Buidling Dreams Together


Is Mauricio Pochettino an ‘elite’ manager?

It has been four years since Mauricio Pochettino was relieved of his duties at his most successful managerial job to date. His Tottenham Hotspur side between 2014 and 2019 continuously defied expectations by combining limited transfer spending with consistent top four finishes, a couple of title challenges and a Champions League final in his final full season. Despite a bleaker end, with losses to Colchester, a then-developing Brighton and a thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich peppering his start to 2019/20, it was a hugely successful stint and cemented Tottenham as one of the so-called ‘Big 6’.

The same success stories have not been written at his jobs following his time at N17. Though he’s only a few months into his role at Chelsea, questions have been raised already, especially after their recent Carabao Cup final defeat to Liverpool, while his Paris Saint-Germain days left a lot to be desired.

So is Mauricio Pochettino an elite manager or have certain factors gone against him?

Early Management and Tottenham

Let’s take a step back and remember why Mauricio Pochettino was so highly regarded in the first place. His first managerial job came at RCD Espanyol, a club close to his heart after two spells there as a player. It wasn’t a tremendously successful time, with some middling finishes in La Liga but did provide bright sparks to build on as a coach. Such as beating Pep Guardiola’s all-mighty Barcelona at the Nou Camp and what would become his famed 4-2-3-1 high pressing formation.

Pochettino managed RCD Espanyol between 2009 and 2012

Dismissed following some poor form in Spain, Pochettino was recruited by Southampton to take over from double promotion winner Nigel Atkins. In his season-and-a-half in charge, he oversaw major progression by taking the side to 8th place in his first full Premier League season, utilising a talented squad that included Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Rickie Lambert and further developing his hard-working style.

It was at Tottenham where Pochettino’s eye for man management and developing a team really took hold. Inheriting a cobbled together squad still caught between the Gareth Bale and Harry Kane eras, ‘Poch’ was able to hit the ground running with 5th place and a cup final. Through refinement of the first team, he was able to carve out an incredibly strong eleven, with shrewd buys in Toby Alderweireld, Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min accompanying the likes of Moussa Dembele, Kyle Walker, Christian Eriksen and Kane.

It would have been unthinkable when Andre Villas-Boas or Tim Sherwood were managers for Spurs to ever mount a title charge. Even the Champions League was a rarity. But once Pochettino was able to mould the young, dynamic squad to his physical demands and attacking intensity, success rolled in. All bar an illusive piece of silverware.

Pochettino celebrating in the aftermath of Tottenham’s 3-2 comeback victory against Ajax in the 2018/19 Champions League semi-final

Though his time at Spurs didn’t culminate in the 2019 Champions League final, held in Madrid, it may as well have. Pochettino’s need for squad replenishment never came in time and some high profile signings couldn’t save his tenure come November of that year. He took a break from coaching after his dismissal and throughout that time he was linked with top jobs, including Real Madrid. It was clear that Pochettino’s reputation was far from tainted as clubs around Europe recognised the quality of his methods and achievements in North London.

PSG – Too Much Too Soon?

Pochettino next took the reins at another of his former clubs in Paris Saint-Germain. Though this was a far cry from the team he knew, which finished 11th in his final season playing there. Now they were a Qatari-funded behemoth who had won seven of the last eight Ligue 1 championships and yearned for a Champions League crown. 

In his initial half-season, having taken over from another future Chelsea boss in Thomas Tuchel, who had reached the Champions League final just months prior, Pochettino led Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and co. to a French Cup, French Super Cup, Champions League semi-final, but also second place in the league – a seemingly impossible task with the might that PSG possess over other teams in France.

A league title would follow in the next season though missing that objective was made even more unfathomable with the signing of Lionel Messi), but Pochettino and his coaching staff were constantly plagued by rumours of player dissent and disillusionment. Additionally, PSG retreated into passive pressing from the midfield rather than the forwards (which Kane, Son, Eriksen could offer).

Despite the front three of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe, Pochettino couldn’t achieve the success that PSG desired

Whether this lack of success is down to Pochettino, however, is debatable, further strengthened by coaches such as Unai Emery, Christophe Galtier and Luis Enrique struggling to achieve continental triumphs too. French football expert Julian Laurens likened the PSG dressing room ‘a nest of vipers’.

