Chelsea gamble again as Pochettino exits

Mauricio Pochettino had cooled off by the time he walked into the Stamford Bridge press conference room after Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Tottenham but his interview with Sky Sports, a short time earlier, showed the tension bubbling beneath the surface.

“I think enough is enough,” he said when asked about the continuing speculation around his future at the club. “All managers need time to translate their ideas and their philosophy. It’s difficult to see every single week that I’m under scrutiny and judgement.”

That was in early May, at the start of a five-game winning run that propelled Chelsea into Europe. But the tension between head coach and owners glimpsed that night at Stamford Bridge remained. Pochettino’s irritation began to sound more like resignation.

“Maybe we are not happy because we arrived here with a job to do, but in the end it’s not what we expect,” he said ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Nottingham Forest, a week after the Spurs game.

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Paul Merson believes Chelsea allowing Mauricio Pochettino to leave the club by mutual consent is ‘madness’

“If we split, it’s not a problem. It will not be the end of the world.”

His departure which was confirmed on Tuesday, two days after the conclusion of a stormy season, was agreed by mutual consent, according to the club, reflecting doubts on both sides. But it is difficult to ignore the sense of progress being stymied just as it was gathering pace.

Of course, Pochettino ultimately fell short of the Champions League finish targeted at the start of the campaign. His Chelsea side recorded the club’s worst defensive record of the Premier League era, shipping four or more goals on five separate occasions.

But Graham Potter, Pochettino’s predecessor, might have had a point when he described the job as the “hardest in football”. The club has spent lavishly on young players, seemingly with little consideration for how exactly they would be moulded into a team.

Even with a 39-year-old Thiago Silva starting regularly, Chelsea’s line-up was the youngest in the Premier League this season, and the fourth-youngest in the competition’s history.

Their relative inexperience is practically unprecedented for a side with top-four aspirations and so is the strategy with which they have approached the transfer market.

While other clubs, such as Arsenal under Mikel Arteta and Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp have built their squads incrementally, Chelsea have tried to fast-track the process, cramming 32 signings into four windows since Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital’s takeover.

It is little wonder, amid all that upheaval, that performances have at times been chaotic and the issues were compounded by widespread injury problems this season, with Chelsea ranking behind only Newcastle and Sheffield United in terms of days lost to injury.

Despite all those challenges, and despite the fact some fans never really took to him, Pochettino retained the support of his players, with Nicolas Jackson, Cole Palmer, Moises Caicedo and Marc Cucurella among those to express sadness at his departure.

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Nicolas Jackson, Marc Cucurella and Cole Palmer give their reaction to the news that Mauricio Pochettino is leaving Chelsea

The Argentine was hired in large part because of his record for developing players such as those and he certainly delivered on that front with Palmer, a revelation following his move from Manchester City, and with Jackson, who finished a difficult campaign strongly.

Pochettino also coaxed improvement from Noni Madueke, Malo Gusto, Trevoh Chalobah and Conor Gallagher, among others.

It was not always obvious amid their inconsistent results but Chelsea were steadily improving throughout the season, their rolling five-game average for points per game trending upwards after dismal returns under Potter and interim boss Frank Lampard.

Finishing chances was a major problem, as it had been under his predecessors, dating all the way back to Antonio Conte’s tenure.

But Pochettino can hardly be held responsible for the decision-making which left Jackson, a 22-year-old with only half a season of prior top-flight experience behind him, as his main striking option, and indeed his only striking option after the January window.

The team’s wayward finishing, coupled with costly – and frequent – individual mistakes at the other end of the pitch, masked encouraging overall performance levels.

Chelsea’s expected goal difference, a metric used by clubs to rate performance which effectively measures the quality of chances a team creates against the ones they concede, put them behind only Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool this season.

But all this evidence of progress only mattered so much to the club’s decision-makers in the end. And that despite this being a supposedly long-term project centred on maximising the potential of a young squad, something Pochettino was working towards.

Compromises could not be reached to continue together and the result is that, just as things were coming together on the pitch, Chelsea are starting over again, searching for the club’s sixth permanent managerial appointment in five years – and their fourth in two under the new owners.

Their reported shortlist adds to the feeling that this is another gamble. Roberto De Zerbi, the bookmakers’ favourite, has never managed an elite side. How would his playing style translate?

Kieran McKenna has worked wonders at Ipswich but how can they know that he is ready for a step up of this magnitude?

With Pochettino now gone, those tensions beneath the surface eventually leading to breaking point, Chelsea must prepare to roll the dice once more, and to confront the possibility of more steps backwards before they find a way forward again.

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