MATT BARLOW: Pochettino has a special gift of bringing others with him
MATT BARLOW: Mauricio Pochettino has a special gift of bringing others with him and needs everyone on the same page… but is that possible at basket case Chelsea? We are about to find out
- Mauricio Pochettino took the job at PSG eight months after leaving Tottenham
- He has been heavily linked to a Premier League return at the helm of Chelsea
- Chelsea could offer No 1 target Pochettino the managerial job by Saturday night
Mauricio Pochettino was at the end of his gardening leave at Tottenham, fully recharged and talking about projects.
‘Always, you dream of the perfect club, the perfect project,’ he said. ‘I’m very open to wait for the seduction of the project rather than the country. It’s about the club and about the people, the human dimension.’
Eight months on, Pochettino took control at Paris Saint-Germain, where he enjoyed two years as a player and hailed the emotion of a reunion.
‘The perfect offer, the perfect project for us,’ he declared as he prepared for a Champions League semi-final against Manchester City. ‘We feel something special we didn’t feel when we had conversations with different clubs. We took the decision with our heart.’
Alas, the romance proved hopeless. That tie with City was lost. The Champions League remained elusive and Pochettino failed to get beyond the last-16 at the next attempt when the final was in Paris. Ousted, he has spent another 12 months sitting, waiting and wondering if another attractive opportunity would form, like this one at Chelsea.
Mauricio Pochettino shot to prominence at Tottenham, reaching a Champions League final
The Argentine has been heavily linked with the vacant managerial position at Stamford Bridge
His last role in the dugout came with PSG where he spent two years during his playing days
Unlike the last time he was out of work, when restricted by the pandemic, the 51-year-old made the most of this freedom to roam, splitting his time between his two homes, in Barcelona and north London.
Pochettino attended the World Cup in Qatar, hosted at the games by PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi when not on broadcasting duty with the BBC, as if to prove they remain on amicable terms despite the split.
He has taken a holiday in Japan, a country he promised to revisit after playing in the 2002 World Cup, and helped his younger son Maurizio settle into the latest stage of his football career.
Maurizio is a 22-year-old winger who came through the academy at Spurs, had an 18-month stint at Watford and has spent this season at Gimnastic de Tarragona, in Spain’s third tier.
All the time, Pochettino, who still operates without an agent, filtered interest from around Europe, including West Ham and Aston Villa, eyes peeled once more for the perfect project while nursing the bruises of the experience at PSG.
‘Today, talking about projects in football is very difficult,’ said Pochettino in a revealing interview with Madrid-based sports outlet Relevo in November. ‘There are few lucky ones who can be involved in a project in the medium or long term.’
Maybe the idea of a perfect project was fading. He spoke of ‘more demands’ and ‘less patience’ while surely lingering on the farce of competing vanities at PSG, where players complain about all things from team-mates not passing the ball or looking at them in the wrong way, to the ratings in L’Equipe.
They pay the biggest wages in world football and yet are based at a training centre with portable toilet blocks that have broken locks on the cubicle doors.
The Argentine took Tottenham to the highs of a Champions League semi-final back in 2019
The idea of a perfect project looked to be fading for Pochettino after an interview with Relevo
Chelsea may not have qualified for European football next term but they remain ambitious
When Thomas Tuchel joined Chelsea in 2021 after a spell in Paris, he was relieved to discover the culture and facilities were in keeping with what he expected at an elite club.
As a close friend of former PSG boss Unai Emery, Pochettino must have known what was coming and that his holistic managerial style would be tested by the circus there.
Those close to him describe the Argentine as warm, charismatic and inclusive, with a special gift for bringing others with him, commanding commitment to the cause.
At Spurs, there were Argentinian-style barbecues for the players and their families, gruelling fitness sessions and bonding exercises where they walked on hot coals and snapped arrows against their throats.
There were collective meals out in restaurants for the staff, sometimes extending to the scouts and staff beyond the first-team dressing room. He kept a close eye on the academy. It was all geared towards positive energies, the message expounded by Ryan Mason ahead of his first game as Tottenham’s latest acting head coach.
Last year, when Pochettino was asked which players have best embraced his ideas, the three he named were Mason, Harry Kane and Adam Lallana.
‘They understood the philosophy about the game but also how we were human,’ he said. ‘They immediately captured our essence and went to the death with us.’
Loyalty matters to Pochettino, who wants assistant Jesus Perez and goalkeeper coach Toni Jimenez with him at Chelsea, as well as his eldest son Sebastiano, who worked on his staff at Spurs and PSG. He is also keen to bring Steve Hitchen, formerly chief scout at Tottenham, into the fray at Stamford Bridge.
‘You have to convince 25 guys to believe that your idea is the right one,’ Pochettino told Relevo. ‘You are taking a boat on a voyage where there will be storms and everyone needs to trust. It is not as easy as it looks.’
Ex-Argentina international Pochettino is a close friend of Aston Villa boss Unai Emery
Loyalty is key to the former Spurs boss, and he wants Toni Jimenez (left) and Jesus Perez (second left) to join him at Chelsea, should he take the Stamford Bridge job this summer
Thomas Tuchel survived his PSG exit with his reputation intact and moved straight to Chelsea
At Spurs, he ditched the sceptics, including senior players like Younes Kaboul, Etienne Capoue and Emmanuel Adebayor, and sometimes resisted new signings, wary of upsetting the delicate balance.
Stability was highly unlikely at PSG but, by this stage of his career, he probably realised that to crack the super-clubs he would have to deliver trophies and handle star names. Those questions remained despite his success in other areas.
He won the league title, the French Cup and the Super Cup in 18 months in Paris, and developed strong relationships with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar – although the chemistry faltered after the summer of 2022 and another wave of megastar arrivals, led by Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos.
‘The experience we needed,’ reasoned Pochettino. ‘Living with big stars and interacting at the top level of football.’
Tuchel and Emery survived the PSG circus with their reputations intact, and so should Pochettino. There is good sense to Chelsea making him their prime target -even if he has worked less than half the 41 months since his Spurs exit.
He understands the culture of the English game and the demands of the Premier League. He produces attacking football, develops young players and connects to fans.
He can charm the board – he once took Daniel Levy rafting. He might also coax something more from £105million record signing Enzo Fernandez.
There has been no siren call from Tottenham and this opportunity keeps Pochettino at an elite level.
True, there is no European football next season but Chelsea remain ambitious, as their spending levels prove.
He won Ligue 1, French Cup and French Super Cup titles during his 18-month stint in Paris
He may be able to coax more out of Chelsea’s £105million record signing Enzo Fernandez
Pochettino managed to develop a good relationship with PSG’s Brazilian star Neymar
Romelu Lukaku’s return at the end of the season will further bloat an already bloated squad
Yes, there is a huge summer of work ahead to trim fat from a squad set to be overblown further when Christopher Nkunku signs from RB Leipzig and loan players return – including Romelu Lukaku on his £400,000 a week, teenagers Andrey Santos and Malo Gusto who were signed in January, and Ian Maatsen, arguably the Championship’s best full back during his season at Burnley.
It will demand ruthlessness but he has shown that before and there is enough talent in the building for him to sculpt a decent team given the chance.
And that’s the unknown. Will Chelsea’s new owners give him the chance? Will they show the patience? Will they cut the demands? Will they ease off and back him to do things his way?
If they do, that might make this Pochettino’s perfect project.
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