Why Pochettino left Chelsea, and what it reveals about the club

Nothing sums up the frenzied thinking at Chelsea quite like a signing they didn’t initially want to make being named their Player of the Year.

Cole Palmer‘s remarkable rise at Stamford Bridge was one of the few highlights that Mauricio Pochettino can look back on with pride as the manager contemplates his next step in football following Tuesday’s departure from the Blues by mutual consent.

Pochettino’s reputation for developing young players was one reason he was given the job last summer, and Palmer’s progress exceeded all expectations as he ended the campaign with 22 goals and 11 assists from 34 Premier League games, second only to Erling Haaland in the race for the Golden Boot.

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Yet sources have told ESPN that Palmer was not in Chelsea’s transfer plans until the final few days of the summer window, after two other deals had faltered. The Blues attempted to trigger Michael Olise‘s £35 million release clause at Crystal Palace in the belief that could be done unilaterally. In fact, the terms meant the player’s camp had to inform Palace of his desire to leave and arrange the release from his existing agreement. Amid the confusion, Palace agreed to a new deal with Olise on improved terms and he stayed at Selhurst Park. Sources say Chelsea also pursued a deal for Ajax‘s Mohammed Kudus, but West Ham United were already far enough advanced in their own negotiations to be able to complete a £38m transfer on Aug. 28.

By that stage, Palmer’s disagreement with City boss Pep Guardiola over where he should play his football — Palmer wanted to go out on loan to aid his development, Guardiola preferred him to stay with the squad or move permanently — had become known in football’s inner circles. Sources have told ESPN that Brighton & Hove Albion were talking to Palmer and City about a deal, while West Ham also expressed an interest. Both clubs believed a deal could be completed for around £25m. In the end, Chelsea offered £42.5m — only £2.5m of which were performance-related add-ons — to land Palmer on deadline day, Sept. 1.

Nobody can doubt the success of Palmer’s signing, but the methodology reveals a working practice to formulating a squad that Pochettino found difficult. Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital have shown great ambition since acquiring the club almost two years ago, committing more than £1 billion on new signings and prioritising the pursuit of some of the world’s most promising young talent. The signing of Estevao Willian only this week — a teenager who won’t even join the club until 2025 — for an initial £29m underlines that commitment hasn’t wavered.

But the fact they are now looking for a fourth permanent head coach in two years suggests Chelsea’s structure remains problematic, yet to find a manager able to thrive in the environment they have created.


Chelsea learned a few things from their ill-fated preseason tour to the United States in 2022. Then-coach Thomas Tuchel quickly complained about a punishing schedule which took the Blues across every time zone in the States and left them, in his view, badly underprepared for the new Premier League season. A year later, Pochettino was spared the same sort of journey time, with the club staying near the East Coast, but nevertheless they were away for a long time, over two weeks playing five matches.

Sources told ESPN that Pochettino changed the squad’s itinerary on more than one occasion at short notice, something which is not entirely uncommon on preseason tours, but still indicative that the demands were different to what he expected. At one point he gave them an extra day off to ease the intensity.

Sources also say Pochettino was consulted on transfer policy but, as one put it, “he was just a voice in the room.” The Blues’ co-owners, Boehly and Clearlake’s Behdad Eghbali, along with co-sporting directors Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stuart, all have their input while the club has increasingly shifted towards using analytics to inform its strategy. That data would soon come to Pochettino’s aid. There were flashes of promise early on, but the Blues started slowly, their only league win in the opening two months of the season coming at home to newly promoted Luton Town.

Indifferent form followed. A 4-1 win at nine-man Tottenham Hotspur preceded a creditable and hugely entertaining 4-4 draw against Manchester City. Those displays, however, were followed up with a dismal 4-1 defeat at Newcastle United. By the time they lost 2-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers in December, Chelsea were languishing in 10th place.

However sources have told ESPN that, around this time, the view internally of Pochettino was positive. The club possessed data that suggested results were not indicative of the performance level over the first half of the campaign. Sources added there was also a desire to review the medical team at Cobham in light of a disastrous injury list that had robbed Pochettino of many first-team players. One source suggested Pochettino had not even been able to train with his preferred XI for several months into his tenure, again viewed as mitigation for the team’s disappointing points total.

But there were differences of opinion elsewhere. Sources have told ESPN that Conor Gallagher‘s role at the club became an increasingly complex issue. Although Chelsea have repeatedly denied any issues in complying with the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability Rules (PSR) — pointing out around £400m brought in through player exits to partially offset the £1bn outlay — they have very few players who they could transfer for pure profit under PSR regulations to fund future spending.

