• Sáb. Jul 13th, 2024

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How and why Chelsea hired Enzo Maresca – and the seven things they were looking for

The Athletic

Chelsea’s search is over: Enzo Maresca is now officially the fourth permanent head coach to be employed by the Clearlake Capital-Todd Boehly consortium in the space of two years.

The Premier League club lived up to their promise to take days rather than weeks to find a replacement for Mauricio Pochettino, who left Stamford Bridge by mutual consent on May 21 after one season in charge.


Despite their search being conducted and completed in such a short time, several names have been linked with the post. The process of whittling it down to just one has been intense, but Maresca quickly emerged as the number-one choice.

The Athletic explains how Maresca has become the seventh Italian manager to take charge at Chelsea…

Like most clubs these days, Chelsea had been compiling a list of potential successors to monitor in case they decided to make a change in the dugout at the end of the season, but no talks were held with any representatives until Pochettino had left the building.

Despite finishing sixth in the Premier League in his only season, the club conceded that hiring the Argentinian was a mistake. It had not been the right fit, and they clearly had reservations from the get-go last summer given he was handed just a two-year contract with the option for another 12 months.

So, in order to get what they hope will be the right choice on this occasion, a list of criteria was drawn up for the man they were looking for. Every candidate would be assessed on the following ideals:

  • Playing style and philosophy
  • Having the aim to control games, with defensive stability
  • A brand of football that suits the squad already in place and future plans to recruit
  • Desire to forge a relationship with the supporters and build a connection
  • Strong data on keeping players fit and available
  • A record of improving players and getting them to fulfil potential levels
  • Being willing to work within the structure built at the club.

Not everyone was going to score highly in every category, but any chance of Chelsea going back to one of their previous managers/head coaches — Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Thomas Tuchel — was a non-starter based on the last bullet point alone. That is not to say Chelsea simply wanted a yes-man, but that trio all have a reputation for clashing with authority figures at clubs (not just during their time at Stamford Bridge) as much as for winning silverware. It is a big factor why they rarely stay in any job for long.


Despite being linked, Sporting Lisbon’s Ruben Amorim was never in contention. Sebastian Hoeness of Stuttgart and Girona’s Michel were admired, however interest did not go any further than that.

As has been well documented, Maresca was on the shortlist with Brentford’s Thomas Frank and Kieran McKenna, who has taken Ipswich Town back to the Premier League with back-to-back automatic promotions.

Much was made about Roberto De Zerbi, who recently left Brighton, being the mystery fourth candidate, yet in truth he was never seriously in the frame.

The 44-year-old Italian was arguably the biggest name of the quartet. He had also worked with some of Chelsea’s players before; Mykhailo Mudryk at Shakhtar Donetsk, and Moises Caicedo and Levi Colwill at Brighton. However, there were red flags, starting with how he followed up a sixth-placed finish in the Premier League last season with his side ending a disappointing 11th.

(Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Chelsea conceded a club-record 63 goals in the Premier League, a factor in Pochettino’s departure. De Zerbi’s Brighton let in only one fewer, so that was something of a black mark next to the ability to provide ‘defensive stability’. One very plausible explanation for this is that key midfielders Alexis Mac Allister (Liverpool) and Caicedo were sold last summer, while Colwill returned to his parent club after a season-long loan. There were extensive injury problems, too. Yet even when they came sixth in 2023, Brighton conceded 53 league goals.

There is respect for De Zerbi as a coach, but the sheer number of clubs he has worked for in a short period (seven in 11 years), combined with what looked like disagreements with Brighton over their transfer policy, meant he was never under serious consideration.

So, with Chelsea’s co-sporting directors Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart very much leading the way, talks were held with the representatives of Maresca, Frank and McKenna.


By the evening of Sunday, May 26, McKenna had become the next to drop out of the running.

