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  • Writer's pictureBy Kaz Mochlinski

Poch concedes Chelsea are still not quite the team he wants them to be




“This is not my team” was Mauricio Pochettino’s clear, bold, and defiant message ahead of Chelsea’s last game of the season, as he intimated that he had not been able to play in the way he would have wanted during his first year as the club’s head coach.


For the first time since arriving at Chelsea last summer, Pochettino was able to speak from a position of some strength, after Chelsea had maintained their impressive late season surge with a fourth consecutive victory in what is the team’s best run of the campaign.


Having secured a vital win at Brighton in the final away match of 2023-24, taking them up into the automatic qualification places for European football next season, Poch finally felt that he could reveal what he had been secretly thinking about the Chelsea project which he had taken on.


He emphasised the excellent atmosphere within his squad, and the strong rapport between the players and coaching staff. But he also indicated that the players available to him had necessitated altering his approach to fit their capabilities rather than implementing his preferred ideas.


And he repeatedly referred to the difficult “circumstances” at Chelsea this season, initiated by the extensive turnover of personnel, bringing in multiple younger and less experienced players, a situation subsequently significantly exacerbated by an extensive injury list and struggles with football’s financial regulations.


Above all, Pochettino openly lamented the short time frame to achieve success, not allowing for gradual development but demanding immediate results, meaning that he has had to compromise the way in which he would have liked to take on the task.


“That is not my team. That is the Chelsea team. No, not my team” was Poch’s forthright verdict.


“After 15 years working in Espanyol, Southampton, Tottenham, Paris Saint-Germain, and now Chelsea, I think you know my style, and the way that we want to play.”


He went on: “Look, if you are happy, if the people is happy in the way that we are playing, with the profile of the players, with the squad that we have, then do we need to adapt? Yes, all the coaches, we have in our mind the possibility to draw the way that we want to play. But often it is necessary to adapt, to the squad, and the circumstances of the squad.


“Of course, with time, if you ask another coach, who maybe is for a long time in a different club, of course, if you have the possibility to be 10 years, or 25 years, or 22, like Arsène Wenger, or Sir Alex Ferguson, of course that is your team, it’s a Sir Alex Ferguson team.


“Or, in another case, you can say Pep Guardiola, because in every single six months you have the possibility and you have the power to invest, or not invest, to bring players that you want to play in some way or in another way. Of course. But, after one season, we know our circumstances.”


For Poch, there is excessive emphasis on instant gratification: “You know the problem is that we only analyse the results. Always the results. You are good or you are bad, only because of the results. And it’s not like this in football, when you need to build a project and you need to build a team. It’s about the process.”


And he continued: “Now four games and a half winning - because the second half we already won in Aston Villa - 45 minutes plus four games won, yes, but it’s not changed my view of the way that we assess the players, the way that we assess our work, and the way that we analyse how we play.


“Ok, we are winning. The difference is that the results are matching now the performance. Because the performance from the beginning of the season was good. But now we are winning games and it looks like yes we are so good. I think we are good anyway, winning or losing.


“But it is for other people to analyse how we are doing, and the circumstances. Still I have one year more contract here. And that’s it.”


Was this an ominous sign-off? In his slightly Yoda-like use of the English language, is Pochettino fearing an early end to his tenure at Stamford Bridge? Despite recently threatening to walk away from the club if he did not believe that there would be an improvement in the “circumstances”, he seems committed to continuing.


“I’m so happy for the players. They deserve the full credit. In the way that they work, in the way that they approach the game, and in the way that they try to apply all the work that we were doing on the training ground. That is the important thing. I feel so proud.”


The theme of the positive connection with the players at Cobham was one that he returned to: “Of course, you know, I am so happy with all the squad. I am so proud of them. And our relationship is fantastic. You know, that is the most important thing.”


It was an impression confirmed by Chelsea’s newest superstar, Cole Palmer, who went out of his way to back his boss, underlining how popular Poch was with the whole squad: “All credit to the manager. All the players love the manager and want to fight for him.”


That is in spite of it notoriously not being easy to play for Pochettino, with Adam Lallana, now with Brighton, memorably reflecting during his time at Southampton under Poch that you needed three lungs rather than the normal two in order to meet the coach’s stringent fitness demands.


There is also now a noticeably improved mood among the Blues’ travelling support. Winning helps, and for much of this season there has been immense inconsistency in that regard. But they can equally recognise that clear progress is being made in ironing out the rollercoaster experience of earlier in the campaign.


The singing emanating from the North Stand at Brighton was raucous and loud, particularly in praise of Thiago Silva as the brilliant warrior approaches the end of his four fantastic years at Chelsea, uniquely leaving behind his sons to hopefully continue their development in the club’s academy.


Perhaps the best-ever Chelsea player song, for one of the 2012 Champions League winners, Salomon Kalou, was given a nostalgic airing. But, by the end, the chanting was all about qualifying again for Europe, even if this time it won’t be the Champions League, and probably only the Europa Conference League.


“We’re all going on a European tour!” rolled around the South Downs, overshadowing Christopher Nkunku’s questionable goal celebration with a blue balloon, which has unwanted connotations of drug misuse.


Albion’s rare deployment of a goalkeeper and back four numbered 1 - 5 (with a number 9 at centre-forward) might also easily be missed.

Yet again, much of the focus was on Poch. A verdict on his first season is imminent.


Reaching Wembley in both domestic cup competitions was a reasonable start, tempered by late 1-0 defeats to Liverpool in the League Cup final and to Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final.


Recent thrashings of Everton and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge have helped to both increase the positivity around the club and also to propel Chelsea up the Premier League to within one point of a guaranteed European spot with a home game to come against Bournemouth.


Pochettino still wants more: “We’re not going to celebrate and take a picture after finishing fifth or sixth and getting Europe. It’s not enough for the club, the owners, the sporting directors, or the players. It’s not enough for us.” Training for the players to develop three-lung breathing capacity awaits.

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