Gallagher is one of those. The club made little headway in contract negotiations with the 24-year-old, whose transfer was valued at around £50m — a figure that put off several interested clubs, including Tottenham, during the January window. Yet as Chelsea continued to allow Gallagher to run down his deal, the midfielder became of major importance to Pochettino, one of the few players he could rely on in both availability and consistency of performance. With club captain Reece James regularly sidelined due to injury, Gallagher began to take the armband on a regular basis.

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Pochettino never quite felt the unequivocal support from Chelsea supporters. A Carabao Cup semifinal first-leg defeat at Championship side Middlesbrough was memorable for the angry reaction by travelling Blues fans at the final whistle, venting their fury at another subpar performance in a 1-0 defeat. He tried several times to revel in the rare moments of joy at the end of home games; beating Newcastle on penalties earlier in the competition, and the chaotic 4-3 win over Manchester United in April where Chelsea came from 3-2 down in the 99th minute to record the latest Premier League victory ever. But his 5½ years with London rivals Tottenham meant that Pochettino was always facing an uphill battle to elicit patience from Chelsea fans used to immediate success, expecting that to be maintained even if the Roman Abramovich era of “victory at all costs” is now in the past.

Sources have told ESPN that a split developed in opinion between senior figures at the club over whether Pochettino should remain in charge. This developed during the second half of the season and would ultimately be determined in an end-of-season review, mirroring the decision to sack Tuchel after the owners embarked upon a 100-day review upon the completion of their takeover. Word of this split began to permeate the club’s Cobham base to the extent that Pochettino grew irritated both by persistent questions over his future and the lack of public support from the ownership.

Pochettino publicly derided the idea of set-piece specialists in February. In March, Chelsea moved to appoint Bernardo Cueva as their new set-piece coach from Brentford. Sources have told ESPN that question marks were raised about the character of some of Chelsea’s signings made prior to Pochettino’s appointment. Some within the club began to voice concerns about the fragile nature of Chelsea’s performances, struggling to hold onto winning positions and often riddled with individual mistakes. Winning February’s Carabao Cup final would have given Pochettino a trophy to hold as tangible evidence of progress, but a series of missed chances against a weakened Liverpool side opened the door for the Blues to concede an 118th-minute sucker punch.

Pochettino’s irritation began to grow. Chelsea’s injury list frequently ran into double figures — key striker Christopher Nkunku ended up starting two games all season — and in mid-March, he held up the matchday programme from their unconvincing FA Cup quarterfinal win over Leicester City to cite all the youngsters listed to combat the idea he still had plenty of options.

“People say, ‘Oh big squad,'” Pochettino fumed. “But did you see the names? [pointing] Under-18, U18, U18, U18, U21, U21, U21. And sometimes people you can confuse, you know: ‘Big squad.’

“Do you know why we use too many we put here? Because we use this guy few minutes in Carabao Cup, in the FA Cup or in the Premier League because of the circumstances.”

Once again, a cup competition provided potential salvation but, in troubling symmetry for all involved, they missed a host of chances as Man City won their FA Cup semifinal 1-0.

By the final few weeks of the season, Pochettino could no longer mask his irritation at the lack of public support. Boehly spoke about the “beautiful football” Chelsea had played in 2½ games against Aston Villa, Tottenham and West Ham; Eghbali had remained silent. On May 11, Pochettino claimed “it would not be the end of the world” if he left Chelsea this summer, citing a need for him to feel happy at the club in the face of repeated questions about whether the owners were satisfied with his performance. And despite rallying to finish in sixth place above Newcastle and Manchester United, both parties decided enough was enough.

Pochettino met Boehly for dinner last Friday, shortly before Chelsea’s final game against Bournemouth on Sunday at Stamford Bridge, after which the Argentine did not address supporters in the manner of many other head coaches.

On Monday, the club’s end-of-season review began. As assistant coach Jesús Pérez and Pochettino’s other coaching staff members left for their holidays, Pochettino remained in London and met with Eghbali, Winstanley and Stuart. Conversations were said to be amicable, but all parties acknowledged an end point had been reached. The geniality of the club statement that followed on Tuesday reflected that feeling, Winstanley and Stuart insisting Pochettino was “welcome back any time” at Stamford Bridge.

He probably won’t take them up on that invitation in near future. And right now, that is probably best for all concerned.