• Sáb. Jul 13th, 2024

-> Noticias de futbol internacional

Why Pochettino and Chelsea parted ways: ‘Loneliness’, injuries and resistance to club structure

The Athletic


Mauricio Pochettino hinted at this ending almost two weeks ago.

“It is not only if the owners are happy or the sporting directors happy… you need to ask us also, because maybe (we) say, ‘We are not happy’, and we accept the situation and we need to split,” he said in a press conference before Chelsea’s trip to face Nottingham Forest. “It is not going to be the first time the coaching staff at the end of the season decide to not keep going.”

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Pochettino’s words jarred, not least because the question that prompted them had invited him to elaborate on an earlier claim that he was making plans for Chelsea’s pre-season. They also followed back-to-back home victories over Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United that provided the spark for a late surge up to a sixth-placed finish in the Premier League and, with it, European qualification.

But while closing the campaign with five wins in a row lifted the mood of supporters and created an impression his young Chelsea team had finally turned a corner, it did nothing to resolve the issues that have bubbled away between Pochettino and the club hierarchy for months.

In the end, this fundamental misalignment convinced all parties involved in the internal end-of-season review conducted at Cobham that they could no longer work together.

The Athletic has spoken to a range of people familiar with the situation, granting them anonymity to protect relationships and to ensure this article retains a comprehensive balance. Some of the key points of contention those conversations revealed centred on:

  • The head coach’s willingness to fit in with the club-imposed structure
  • Initial scepticism over the £221.7m ($282m) midfield pairing of Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez
  • The owners’ desire for a coach who ‘teaches’ football
  • Training methods and the club’s injury record
  • Pochettino’s sense that he was one of the few experienced operators in the building

It can be difficult at times to divine the real meaning of club statements announcing a coach’s departure but, on this occasion, the consent for Chelsea and Pochettino to part truly appeared mutual.


Pochettino thanks his players after Sunday’s win over Bournemouth (Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images)


One overlooked detail in Pochettino’s appointment by Chelsea in May 2023 offered an early warning that this was unlikely to be a long-term union: the length of his contract.

During negotiations, the Argentinian’s request for a fully guaranteed third year was denied, with Chelsea favouring a two-year deal that included an option to extend for 12 more months.

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Pochettino’s rationale was clear: beyond locking in more money, the challenge of guiding a very young, newly assembled squad back from 12th place to the upper reaches of the Premier League would benefit from the stability and security of a longer contract. Chelsea’s stance was equally understandable: having been burned by the five-year deal given to Graham Potter in a matter of months, there was limited appetite for another lengthy commitment.

The agreement reached sent a signal that Pochettino was not viewed as Potter had been, and immediately created a decision point this summer. Since coaches are rarely allowed to go into the final year of their contracts, Chelsea effectively committed themselves to extending Pochettino’s deal at the end of the 2023-24 season or parting ways.


Pochettino instructs Moises Caicedo on the sidelines (Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Some initial signs were positive, even if the results were not. Pochettino’s team won only one of their first six Premier League games, but underlying data indicated they were far better than that. One senior figure at a rival Premier League club told Chelsea officials that, according to his club’s internal metrics, they were already performing at the level of a top-four team.

The club’s decision-makers also knew that a knee injury to marquee £52million attacking signing Christopher Nkunku in Chelsea’s final pre-season friendly had forced a tactical adjustment and impacted the team’s ability to convert chances.

However, it was not long until Pochettino began to doubt the quality and balance of his squad — including his two star midfielders, Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo.

Despite praising his compatriot in public, Pochettino privately questioned whether Fernandez was destructive enough to be a No 6 or creative enough to be a No 8. Caicedo, meanwhile, was initially regarded as lacking the positional discipline to operate as a specialist holding midfielder before coming good later in the season. Together, they formed a midfield pair Pochettino felt lacked the size and power for the Premier League.

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Chelsea insist Pochettino supported the signing of Caicedo from Brighton for a transfer fee that is likely to reach a British record £115million, and that he never expressed any reservations about the Ecuadorian or Fernandez internally.

The midfielder Pochettino liked best was Conor Gallagher, who remains a prime candidate to be sold by Chelsea this summer as they try to comply with the Premier League and UEFA’s financial regulations. There was a distinct edge to the Argentinian’s voice every time he insisted he had no influence over whether the club could agree a new contract with their academy graduate, who led the entire squad in minutes played in 2023-24.


