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MATT HUGHES: Roman Abramovich governed Chelsea by instinct… and Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali are learning that numbers can only tell you so much as they weigh up the cost of Mauricio Pochettino’s troubled reign


The investors and analysts who run and own Chelsea will be crunching the numbers with greater intensity than usual over the coming days and weeks. 

The potential cost of dismissing Mauricio Pochettino will be weighed against an objective assessment of the Argentine’s troubled reign, as well as an analysis of whether a replacement could achieve more with the current squad.

Chelsea’s previous owner Roman Abramovich was largely governed by instinct – Carlo Ancelotti’s days were famously numbered within months of winning the double after the Russian took against his genial assistant, the late Ray Wilkins – but as befits a club owned by a private equity company the current regime are taking a more scientific approach. 

Unfortunately for co-owners Behdad Eghbali and Todd Boehly numbers can only tell you so much, as is shown by a comparison between Pochettino and his predecessor as permanent manager Graham Potter.

Earlier in the season, and particularly following three successive Premier League wins after Christmas, Pochettino could convincingly claim to be making improvements with a young and inexperienced squad. The statistics no longer support this argument however, after Pochettino marked moving alongside Potter’s final tally of 31 matches at Chelsea with a home defeat to Wolves on Sunday.

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Chelsea are concerned sacking Mauricio Pochettino may mean they breach spending rules

Chelsea are concerned sacking Mauricio Pochettino may mean they breach spending rules

The club's financial situation is a major factor for co-owners Behdad Eghbali and Todd Boehly

The club’s financial situation is a major factor for co-owners Behdad Eghbali and Todd Boehly

The similarities between their two records are remarkable, with both having taken 31 points from 23 Premier League games. With all results included Pochettino has achieved three more wins, although that haul has been boosted by domestic cup victories against lower league opposition, whereas Potter delivered Champions League wins over AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund to leave the club in the quarter finals before he was sacked. Any progress in terms of results has been minimal.

Pochettino has certainly brought about a considerable improvement in Chelsea’s attacking output, with 58 goals scored in 31 games compared to 33 under Potter, but this uplift has been undermined by a leaky defence that has conceded on 45 occasions. 

Bizarrely Chelsea’s share of possession has remained static at 59 per cent under both managers, suggesting they have both encountered similar problems at the club.

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The most glaring is the unbalanced squads they have been forced to work with, a failing for which neither manager can be held responsible as they have had little influence over recruitment, which has been led by the owners in conjunction with the joint sporting directors, Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley.

While some at Chelsea feel Stewart and Winstanley should be facing more questions, particularly their failure to sign an experienced striker in three successive transfer windows, the fact that they have worked closely with Eghbali and Boelhy has spared them to date.

‘The recruitment team are getting away with it,’ a source told Mail Sport. ‘They’ve signed some talented players no question, but they haven’t signed a team. The balance is all wrong and it would be very difficult for any manager. The manager is not the problem.’

Chelsea’s previous owner Roman Abramovich (above) was largely governed by instinct

Chelsea’s previous owner Roman Abramovich (above) was largely governed by instinct

The club's financial situation is a major factor as Boehly considers making a managerial change

The club’s financial situation is a major factor as Boehly considers making a managerial change

Another recurring issue at Chelsea has been a lack on-field leadership and a seeming absence of strong characters in the dressing room, a product of the owners’ apparent obsession with signing young players on the basis of their potential re-sale and accounting value.

‘It’s not a bad dressing room full of egos, but it’s not a good dressing room either,’ said a source close to the club. 

‘They are mainly young boys learning their way. The only real leader is Thiago Silva, whose wife has publicly called for the manager to be sacked! It’s just a mess.’

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All four managers who have worked under the new ownership have had to tolerate an approach which other staff at the club describe as micro-managing, with their irritations ranging from minor gripes like unsolicited post-match pep talks to potentially serious ones with major ramifications, such as many of the club’s senior medical staff being let go halfway through last season. 

While Boehly has scaled back his involvement at Chelsea this season Eghbali remains very hands-on when he is in London, which is a regular occurrence.

Pochettino has not complained and is used to encountering difficulties when ‘managing up’ following his previous jobs at Tottenham and Paris Saint Germain, although a source close to him has wondered privately whether he regrets not drawing firmer lines with the owners earlier in his reign. 

The 51-year-old retains the backing of the Chelsea hierarchy, whose position is that they will not change a manager who could deliver European football next season, which given their league position lends extra significance to Wednesday’s FA Cup fourth-round replay at Aston Villa and the Carabao Cup final against Liverpool later this month.

Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart (left to right) have focused recruitment on young stars

Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart (left to right) have focused recruitment on young stars

Chelsea produced another poor display against Wolves and are now 11th in the Premier League

Chelsea produced another poor display against Wolves and are now 11th in the Premier League

While he remains popular with players and staff there is a feeling at Stamford Bridge that despite the difficulties Pochettino should have done better this season, as he has been granted advantages denied to his predecessors, Thomas Tuchel, Potter and Frank Lampard. 

Pochettino shrewdly declined Chelsea’s entreaties to take over at the end of last season despite opening talks with the club in April, leaving Lampard to preside over a disastrous end to the campaign which brought just two wins from 12 matches.

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Pochettino then had a full pre-season to work with his new players, taking them to the United States for five matches in which they were unbeaten, which with hindsight could end up being the highlight of the club’s campaign. 

Chelsea’s failure to qualify for Europe this season should also have worked Pochettino’s favour, giving the players more recovery and the manager extra time to work with them on the training ground.

Potter in contrast was given a hospital pass on succeeding Tuchel 18 months ago, being parachuted straight into a Champions League against Red Bull Salzburg. 

In a season interrupted by the Qatar World Cup Potter’s first Premier League game as manager started a manic six-week run of 13 straight matches without a single free mid-week, leaving little time to conduct meaningful training sessions. 

Chelsea’s defeat at home by Wolves leaves them in the bottom half of the Premier League

Wolves flourished at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and became the latest to beat a poor Chelsea

Wolves flourished at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and became the latest to beat a poor Chelsea

This period was followed by a six-week break for the World Cup with just four senior players remaining at the club. 

Following a £350m January spending spree Potter was then faced with the opposite problem of a bloated squad featuring over 30 first-team players, which as Mail Sport reported at the time made running standard training sessions almost unmanageable.

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Potter’s demise should also serve as a warning for Pochettino, as when the end came it arrived swiftly, suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly. Whilst many fans had long since lost patience with him Potter only lost one of his last five matches in charge against Unai Emery’s improving Villa in a run that featured victories over Borussia Dortmund, Leeds and Leicester.

There will be no let-up for Pochettino, with the Villa cup-tie followed by Premier League games against struggling Crystal Palace and Manchester City next week before the Carabao Cup final. At this stage making it to Wembley must seem a long way off for Pochettino, never mind winning what would be his first trophy in England.



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