LONDON: Mauricio Pochettino’s time in the wilderness looks set to end. And a career that has felt in danger of stagnating could get the jump start it needs.
After a year out from soccer, the former Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain manager is widely expected to take over at Chelsea. There, he would get the chance to realize a burning ambition to conquer the English Premier League and, with that, confirm his status as one of the sport’s elite coaches.
At times over the past 12 months, it felt like Pochettino possibly missed out on his chance to secure one of the top jobs in Europe.
It was only last summer he left PSG, having won the French league and answered one of the lingering questions hanging over his career; his ability to win major trophies.
But at the end of last season, Manchester United opted for Erik ten Hag when embarking on a reboot at Old Trafford. A few months later, Chelsea turned to Graham Potter after the departure of Thomas Tuchel, signalling a shift toward a new generation of coaches.
Even Pochettino’s former club, Tottenham, has repeatedly looked elsewhere for answers since his exit in 2019, despite his enduring iconic status among its fans.
Having been consistently linked with United and Real Madrid over the past five years, the 51-year-old from Argentina appeared to be running out of options to take his career to the next level.
It’s not that there was a lack of interest; it’s said that much of the Premier League has considered him at various points. It’s just that there are relatively few teams that could give him the platform to challenge for soccer’s biggest prizes and keep his resume on an upward curve.
Pep Guardiola’s career, for example, has taken him from Barcelona to Bayern Munich to Manchester City, with each of those teams having the heritage and/or financial resources to enable him to dominate in Spain, Germany and England respectively.
Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti have chalked off one giant after another — both of them returning to former clubs on occasion to underline the relatively shallow pool of truly elite teams to choose from.
Pochettino lifted Southampton from the lower end of the Premier League then turned Tottenham into a title contender and Champions League finalist by the time his chance came at PSG.
There, he won the league and cup, but could not end the French giant’s pursuit of the Champions League, joining an ever-growing list of coaches to fall short in that respect.
United looked like the ideal next step, him having been long-admired by the Manchester club, but the job went to Ten Hag.
Ancelotti, meanwhile, had just led Madrid to a 14th European Cup and the Spanish title, meaning another job that has long-appeared to have his name on it was also out of reach.
With Potter at Chelsea and Jurgen Klopp and Guardiola signing new contracts at Liverpool and City respectively, it was difficult to see where Pochettino’s next move would be.
And, so, with no move to make, he waited.
He traveled to Tokyo with his family, and spent time at his homes in Barcelona and London. Throughout his break, he never lost sight of his value or his place in the game.
He has managed some of the best players in the world in Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Harry Kane.
He is idolized by Tottenham fans for turning it into one of the top teams in Europe — even if he did end up trophyless by the end. And, as well as the trophies at PSG, he was one of only two coaches in its history to go beyond the quarterfinals of the Champions League, reaching the semis in 2021.
These are not small feats, but Pochettino has lofty ambitions that need a club of stature to fulfil.
While Chelsea will be without European soccer next season, it is accustomed to winning the biggest prizes, having lifted the Champions League as recently as 2021.
Pochettino would inherit a squad that has had around $630 million worth of new signings over the past two transfer windows. And he would be working for owners, in Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, who have made it clear they will provide the resources to bring success to Stamford Bridge.
As for handling the American owners, Pochettino knows what it is like to work for demanding bosses in Daniel Levy at Tottenham and PSG’s backers, Qatar Sports Investments.
It would be a risk. So far, Boehly and Clearlake have dispensed with a Champions League-winning manager in Tuchel and another who was only seven months into the job.
Chelsea, however, would provide Pochettino with opportunity to go head-to-head against elite coaches such as Guardiola and Klopp and prove it is where he belongs.