Pochettino flanked by his assistant, Jesus Perez (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Midfield was not Pochettino’s only concern.

In an attempt to bolster a defence he deemed overly reliant on the quality of Thiago Silva, 39, he regularly selected Levi Colwill out of position at left-back. In goal, Robert Sanchez — originally recommended by Ben Roberts, the goalkeeping coach under Potter turned head of goalkeeping under his full-time successor, and who signed a seven-year contract — quickly lost the confidence of his head coach, with his starting spot going to Djordje Petrovic, a recent arrival from Major League Soccer club New England Revolution.

By the middle of December, Pochettino was publicly lobbying Chelsea to explore making attacking signings in January, despite the club having no intention of doing major business in the winter window.

The squad would have been even lower on quality in the final third had the club’s recruitment department not brought forward the option of Cole Palmer in September, convincing the hierarchy to spend £40million.

Pochettino may have been among those wondering whether a 21-year-old (now 22) with only three Premier League starts to his name could be the answer but to the head coach’s credit, he brought the best out of Palmer, who ended the season as Chelsea’s player of the year by some distance.


Palmer collects his club player of the year award (Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Senior figures at Chelsea insist there was collaboration with Pochettino on recruitment and no major disagreements on strategy, citing their decision not to take up an offer to sign Ansu Fati on loan from Barcelona on favourable financial terms last summer when their head coach informed them he did not want the player.

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Yet Pochettino saw a big contrast in the core of leaders during his time at Tottenham with the lack of established senior professionals at Chelsea to drive and maintain standards. To try and improve the scenario, he had proposed the signing of two experienced players who had played under him in the past to add some knowhow to the ranks. That request was knocked back.

Such is the youth in the squad that third-choice goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli, a popular veteran of an 11-year club career but with only one Chelsea appearance to his name, discussed issues such as player days off and club fines with the head coach — a responsibility that previously had fallen to club captain Cesar Azpilicueta.


This is, however, a squad that Pochettino chose to work with, and not everyone at Chelsea is convinced that he maximised its capabilities.

One key factor was the injury crisis that devastated the first-team squad for much of the campaign, depriving Pochettino almost entirely of the ability to call upon captain Reece James, vice-captain Ben Chilwell and Nkunku, as well as major recent signings Romeo Lavia and Wesley Fofana.

The scale and severity of the problem encouraged scrutiny of an overhauled medical department — which has seen the departures of long-serving Roman Abramovich-era hires Dimitrios Kalogiannidis, Paco Biosca and Thierry Laurent in the last two years — and put pressure on the whole club.

The club itself considered the issue a collective concern where everyone — from Pochettino’s staff to those in the revamped club structure — needed to do better. Those improvements were to be overseen by the head of performance Bryce Kavanagh, who has quickly become a trusted figure at the training ground since being hired from the Football Association.

Yet Pochettino forcefully pushed back on any suggestion that his training methods might have contributed to the problem.

“We (the staff) arrived from a different club, not from Mars, to manage footballers,” he said this month, citing the specific example of Lavia and pointing out his involvement in first-team sessions at Cobham has been minimal. “It is disrespectful from people bored at home using social media.”


Romeo Lavia and Axel Disasi in training at Cobham in December (Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

But others who observed Pochettino’s sessions — often led by assistant Jesus Perez — insist that Chelsea’s players were overworked, tasked with excessive amounts of high-intensity running.

The demanding nature of the sessions was a talking point among the players; how there were so many drills, whether they were one-vs-one, two-vs-two and so on, with the onus forever on pressing and winning the ball back. As one source close to a senior player told The Athletic: “There was no let-up. Everything had to be at 100 per cent.”

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It is also claimed that a tendency to bring recovering players back into full rather than adapted training too quickly resulted in re-injuries.

Training sessions were regarded as tactically primitive by some players, with relatively few detailed instructions issued and improvisation encouraged. One member of the first-team squad was picked in a role he had never played or trained in before and was notified only when Pochettino announced his starting XI to the squad a few hours before a match.

The scattergun selection of academy players, primarily to make up the numbers on the bench, caused a stir with youngsters picked and then discarded back to the under-21s without an explanation. On the flip side, his regular picking of two goalkeepers as substitutes instead of granting a place to one of the emerging outfield players from the youth ranks also raised eyebrows.

This lack of clear structure played out at key moments on the pitch, cementing a view within the Chelsea hierarchy that Pochettino’s team lacked a discernible identity or pattern of play. The team’s drop-off from first to second-half performances painted a deeply unflattering picture of the Argentine’s in-game management.

