Friday, June 16, 2023

London Calling: Pochettino and Postecoglou To The Rescue?

Mauricio Pochettino and Ange Postecoglou will be looking to restore the fortunes of two fallen Premier League clubs as they take the reins of London rivals, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.

Pochettino wades into a total mess at Stamford Bridge. American ownership led by Todd Boehly purchased a club which had finished third in the 2021/22 Premier League standings and won the Champions League the year before that. A series of poor choices in manager selections and player acquisitions saw Chelsea drop to the bottom half of the table this past season. Boehly sacked Champions League winning manager Thomas Tuchel to hire Graham Potter from Brighton. Potter seemed overwhelmed by the task, the club floundered, and Potter was sacked in favor of an interim managerial stint by Frank Lampard.

The Chelsea legend may be forever tainted by what happened next. Lampard would win only 1 of 11 contests in charge, losing 8 as the humiliating season could not end fast enough for the Blues. Boehly had gone on a spending free in the transfer market which had accumulated so many, often mediocre, players that the club did not have space in the training room let alone on the pitch, for a galaxy of overpriced and underperforming talent.

Pochettino needs to make sense of the squad problems which proved too much for Potter and Lampard. Significant culling must be done. The positive news is that Pochettino has proven himself skilled in the development of young players, of which there are many at Chelsea. Once identifying the players with the right potential for his system, Pochettino can be expected to make a difference. The Argentine manager developed a young squad at Tottenham Hotspur which would deliver four consecutive top four finishes and a Champions League final. Of course, having Harry Kane as striker didn’t hurt Tottenham Hotspur’s rise.

Pochettino would go on to win his first silverware as a manager by taking PSG to Coupe de France and Ligue 1 titles. He now takes his high pressing attacking style of football back to the Premier League and a club which notably lacked the energy of Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur clubs as the Blues stumbled to the finish line last season. Time will tell whether Boehly has made his first correct decision since entering the world of English football.

In a sense, Tottenham Hotspur were even more disappointing than Chelsea last season. Chelsea’s season looked to be a disaster from early on as fans longingly looked to the calendar for when the torture would end. Spurs, on the other hand, were in the mix for Champions League qualification before becoming unglued late in the season. The perpetually unhappy Antonio Conte left the club in late March by mutual agreement after a final rant by the manager about the failings of players and ownership. Despite Conte’s lamentations, the north London club was fourth in the table when the Italian manager headed out the door. Interim managers Cristian Stellini and Ryan Mason would then preside over a collapse which saw Tottenham Hotspur fall completely out of the European places to finish eighth in the table. Thus, like Pochettino, Postecoglou will have plenty of time on the training pitch to implement his system without the distractions of European football.

The Premier League’s first Australian manager comes to north London after winning five trophies in two seasons at Celtic in the Scottish Premier League. Postecoglou’s previous postings were with the Australian national team and Yokohama in Japan.

Like Pochettino, Postecoglou favors a fast, attacking style of play. His selection was mildly surprising after rumored flirtations by Spurs with other potential candidates such as former Bayern Munich manager  Julian Nagelsmann, former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, Feyenoord manager Arne Slot, and even former Tottenham Hotspur and now Chelsea boss Pochettino. Supposedly, Postecoglou has been assured Harry Kane will stay a Spurs player for at least one more final season. Kane’s contract runs out after next season. Absent the player signing an extension, he could walk for free if not dealt in the summer or winter transfer windows. Taking such a gamble seems uncharacteristic of business savvy Spurs chairman Daniel Levy but perhaps it’s time for him to do something different. While bringing commercial success with a shiny new stadium, Levy’s manager and player decisions have not been stellar. Conte was not shy about citing the club’s failures under Levy. Postecoglou now has the task of lifting Spurs up from their worst Premier League finish in 15 seasons.

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