Chelsea have great respect for his achievement in leading Ipswich from League One to the Premier League in two years. The club kept a close watch on what he was doing for several months, a practice made easy by Omari Hutchinson’s impressive season-long loan at Portman Road. By going to see the 20-year-old play for Ipswich, staff could get a good idea of McKenna’s methods.

His coaching to help turn the attacking midfielder from a raw youngster with limited first-team action (just two substitute appearances for Chelsea) into one of the best players in the Championship was always going to be noticed.

Yet the 38-year-old’s lack of experience was a concern.

While he had also worked in the first-team coaching staff as an assistant at Manchester United between 2018 and 2021, the majority of that spell was under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the Norwegian was not regarded as a great mentor from whom to learn. There were also question marks over whether McKenna’s personality would be strong enough to cope with the pressures at Stamford Bridge.

(Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

For his part, McKenna also felt it was not the right time to make such a move.

There were suspicions at Chelsea he may have been favouring a switch back to Manchester United, who also reached out to his camp amid doubts over Erik ten Hag’s future there, but in the end he felt loyalty to Ipswich and decided he would sign a new contract with them instead. Ipswich always hoped to keep the man who has ended their 22-year top-flight exile since being handed his first crack at senior management in December 2021 and simply waited for the media circus to calm down to see if anything official happened.

It was then a case of Frank vs Maresca.

The former came close. Elevating Chelsea’s west London neighbours Brentford into the Premier League and keeping them there for what will be a fourth consecutive season was a major tick in Frank’s favour. His personality, the ability to be a real leader, was also mentioned as a great positive.


However, he lost out on the style-of-play front, with his football seen as more defensive and not possession-based. There were doubts that he suited the Chelsea squad.

Frank can consider himself a little unfortunate in this regard because injuries restricted what he could do last season. Keeping Brentford in the top division is an achievement in itself due to their limited resources and there was plenty of entertaining football on display when he had Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma and Bryan Mbeumo combining up front on their way to promotion back in 2021. Brentford do like to go direct, but it has made sense for Frank to play to Ivan Toney’s strengths.

If the opportunity arose to work with the greater depth of talent in Chelsea’s ranks, Frank would presumably be able to adapt his tactics accordingly. He would also have been reunited with his former set-piece coach Bernardo Cueva, who joins Chelsea after four years working alongside the Dane at Brentford.

Perhaps coming from a more unfashionable football background, from Danish football to an initial assistant role at then second-tier Brentford, counted against Frank, too. Then again, it should not be forgotten that in an interview with The Athletic last week, Frank did suggest he was content to stay where he is.

“I’m happy here,” he said. “I’ve said it many times, and I mean it. It’s close to the perfect football life.

“I’m very aware the grass is not greener in the garden next door, even if it looks like it. Then you get in there, take a closer look and see there are a lot of weeds in the grass.”

(MI News/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Frank had three years left on his contract at Brentford so even if Chelsea wanted to prise him away, agreeing compensation was never likely to be straightforward.

After what was considered to be a very hectic period for all concerned, Leicester City’s Maresca was the last man standing.

There is a term in American sports which is not heard too much, if at all, in European football: ‘The Coaching Tree’.

It shows what happens to former assistants of a particularly successful head coach, many of whom get employed as head coaches themselves because of their past working under that particular individual.

This is where Maresca’s one-year spell as Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City — when they won the treble in 2022-23 — worked hugely in his favour over the other candidates. He was also in charge of City’s development squad in 2020-21 during his first spell there.

Manchester City

(Tom Flathers/Manchester City FC/Getty Images)

The Italian has only had one senior job other than Leicester so far, at Parma in his homeland in 2021. Maresca won just four of his 14 matches before being dismissed, but this has clearly not been held against him.

Other disciples of Guardiola have already benefitted from the connection.

Mikel Arteta joined Arsenal in 2019 having not managed anyone prior to his appointment at the Emirates stadium. The Spaniard is now considered one of the best coaches in the Premier League and came close to beating his mentor to the title earlier this month. Vincent Kompany captained Guardiola’s City for three seasons and was considered for the Chelsea job 12 months ago. He has just been hired by Bayern Munich after spells at Anderlecht and Burnley.


