Mauricio Pochettino is just a convenient fall guy for Chelsea’s ills – who would want to replace him?

The strategy of Todd Boehly and the Clearlake group does not stand up to scrutiny, but it is the manager who will likely pay the price for their mistakes amid fury at Stamford Bridge

Richard Jolly
Senior Football Correspondent
Tuesday 06 February 2024 15:04 GMT
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Pochettino on Chelsea form ahead of Wolves visit and transfer window (Full Presser)

“No one is safe,” said Mauricio Pochettino. And if the reality that he is the fifth man to take charge of a Chelsea game in the brief, ignominious reign of Clearlake Capital offers some proof, so does the maxim that it is cheaper to change the manager than the players. Especially when the context is that the manager was only given a two-year deal while 14 of the players have contracts until the 2030s, five more until 2029 and a further eight until 2028.

Such continuity ought to provide reassurance. Not when Chelsea are mired in the lower half of the table, for a second successive season, and when perhaps only one arrival in their £1bn recruitment drive – the outstanding anomaly Cole Palmer – can be classed as a definitive success.

Sunday’s 4-2 defeat to Wolves may have been facilitated by two deflected goals but it illustrated they never feel far from crisis after 18 months of surreally nonsensical mismanagement; Pochettino ranks some way down the list of culprits, even though Chelsea have conceded four goals in successive matches, are wretched away from home and Wolves’ Gary O’Neil shows how other managers have made a swifter impact and demonstrated a greater clarity of thought when parachuted in and given other people’s players.

The verdict from the Stamford Bridge faithful presumably was not the kind Todd Boehly and co had envisaged when they embarked on one of the oddest projects in footballing history, demolishing a Champions League-winning team and replacing them with a team of mismatched strangers. “We are f***ing s***,” the chorus from the stands, lacked subtlety but the numbers can support the argument. Since the start of 2023, Chelsea have won 13 of 46 league games; in the same time Bournemouth have 14 victories, Wolves 17. And, it goes without saying, with far lesser resources, with Wolves posting a sizeable transfer-market profit last summer.

Chelsea’s season looks ever likelier to rest on the Carabao Cup final against a Liverpool team who demolished them last week and led Pochettino to warn a repeat performance would lead to the same result. An FA Cup replay at Aston Villa points to a probable defeat for a side who have lost six of their last seven away games. It is certainly mathematically possible Chelsea could stumble their way into seventh place, and perhaps the Europa Conference League, but their inconsistency suggests it won’t happen. Nor, in any case, would that be something to celebrate.

Mauricio Pochettino has not seen the best of Moises Caicedo, centre (John Walton/PA)

And with every stumble, the notion that Boehly knew what he was doing takes a further battering. Chelsea can amortise contracts in the accounts but they still have to pay transfer fees. It is safe to assume they did not imagine going two seasons without Champions League revenue, perhaps any European income. Some of their sums are not adding up. The attempt to sell the homegrown Armando Broja for an inflated sum on deadline-day backfired and they only ended up with a £750,000 loan fee. Meanwhile, the £115m man Moises Caicedo has lost the ball for goals they have conceded in their last two games while Jorginho, offloaded last January, was player of the match in Arsenal’s win over league leaders Liverpool.

If the majority of Chelsea’s signings are underachievers, a sizeable group are not good enough now and a contingent probably never will be. These supposed assets may represent a millstone: unsellable, without taking the kind of financial hit that would show up as a sizeable loss in the books, with values nowhere near the price paid. Good luck trying to get their money back now for Caicedo, Enzo Fernandez, Marc Cucurella, Mykhailo Mudryk, Axel Disasi, Raheem Sterling, Robert Sanchez, Nicolas Jackson, the injury-prone pair of Romeo Lavia and Wesley Fofana or several of those who have floundered out on loan.

It is altogether easier to dispense with Pochettino, if not now then in the summer; certainly he has not had the galvanising effect he did at Tottenham, coaxing improvement and forging a formidable team from a youthful group. He has not unlocked enough of the potential that, amid the waste, there is. Thiago Silva’s wife called for change, and it probably wasn’t a reference to pensioning off a 39-year-old defender who has started to show his age. Pochettino is entitled to cite recent fine home form – the only run Chelsea supporters can have enjoyed at Stamford Bridge since Graham Potter’s honeymoon period – before the horror show against Wolves. Potter’s Chelsea had a bland, confused impotence and Pochettino has added attacking impetus, a semblance of a gameplan and more goals but his team remain disjointed and soft.

Yet there is another reason why his job perhaps ought to be more secure than Chelsea’s lowly league position and the evident dissent would indicate. And that, too, is an indictment of the owners. Chelsea could be losing their pulling power. This will be a year when Liverpool, Barcelona, Roma and Napoli will definitely be looking for managers and a host of other clubs, including Manchester United, might be. Exiled from the European elite, lumbered – rather than blessed – with the products of the most expensive spending spree in history and, thus, one of the worst, with a clear need for a high-class centre-forward and centre-back but perhaps not the budget for either, Chelsea’s allure is reduced. Pochettino is the obvious fall guy but, with Chelsea in the bottom half of the table, any replacement may come from the bottom half of their shortlist as the coveted go elsewhere. And if Chelsea are broken, he is not the one who broke them.

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