‘There were times when he [Pochettino] wanted to take strong action after a first-team player (the same one in both incidents) didn’t respect the rules. Both times, he was told to leave it. It is hard to manage any team if you don’t have that authority, even more so inside this PSG dressing room.’

Pochettino has also routinely spoken about being the leader of a ‘project’ is his most comfortable situation, something that can grow over an extended period. PSG was never going to be that sort of club, but perhaps he felt the need to take the job to keep his profile up after his sabbatical.

Blue is the Colour. And the feeling

Pochettino now resides in West London with Chelsea, picked as the man to make a success of signings accumulating to over £1 billion. The recent Carabao Cup defeat to Liverpool in the final, ticking minutes of extra-time stung Blues fans more than expected. It was lacklustre, especially in the extra-time section where they sat back and invited Liverpool’s youthful team to find a winner. In a turbulent season, alongside an even more turbulent 2022/23, Chelsea fans are striving for any semblance that their ambitious transfer ventures are going somewhere positive.

A Carabao Cup victory would have not only boosted that, but boosted confidence in Pochettino, whose job is already under scrutiny in the flaming pit that is the Chelsea hot seat. Similar criticisms have arisen. Though Pochettino now has players much more capable of delivering a high press, there’s a lack of connectivity to their play. Players are spaced out, possession is difficult to keep and a defined style is hard to picture.

Cole Palmer has been a bright spark in a mixed season for Chelsea

Like at PSG, various aspects haven’t helped Poch. Much has been attributed to Todd Boehly’s apparently unending transfer policy, which has constantly altered the squad and stocked full – possibly too full – of top players. Alongside this, injuries to key individuals such as Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Christopher Nkunku means Pochettino has been unable to gel together a consistent eleven, leading to a lot of chopping and changing. A reliance on Cole Palmer could be viewed as both Pochettino’s astute awareness in recognising his capabilities or focusing on him due to a limited pool of regular performers.

A feeble extra-time performance against Liverpool, which led to commentator Gary Neville labelling the team the “blue billion pound bottlejobs”, has now incurred a landslide of criticisms, a lot of which leading to those questions of whether Pochettino is the man to lead the club forward. At the time of writing, there is still an FA Cup on offer and a good league position is salvageable at this stage, but whether Pochettino will have the opportunity to build on this next season will have to be seen.

Pochettino reacts to Gary Neville’s ‘Billion Pound Bottlejobs’ jibe (Source: HaytersTV, YouTube)
Is Pochettino Elite?

Definitions would alter for everyone. The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘elite’ as ‘the richest, most powerful, best-educated, or best-trained group in a society’. Putting that in football management terms, there would only really be a narrow field of elite managers, ones who have consistent success throughout their careers and innovate with the times to stay on top constantly. Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti are the main trio that spring to mind, with the possible inclusion of Jose Mourinho despite his slightly waning powers.

So by that metric, Pochettino may not be elite per se but still has the qualities of a top coach. It’s easier to break down and criticise most of the time, in all walks life and especially football. There is certainly a lot of improvement Pochettino can make this season, namely bringing in a more unified, distinctive style of play with a regular eleven, but it’s easy to forget he’s only 51 years of age and already has a wealth of experience to draw from.

Will he remain at Chelsea?

Getting over the hump of winning trophies often is crucial but his place as an elite manager is still well within realms of possibility. With the right amount of faith, Chelsea could give him that status. Furthermore, it just so happens that his last three jobs have been clubs notorious for high manager turnovers. And with the amount of other top managers available come the summer (including beloved ex-Chelsea bosses Antonio Conte, Thomas Tuchel and Mourinho), this is a shorter timeframe than the Pochettino project would have liked.

Time may be running out for Pochettino at Chelsea after a dismal display in the EFL Cup final

Time is never a luxury for Chelsea managers and so should his project be successful (and it is very much a project on a sizable budget) he may have to learn how to speed run it to next season. Pochettino has spoken before about understanding a club’s culture and ethos before taking the job, saying that he joined Tottenham knowing the transfer budgets would be depleted in comparison with their league rivals because of the building of the new stadium, and so he would have known Chelsea isn’t known for given half a decade of work to even its most successful bosses.

It’s worth noting too though that while Pochettino may need more time to prove himself at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea too need some stability after their self-inflicted instable period. Though the clouds look gloomy now, patience may simply be the virtue needed for both parties.

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I write about football and I support Tottenham Hotspur.