Why Did Chelsea Ditch Pochettino?

After enduring a difficult time at the start of his Chelsea career, Mauricio Pochettino appeared to be turning the ship around towards the end of the 2023/24 season. A strong finish to the campaign saw the Blues win their last five fixtures bumping them up to sixth in the table and securing a return to European football. It was hardly an isolated patch of improved form either as Pochettino had overseen just one defeat in his final 15 league games.

Despite heading in the right direction, the Chelsea board and Pochettino mutually decided to part ways just two days after the season ended. This decision came as a shock to football fans but with more detail having come to light since, it is clearer why a relatively amicable breakup was probably the right decision for all parties.

Why Were Chelsea Unhappy With Pochettino?

Mauricio Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino (vverve | Bigstockphoto.com)

Despite noticeable improvements on the pitch, there are several reasons why the Chelsea hierarchy did not approve of Pochettino.

Caicedo/Fernandez Pairing

Having identified Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez as their top midfield targets, the club spent over £200m to bring them to Stamford Bridge. The expectation was they would work especially well together but this was not a feeling shared by Pochettino. He praised the two in public but according to The Athletic, he had doubts over the pair. For him, Fernandez was not defensive enough to be a ‘number six’ nor creative enough to be a ‘number eight’, while Caicedo lacked positional discipline to be the holding player.

Additionally, Pochettino, who enjoyed his best years at Tottenham with the extremely physical Dembele – Wanyama pairing, did not believe Fernandez and Caicedo to be sufficient in size and power.

Responsible for Injury Problems

In the 2023/24 season, player days missed through injury at Chelsea topped a whopping 2,170, up from 1,277 the season before and just 492 the season before that. While some injuries are unavoidable, there was a growing feeling that Pochettino’s methods were partly responsible for medical woes at the club. For one, his training sessions were extremely demanding, full of lots of high-intensity running.

Another criticism levied against the Argentine is that he would bring recovering players back into the fold too quickly. This, it is thought, is why several players ended up re-injuring themselves shortly after returning to the pitch.

Unsatisfied with Training Methods

Under Pochettino training sessions would intentionally lack detail and have a good deal of improvisation to them. While not necessarily a bad thing, some players did not appreciate the lack of tactical instructions or upcoming match relevance. This view was shared by the Chelsea ownership who want a coach who ‘teaches’ football and can help build a very technical, possession-based way of playing.

Unwillingness to Align with Club Structure

The new Chelsea owners do not want a manager with a huge degree of control. They would rather delegate responsibilities where possible and have given a lot of power to their co-sporting directors Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart. Due to this, they need a head coach who is happy with having a more limited scope but Pochettino is not this kind of manager.

Speed Up the Inevitable

With the feeling that Pochettino was perhaps not the right man to shape a young squad over the next few years, Chelsea risked wasting time by holding on to the Argentine for longer. An early dismissal, however, gives them a chance to bring in a manager more suited to their desired profile well before pre-season begins. The club are seeking a younger manager who plays attractive, possession-based football but also something of a “yes man” that will avoid internal drama.

Why Was Pochettino Unhappy With Chelsea?

Mauricio Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino (sportsphotographer.eu | Bigstockphoto.com)

It is important to remember this was not a one-way breakup. Pochettino was not a happy man at Stamford Bridge, something he made clear in a press conference before the Nottingham Forest match in May. Responding to a question about his future he said. “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.”

He posed this as more of a hypothetical situation but it was obvious he and his immediate staff were not enjoying the situation. For this, there are several reasons we know of.

Contract Length

Pochettino had requested a three-year contract given the club was entering a new phase and would need time to adapt. His request was denied though with Chelsea only willing to offer a two-year deal with an optional one-year extension. This did not sit well with the Argentine especially as his predecessor, Graham Potter, had been handed a five-year deal.

Lack of Leaders in the Squad

With the youngest squad in the Premier League, Pochettino felt like his side needed one or two older and much more experienced players. In the past, Chelsea managers had turned to players like Cesar Azpilicueta to act as their right-hand man for some player-related administration. In Pochettino’s case though, this role had now been taken up by Marcus Bettinelli, the reserve goalkeeper with just one Chelsea appearance.

Uneasy Relationships with Senior Staff

Pochettino had often made it clear he was unhappy with certain unnamed staff at the club or the structure of the club itself. Speaking outside the training ground in April he said, “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.”

Additionally, Pochettino had complained about the need for club-appointed ‘specialists’ among his staff and about a lack of support. Following a 4-2 defeat at Wolverhampton, he spoke about feeling lonely, presumably as the Chelsea hierarchy did not pick up the phone to offer him reassurances about his job.

Unable to Sign Attackers

Pochettino spoke more than once about his desire to bolster the attacking ranks at the club. Even during pre-season, he was talking about having some ‘different profiles’, despite Jackson and Nkunku impressing. Skip forward to December, following a 2-0 loss to Everton, he said, “That is the reality. If we’re not aggressive enough (in attack), maybe we need to do something, some movement (in the squad).” So despite the club’s huge spending over the past two years, Pochettino still wanted reinforcements but this is something that was never really considered.

Proposed Gallagher Sale

To comply with financial regulations, Chelsea need to sell players this summer, ideally academy graduates as they count as pure profit on the accounts. One player the club intends to ship off is Conor Gallagher, who only had one year left on his current deal. To put it mildly, this did not sit well with Pochettino who gave the Englishman more minutes on the pitch than any of his teammates.

What Next for Chelsea & Pochettino?

Chelsea desperately need to nail their next managerial appointment. Another season or two of underperforming could see a revolt among the fans who are becoming increasingly frustrated with Todd Boehy’s leadership. As for Pochettino, we will likely see him back in the managerial hot-seat as this stint will not have hurt his reputation too much.