Chelsea finished the 2022/23 season in 12th place in the Premier League table in what was quite probably their worst league performance since the early 1990s. The Chelsea owners have turned to Mauricio Pochettino in their quest to get the club back towards the top of the table. But will the former Tottenham and Paris-Saint Germain manager have what it takes to bring success (i.e. Champions League football and ideally some silverware) back to Stamford Bridge?
In this article, we’ll take a look back at Pochettino’s managerial career, from his first appointment at Espanyol to his most recent job at PSG. We’ll attempt to assess whether the Argentine possesses the man-management skills and winning mentality to usher in a new era of success at Chelsea. Of course, numerous outside factors will play their part (some of which we’ll discuss below), but before we look forwards, let’s journey back to where it all began (in management) for Pochettino.
Espanyol – 2009 to 2012
Pochettino played for La Liga side Espanyol in two stints: first from 1994 to 2001, making 254 appearances and scoring 12 goals, and then at the end of his playing career, from 2003 to 2006 (with three goals in 64 appearances). Upon retirement, the Argentine didn’t go straight into coaching, instead choosing to complete a masters degree in sports management. He then completed his coaching training and got his first job for his former club Espanyol in January 2009, when they were battling against relegation from the Spanish top flight.
Pochettino earned a surprise 0-0 draw in his opening match against the mighty Barcelona and his high-pressing style began to bring in more positive results: including a 2-1 win over Barca at the Camp Nou. Espanyol finished well clear of relegation and he repeated the midtable finish the following season. Things didn’t go quite so well the next season and halfway through the campaign, Espanyol were bottom of La Liga and Pochettino left “by mutual consent”. But by that point, Pochettino had attracted plenty of admirers within Spain and from further afield, which led to his next appointment: Southampton.
Southampton – 2013 to 2014
Pochettino joined Southampton as their manager in January 2013 and thus became the first Argentine boss in English football since Ossie Ardiles had managed Spurs in the early 1990s. In the back half of his first season, Pochettino steadied a rather wobbly Saints ship and led them to a 14th-place finish in the Premier League, five points clear of the bottom three. But in the following campaign – Pochettino’s only full season in charge at Southampton – he helped the club achieve their highest finish in the Premier League era (to that point): eighth position, just a place behind Manchester United. That was enough to attract the attention of the Spurs board who were eager for their side to challenge for honours after finishing fourth, fifth and sixth in the previous three campaigns.
Tottenham Hotspur – 2014 to 2019
The Tottenham job was what really allowed Pochettino to prove his worth at a high level and he was so very close to being a big success. In his first season in charge, Pochettino almost won Spurs’ first silverware for seven years, but they lost in the League Cup final to Chelsea. But the Argentine led Tottenham to a third-place finish in 2015/16 and followed up with the club’s highest finish since 1962/63 when he led them to second place in 2016/17. They finished just seven points behind champions Chelsea, but ahead of Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Man United.
In 2017/18, expectations were high, but Tottenham could only manage third place in the Premier League (behind Man City and Man United). But the closest Pochettino came to achieving legendary status at Tottenham occurred the following season when he led his side all the way to the Champions League final. Unfortunately, things didn’t go the way of the north London outfit and they lost 2-0 to Liverpool in Madrid in a rather forgettable final.
Just a few months later, in November 2019, Pochettino was sacked with the club in midtable. He was replaced by Jose Mourinho. Notably, Pochettino’s win percentage while at Spurs (54.27%) was better than Mourinho’s (51.16%) and indeed another man who has managed both Spurs and Chelsea, Antonio Conte (53.95%).
Paris Saint-Germain – 2021 to 2022
It is perhaps a little surprising that Pochettino had not won any silverware (as a manager) at his previous clubs. But he rectified that when he took on the PSG job. Despite only being in the job a short time (January 2021 to July 2022), the Argentine landed the 2021/22 League 1 title, the 2020/21 Coupe de France and the 2020 Trophée des Champions (played in January 2021 due to the global health crisis at the time).
But even that wasn’t enough to keep him in the post, primarily because the club’s owners were not overly impressed by PSG’s Champions League performances. They lost 4-1 on aggregate to Man City in the 2020/21 CL semis and then got knocked out by eventual winners Real Madrid at the Round of 16 stage the following season.
PSG were always massive favourites to win Ligue 1 given the ludicrous talent at their disposal. And the fact that Pochettino was unable to make it even to the final of the Champions League raised certain questions as to whether he had the winning mentality of, say, Pep Guardiola or Carlo Ancelotti (although, to be fair, Ancelotti never made it past the Champions League quarters while PSG manager). But could Pochettino prove the doubters wrong in his next role at Chelsea?
Chelsea – 2023 to …
There are so many variables that could affect how well Pochettino performs at Chelsea. Not least which players the club sells, retains and purchases in the coming months. There’s already been something of a mini-exodus from the club. N’Golo Kante and Kalidou Koulibaly have both shipped out to cash their chips in Saudi Arabia, while – at the time of writing – it appears Mason Mount could be on his way to Man United and Ruben Loftus-Cheek could be heading to AC Milan, whilst Kai Havertz looks to be Arsenal-bound if reports are to be believed.
On the other hand, the Blues have plenty of talented players in their rather bloated squad and a few key additions could put them in a strong position in the new campaign. There is also hope that Pochettino will be able to get the best out of his countryman Enzo Fernández who, it’s fair to suggest, hasn’t quite delivered the goods for Chelsea since his £106.8 million move from Benfica. Overall, time will tell whether Pochettino succeeds at Chelsea. But one thing is quite certain: he will certainly do better than caretaker boss Frank Lampard!