of playing as target man has dulled the creative edge of Kai Havertz. Charting the progress of these three players will give us a pretty good idea of whether Pochettino’s ideas are catching on.

But of course there are battles ahead too, and Pochettino’s time at Chelsea will stand or fall on whether he can win them. Too often at PSG, he lost. He never got on with the sporting director Leonardo. On numerous occasions it was reported that he wanted to punish senior members of the squad for breaches of discipline, only to be dissuaded from doing so by the board. Once his authority was breached, it arguably never returned. And while player power is not the same force at Chelsea that it was a decade ago, this has always been a dressingroom with a strong ruthless streak.

There will be disruptive forces. There will be bad eggs. Talented players will need to be frozen out, excised, perhaps even paid off. And by the same token, even in this hectic season roots will have to be put down, friendships formed, playing relationships nurtured. Which to keep and which to break?

“Pruning the squad” sounds easy enough in theory but is much more delicate in practice. If you sell Ruben Loftus‑Cheek, who else do you piss off? If you replace the ageing legs of Thiago Silva, how do you replace his leadership and organisation at set pieces? And so on.

The relationships upwards will also need to be managed with the utmost care. Part of the reason Pochettino left his last two jobs was because the bonds of trust with the ownership began to fray. There may be times when he does not get the players he wants, or gets players he does not, or loses players he wants to keep.

Todd Boehly will have lots and lots of stupid ideas that will need to be diplomatically euthanised. Arguments will need to be won. There is a danger that having lost so much sporting expertise after the takeover, Boehly now overcompensates by trying to hire every backroom expert in sight. This, too, will need to be handled.

And as badly as things ended at PSG, there is some evidence that Pochettino has learned from his time there, become a little more pragmatic, melted his principles a little. Paris is a unique club in many ways, but one that teaches transferable skills. How do you deal with stars? How do you set up when only eight of your players want to defend? How do you manage expectations when winning multiple trophies is not the ultimate objective but a minimum benchmark?

Thomas Tuchel, Unai Emery, Carlo Ancelotti may not have solved all or indeed any of these problems. But it is no coincidence that all three are better coaches as a result of their experience.

Is Pochettino brave enough and ruthless enough to tame the chaos? Perhaps this is not quite the right framing: there is only so much a coach can do to change the culture of a club if it does not want to be changed. The real question, is how thoroughly Chelsea are willing to submit themselves to Pochettino’s vision, even if it costs them money, even if it costs them short-term results, even where it clashes with their own. Pochettino will need time. He will need trust and a budget and support when things get tough. The rest, he’s going to have to work out himself. – Guardian