Pochettino could justifiably point to the fact that his substitutes’ bench was often depleted by Chelsea’s lengthy injury list, as well as the inexperience and immaturity of many of his players.

After making a positive adjustment to move Marc Cucurella into midfield in possession in the final stretch of the campaign, he stressed that tactical gambits were not as important as his young squad learning how to compete in a truly collective way — a maturation process highlighted by the farcical attempts of Noni Madueke and Nicolas Jackson to take a penalty away from Palmer in a 6-0 win over Everton in April.

Pochettino was fiercely critical of both players in public and tore into them in the dressing room after the match, but some at Chelsea held him ultimately responsible for not setting out a clear penalty-taking hierarchy and generally being too soft on his squad.

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Chelsea’s ownership and sporting leadership want a head coach who ‘teaches’ football in the truest sense of the word, educating players and committed to a highly technical approach to the game in possession. They did not always see enough evidence on the field that Pochettino was succeeding in this mission. There were concerns, too, that the makeup of Pochettino’s coaching staff had not evolved, in contrast to those of some of his peers.

But they will struggle to find a more popular figure with players and staff.

Pochettino endeared himself to everyone at Cobham with his efforts to create an inclusive, family-like atmosphere at the training ground. Players were encouraged to bring their families along to barbecues staged under marquees in the first-team car park at the start of pre-season, before Christmas and before the FA Cup quarter-final victory over Leicester City in March.

At the end of Sunday’s win over Bournemouth, there were big, enthusiastic Pochettino hugs for all of his players, including Jackson and Madueke, as well as the departing Thiago Silva and his wife Belle, who stoked controversy with a post on X that many interpreted as calling on Chelsea to sack their head coach during a home defeat against Wolves in February.


Pochettino talks with Belle Silva on the pitch after the final game of the season (Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images)

The head coach made a hasty getaway from Stamford Bridge post-match on Sunday, despite the club having arranged a get-together for players and families at the Under the Bridge venue. But, when news broke on Tuesday that he was leaving, players posted messages of thanks on social media. Jackson’s post, on his Instagram story, was accompanied with two face-palm emojis. One well-travelled senior player at the club considers him the best man-manager with whom he has ever worked.

A genuinely warm, amiable figure with everyone he came into contact with at Chelsea, Pochettino the person will be sorely missed.


Speaking before Chelsea’s trip to face Aston Villa, Pochettino insisted “the whole organisation” is culpable for the problems of the season. When pressed to elaborate, he added: “My responsibility is that the team perform. But the club is designing and planning a structure that you need to prove works.

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“Because of the results, you can say, yes it’s just him (the coach). But I don’t have the key of the club. I don’t take all the decisions here. That is to be made clear. If you say to me I have the key and this guy is here because it’s my decision, that is one thing. But if this is not my decision you need to judge me and judge him in his job, no? Because it’s not my direct responsibility.”

It took no great leap of deduction to realise that Pochettino was directing scrutiny towards Stewart and Winstanley, who have operated as Chelsea’s co-sporting directors since February 2023. Many supporters have questioned the competence and experience of the two recruitment specialists, but they retain the total confidence and unequivocal backing of the owners.


Stewart and Winstanley join Eghbali at the City Ground earlier this month (Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

As such, Pochettino’s thinly veiled criticism was received extremely poorly. Stewart and Winstanley have been empowered by Clearlake Capital and Todd Boehly to build a world-class squad and sporting infrastructure at Chelsea, and their success or failure in that endeavour will be judged over years rather than months or individual transfer windows.

The Argentinian’s words hinted at his belief that he was one of the only people in any department at the club who was not inexperienced or learning in their job, but he was picking a battle he stood no chance of winning.

The decision to turn the focus on the co-sporting directors reinforced the impression of Pochettino as being unwilling to work within Chelsea’s structure.

Another example was his public dismissal of the need for “specialists” among his staff as Stewart and Winstanley worked to hire coach Bernardo Cueva from Brentford to lead a new set-piece department at Cobham. His stance was hardly helped when Chelsea then lost the Carabao Cup final after Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk headed the winner deep into extra time from a corner.

Pochettino’s claim in the same April 26 press conference that he had not spoken to the ownership for two months set tongues wagging, but the reality is that there had been contact with the Clearlake co-founders Behdad Eghbali and Jose Feliciano, including after Chelsea’s dramatic 4-3 win over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

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The owners would also argue that they had constructed a sporting department to take care of day-to-day matters, including liaising with the head coach. In truth, it is not particularly common at other major clubs for an owner to be speaking regularly with a head coach.