Maresca not being a big name with a lengthy track record in management did not put Chelsea off. Xabi Alonso’s journey from coaching Real Sociedad’s B team two years ago to now being revered as one of the standout coaches in the sport at Bayer Leverkusen, after winning the Bundesliga without losing a game all season and the German equivalent of the FA Cup, is seen as an example of how backing someone of promise can be rewarded.

Even though Leicester were considered one of the favourites to win promotion from the 2023-24 Championship following last season’s relegation, the fact Maresca had to operate under that pressure and succeeded was held in as much regard as McKenna achieving the feat with Ipswich as newly-promoted underdogs.

Chelsea go into most matches with a lot of expectation and so Maresca’s year at Leicester is seen as good preparation. His patient passing style suits what the club are looking for and it was noted how he did not panic and move away from the game plan when Leicester began to lose more frequently in the second half of last season.

It helped that Chelsea’s respected co-director of recruitment and talent Joe Shields was working for Manchester City’s academy when Maresca was in charge of the development squad and could pass on what he knew about him. Maresca also coached a certain Cole Palmer that season, along with Romeo Lavia.

Chelsea’s Lavia, second left, and Palmer, right, in their City days (Joe Prior/Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Chelsea had established a connection with him already, having agreed to loan the 21-year-old Italian midfielder Cesare Casadei to Leicester in a season-long deal that ended up being cut short in January. The clubs also faced each other in the FA Cup quarter-finals two months ago, where it took two late goals for Pochettino’s side to secure a 4-2 victory.

The success and/or bond that Chelsea have had with Italian managers in the past — Gianluca Vialli, Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Di Matteo, Conte and Maurizio Sarri — is regarded as providing a possibility for much better engagement with the crowd than Pochettino, a former manager of London rivals Tottenham, generated.

Once the decision was unanimous, Chelsea sought, and received, official permission from Leicester to speak to Maresca. Winstanley and Stewart flew to the Spanish resort of Marbella to conduct negotiations.

Like the camps of De Zerbi, McKenna and Frank, Maresca made it clear he felt Chelsea’s current squad is one worthy of a top-four finish. This is in tune with the club’s expectations. They regard qualifying for the Champions League and competing for the domestic cups, Conference League and new Club World Cup next season, as realistic aims.


A contract for five years with the option of another 12 months was swiftly agreed.

This has raised eyebrows among the fanbase who have not forgotten how Graham Potter was given a similar deal in September 2022 then lasted just seven months. But Chelsea are wary that a shorter contract, like the one Pochettino received, will leave them vulnerable should another club register an interest.

It says much about the faith the hierarchy place in their latest appointment that they have granted him permission to bring a quintet of backroom staff with him from Leicester, led by the former Chelsea goalkeeper Willy Caballero who will be Maresca’s assistant at Stamford Bridge.

Enzo Maresca, Leicester City

(Michael Regan/Getty Images)

It will not surprise anyone that Maresca has conveyed how much he is looking forward to working with a squad that he feels suits his philosophy.

One of the names that could stand to benefit is goalkeeper Robert Sanchez, who lost his starting role to summer signing Djordje Petrovic midway through last season. Maresca believes he can get the best out of the 26-year-old Spaniard’s ability to pass out from the back.

Chelsea are already being linked with players but they had no intention of signing anyone before talking to and discussing names with their new coach first. They want to make sure this is a collaborative approach to the market, although how much say Maresca actually has on their transfers remains to be seen.

A lack of activity at Leicester in last season’s winter window as they chased automatic promotion did see him voice concern publicly, something that will not go down well with the Chelsea hierarchy if repeated in west London.

Many outside the club regard this as a gamble.

Chelsea clearly see it as one worth taking.

Additional contributors: Liam Twomey, Jay Harris and Adam Leventhal.

(Top photo: Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)