Pochettino, does he deserve more criticism?

Sport

In the least surprising twist of the season so far, Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino finds himself under pressure at Stamford Bridge. There are two main reasons why; because his team currently reside in the bottom half of the Premier League, used to be in charge of Tottenham Hotspur.

Despite this, he remains the best hope the Blues have of re-establishing themselves as one of the powerhouses of English and European football.

It would be a fair question to ask why his past allegiance with Spurs could have any bearing on pressure. But the reality of football is, crossing a heated divide in a city is scarcely done without trepidation. There are those who have been successful at two rival clubs, some even fight over who loves them more, but in the main it doesn’t end happily. In the case of Pochettino, whose name was sung from the stands at Spurs as recently as last season, many believe he has burnt bridges, whereas the fact he isn’t having an instant impact at Chelsea has exacerbated the issue that he isn’t “one of them”.

That fact will never impact a manager as they walk through the door; most fans will get behind the new man and give them a chance at first. But there is a distance to the relationship and it is harder to form a bond that stands up to the test of a bad run. It gave Rafael Benitez, a former Liverpool manager, an uphill battle when he was at Everton for the 2021/22 season; ultimately the toxic atmosphere cost him his job. He’d arguably proven more vocally unpopular during an interim spell at Chelsea in 2012/13, but managed to shut out the noise and guide them to third place in the Premier League and a Europa League crown.

But Pochettino isn’t doing that, so does he deserve more criticism? When a club spends over £1bn on a year on new players, everyone has to take responsibility when the team lies so far off the pace of even the most basic of acceptable achievements. But the bigger truth is, it shows the lack of real identity and direction that has plagued Chelsea since Todd Boehly replaced Roman Abramovich at the helm in the summer of 2022.

The American businessman has operated in the transfer market as if he were an overexcited teenager in a jewellery shop. He has signed so many talented young players because he can, knowing they possess bright and shiny potential. It isn’t his concern how they fit into a coherent system, all he has to do is hire a coach with an affinity for developing raw talent and moulding it. Pochettino was preceded by Graham Potter, seen as the brightest British coach around for the work he’d done with Brighton. He signed a long-term deal and was promised backing, but didn’t even see out a full season.

Pochettino is on the same downward trajectory. Neither of them are bad coaches, and neither of them are really the problem. Chelsea lack leadership, a byproduct of building a team of top young players. In years gone by, they were a club built for instant gratification. Their youth system, seen as one of the best in the country, was rarely a path into the first team because they would sign so many established, proven players to win trophies, and sack managers when they didn’t. It wasn’t a popular approach but it was consistent.

They only bought young players with the idea of loaning them out, mainly raising them to sell for profit. They still do the same now if players don’t work out, but without the core of experience, they’ve lost the mentality that saw them win when the going got tough.

In part this was deliberate, they wanted to build it more organically. This is why Pochettino remains their best hope; his work at Spurs shows that he can forge a team ethic and a style with a young core, and with greater resources he should eventually create something impressive. But with such a high turnover at Chelsea after spending so much, it’ll take him time to find his best team before they start to compete at the top.

This is the club’s own doing. If they want to be successful again, they must let Pochettino  get on with his job.

Author: Mark Hayes