Pochettino hoped to receive a supportive call from Chelsea’s ownership after a 4-2 defeat at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers in February saw his team fall back to 11th in the Premier League, raising the distinct possibility that he might be sacked before the end of the season.

“In this moment, we feel the loneliness,” he later said. “We were alone there after the game. Waiting. We spent two hours… It was a long time after the game we were there, watching each other, the five coaching staff in a very small room. We were more sad. It was an unfair situation we were in. It was a situation we didn’t deserve, but the result put us in a very difficult situation.”

But managing this particular relationship was not easy for Pochettino, either. He found the internal politics at the club difficult and, in particular, the alleged tensions between Boehly and Eghbali — Chelsea have always denied that the two men have fallen out. With two new co-sporting directors, plus a young squad to manage, it was a challenging working environment from the outset.

Boehly has been notably visible and vocal in recent weeks, uttering comments that could be interpreted as backing Pochettino as well as the Chelsea project at the Sportico Conference and Qatar Economic Forum — though his comment that the previous two and a half games showed things were “coming together” at the club actually riled his head coach, who was annoyed that the American had not taken into account the team’s positive performances earlier in the season.


Co-owners Boehly and Eghbali at the Carabao Cup final (James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)

Pochettino appreciated Boehly’s invitation to a private dinner on Friday night, but Chelsea’s co-owner then flew back to the United States for his son’s graduation and did not attend the win over Bournemouth.

While Boehly joined on a call, it was Eghbali who was present in person with Stewart and Winstanley for the six hours of discussions over two days at Cobham. Pochettino attended that meeting alone, with Perez having flown back to Spain.

Those talks resulted in a unanimous agreement on a mutual parting.


Chelsea are looking ahead to what they see as a double season, with two full campaigns sitting either side of the inaugural expanded FIFA Club World Cup in the summer of 2025. Allowing the uncertainty around Pochettino to drag on into next season was not an attractive prospect, particularly if it created a need for another mid-season coaching change.

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The plan is to appoint a progressive, emerging head coach who can grow with this group of players and develop a style of play over multiple years. They also want someone to bond with the fanbase, something match-going supporters felt was lacking during the time Pochettino, a former Tottenham manager, spent in the dugout.

There is admiration for Kieran McKenna, who has propelled Ipswich Town from League One to the Premier League with successful promotions and a team playing fluent, attack-minded football. Enzo Maresca, who has restored Leicester City to the top flight at the first attempt, and Brentford’s Thomas Frank have also been discussed.

“I can see myself being here for a long period,” Frank told The Athletic this week. “Can I stay here for seven more years? I don’t know and that’s not that I don’t love Brentford, it’s just: do I want to try something different? But 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.”

Sebastian Hoeness’ achievements at VfB Stuttgart have been noted by plenty of elite clubs, although convincing the 42-year-old to leave the Bundesliga club, with whom he has renewed his contract, could be beyond them all. Sections of the Chelsea hierarchy spied promise in Vincent Kompany last summer and that interest remains, but is unlikely to develop on this occasion, and while Roberto De Zerbi may be an unlikely candidate, he cannot be completely ruled out.


McKenna has transformed Ipswich Town (Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)

Yet, if they go down that road, Chelsea’s ownership will need to overcome the scepticism of all who remember how quickly they jettisoned Potter when results nosedived and fans revolted. It will be no easy task, and long-term aspirations must be balanced with short-term imperatives; returning to the Champions League is an urgent priority.

All parties insist Pochettino’s departure from Chelsea was amicable as well as mutual. There is none of the acrimony that accompanied Tuchel’s sacking, underlined by the courteous comments attributed to Stewart and Winstanley in Tuesday’s announcement.

“On behalf of everyone at Chelsea, we would like to express our gratitude to Mauricio for his service this season,” they said. “He will be welcome back to Stamford Bridge any time and we wish him all the very best in his future coaching career.”

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It is just as well; in a surreal postscript, Pochettino will be back on the Stamford Bridge touchline as soon as June 9 to coach a World XI against an England XI in Soccer Aid for UNICEF, competing against his caretaker predecessor as Chelsea head coach, club legend Frank Lampard.

Chelsea are working to have Pochettino’s successor in post by then.

Additional reporting: Adam Crafton

(Top photos: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)