April 19, 2024

Chelsea boss Pochettino: Everyone will expect us to win


CHAPEL HILL, NC — Mauricio Pochettino’s balancing act has begun.

ChelseaThe new manager arrived in North Carolina this week to begin a pre-season tour of the United States that will cause a stir around a team craving stability. The 50,000-seat Kenan Memorial Stadium is sold out for Wednesday’s game, and the fascinated locals are dying to catch a glimpse of one of Europe’s greatest footballing greats playing Wrexham – a second division side whose Hollywood owners (Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney) possess a star power that still effortlessly outshines their team.

Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital manager Behdad Eghbali have made plenty of headlines of their own in recent months with a £625m ($808m) spending spree and a turnover of four managers (including Pochettino) during their tenure. And although no English team has won more trophies than Chelsea in the last two decades, they finished last season in 12th place after losing a staggering 16 premier league Play to miss European football by 18 points.

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So, Pochettino could be forgiven for being a little unsure of what to expect given all the turmoil. The 51-year-old caught up with ESPN for his first exclusive interview just 18 days after taking the job at Chelsea 29-man squad on this US tour reflects the challenge he has inherited.

striker Romelu Lukaku sits back in London awaiting a transfer after the end of his loan at Inter Milan. Target in midfield Moses Caicedo remains a Brighton player like Chelsea Keep trying to poach him for more than £70m. And hours after landing in the United States, Pochettino was told he would be getting £70m for the centre-back Wesley Fofana would be sidelined for an extended period after sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament injury that required reconstructive surgery.

There are just six players in the tour group officially listed as midfielders – underscoring the importance of pursuing Caicedo – during, following the departure of Kai Havertz To arsenal, the forward line that will take the field against Wrexham on Wednesday is anyone’s guess. That is indeed a large part of Pochettino’s first line-up.

The owners are certainly expecting an improvement over last year, however Pochettino insisted no specific targets have been set.

“No, it’s up to us to apply pressure [on]”” he told ESPN. “[The owners] Don’t say anything because I think when you’re at Chelsea it’s about winning. It’s about winning trophies. It’s not about giving a target to the owners, the people, the fans or the media. When we signed for Chelsea we knew that each of us would expect a win, even if last season didn’t go as everyone expected. It’s not an important season for us, it’s about going on and believing that we can win. We’ll try to win, why not?”

There are a few reasons. Manchester CityArsenal’s supremacy is well established but Arsenal have made timely and costly upgrades to their squad – including the £67.5million acquisition of Havertz Manchester United are making slow progress on the transfer market and Newcastle United are quietly aiming to cement last season’s top four finish.

Chelsea was also active with Christopher Nkunku (£53m) and Nicholas Jackson (£30m) are bolstering their forward options alongside signings with potential, particularly 16-year-olds Kendry Paez from Independiente del Valle (a £17.2million signing although he won’t arrive until 2025), Santos 18 year old forward Angelo (£12m) and Benfica 18 year old winger Diego Moreira (free). But gaps remain and Chelsea’s priority is to trim a bloated squad, partly to escape the pressure of complying with UEFA financial fair play rules, but also to trim down a frankly unmanageable 31-man first-team squad before the loanees returned.

Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount, N’Golo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus Cheek, Cesar Azpilicueta, Edouard MendyHavertz and Tiemoue Bakayoko All have left, raising over £200m in donations, while Pochettino confirmed he expects Lukaku and both forwards to leave Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and winger Hakim Ziyech could be close behind.

The sheer magnitude of this turnover leaves something of a blank canvas for Pochettino. In recent years there have been Chelsea managers who have found it difficult to assert themselves in an entrenched dressing room hierarchy. This group doesn’t even have a captain after Azpilicueta joined Atlético Madrid.

So has Pochettino chosen a new captain? “No, not yet,” he replied. “We have to make an assessment, we have to see the players and have more contact to see the development over the next few weeks. Then we will definitely decide what is best for the squad, for the team.”

Pochettino didn’t rule out a player vote in the coming weeks. And his job is to provide a sense of identity to a group of players thrown together over the last 12 months.

“I’m not affected by the past because I wasn’t here,” he said. “I started on July 1st. Of course with the people we met and the players we try to create a good atmosphere and work hard to reach the level that we want and then overall create the philosophy that together we think is possible and we try to bring this football club back to what people expect.”



Poch confirms Lukaku will leave while the club look for a new midfield option

Chelsea manager update on transfer plans as the club reportedly want to sign Caicedo from Brighton.

“Chelsea Football Club is all about winning and taking trophies. That’s what we want for the future. We’re working really hard because we have to prepare all the players to play in the first game of the Premier League.” [against Liverpool on Aug. 13]. Then we’ll see what happens. There’s too much going on, not only at our side but also at different clubs like Liverpool.

“What we’re trying to do now is get the best out of our players. All the players in the squad have to remember that they can be in the first game against Liverpool.”

Pochettino says he believes he’s been a better manager since his sacking Tottenham Hotspur in November 2019. Spurs have improved immeasurably during his tenure. That culminated in a Champions League final in 2019 (a 2-0 loss to Liverpool) and top-four finishes in four of the five seasons he oversaw.

A stay at Paris St Germain followed and won the 2021 Coupe de France before sealing a League 1 He won the title in 2021/22 although insufficient Champions League progress cost him his job. The Argentine has been linked with a number of clubs including Manchester United and a return to Spurs earlier in the year – although sources told ESPN he was never formally approached – before agreeing a two-year deal for a move to Stamford Bridge Option for a third year.

“I hope [I’m better now]”, he said. “Because it’s experience, in the way we learn things.” I think we have more intuition and more ability to read situations. I think with experience we improve, the coaching staff.

“I think of everything that thinks about men’s management. Tactics too, yes, but that’s not the most important thing in football today, because you can find knowledge about tactics on the Internet. Nowadays you can learn it. It’s more about all areas that are important.”

Pochettino may also need to win over a segment of Chelsea fans who are finding it difficult to distance him from their bitter London rivals Tottenham.

“I don’t believe in the past,” he replied to the suggestion. “I’m looking forward to the future. The fans have to trust us. I want to build that confidence and confidence by working hard and of course playing well and winning games. If not, it’s impossible to build a good relationship if you don’t play or win well.



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Wrexham offers an odd first test even by preseason standards. The two teams — hopelessly unequal on paper — traveled 30 minutes across North Carolina to WakeMed Soccer Park for an inaugural training session, whose evening’s planning did little to stem the oppressive humidity and 86F (30C) temperatures. Music blared as both teams took turns practicing in front of several thousand interested spectators on the pitch, many posing for photos with cardboard cutouts of Reynolds and McElhenney.

For Pochettino, who has to please American owners himself, the issue of two US-owned British clubs taking on Stateside provides an interesting answer. Especially when you consider the allegations that Boehly and Eghbali got a little too close to his (permanent) predecessor Graham Potter by attending training sessions on several occasions and entering the dressing room to address the squad.

“It’s good to have a mix, isn’t it? Culturally, football is really strong in the UK,” he said. “America is different from other sports. In order to share the cultures, I think it is important to get the maximum benefit from it.”

“It’s important to blend and be clear about how we blend, isn’t it? American people and football culture in England. But all of this is about experience and learning. People like us, we have the knowledge of football in England to help and guide the people who came from America not to make mistakes, right? And of course to help and try to add all the good things that are sure to be in the US.”

There’s that balancing act again.

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