Having sacked two full-time managers, appointed one “Interim” manager for one game, and now a “Caretaker” manager for (presumably) the rest of the season, Chelsea are not only running out of titles to assign to head coaches, but also running low on patience and goodwill from the fanbase in general.
But presumably, the next guy will be THE guy, so let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the top three candidates as things stand — barring something silly happening, like Frank Lampard winning the Champions League and earning a full-time contract.
Julian Nagelsmann has been the most heavily linked manager so far, not only because Bayern recently sacked him and he fits the profile of the “young, energetic, collaborative” trifecta that Todd Boehly seems to want, but also because of his previous relationship with technical director Christopher Vivell.
The pair worked together at RB Leipzig where Nagelsmann led RB Leipzig to a third- and second-place finish. And it’s no secret that RB Leipzig are one of the models that the current Chelsea ownership want to emulate — especially in terms of the multi-club model approach — hence the appointment of Christopher Vivell in the first place.
“Thirty per cent of coaching is tactics, seventy per cent social competence.”
Nagelsmann is young and hungry, and has had to constantly prove himself due to his age. Along the way he’s come to understand that it can’t just be “my way or the highway”, in part because he does yet not command the respect that others might, so he takes a more collaborative approach with his players and with his ownership — or at least tries to (more on that in the CONS section).
For example, at Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig, Nagelsmann used variations of Juego de Posición, keeping the pitch wide and controlling spaces. This is a great way to stop the opponent as it has a lot of positional structure and limited action areas per player. At Bayern however, he realized that, well, he was at Bayern.
“I’ve been on the phone with several players during vacation. I told them about what I want to adapt: more focus on ourselves and less on the opponent.”
And so he switched from a more rigid system to a more expressive one, which focused more on individual qualities of the amazing Bayern players. It was an approach more similar to Ancelotti’s approach to football, as compared to the more rigid, Guardiola-esque approach.
Nagelsmann is still just 35 years old, and has already managed in the Bundesliga for seven years! He has a lot of room to grow and learn, and if we truly want an extremely long term project, a young manager could be the right way to go.
But that is also a negative, especially in our current state.
Chelsea are in the worst shape of the last two decades and we don’t have an Old Guard or an Eden Hazard to bail out a coach. Our most consistent performer is a 38-year-old Thiago Silva. The rest of the team are young and talented and highly promising, but also inconsistent, prone to lapses of focus, and some also quite injury prone so far. And that’s before we take the rest of the club being in constant chaos.
Would it really be the right move to appoint such a young manager at this juncture?
Being tactically flexible is great, but only to a certain extent.
Nagelsmann has shown this to a worrying extent: some Bayern fans claimed that their team lacked identity, and that is definitely worrying considering he was there for more than a season.
"Nagelsmann was renowned for changing his systems and shapes at Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig, but these frequent changes did not go over well with the Bayern players.— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) March 30, 2023
One of these changes was evident in the loss to Leverkusen where he set his side up in a 5-3-2 shape defensively." pic.twitter.com/34SU5hP8mo
Initially, he started with a rigid, positional structure-based three at the back. After a bad pre-season, he switched to a free-flowing tactic that was heavily reliant on the left side of the pitch. This season, after the World Cup break, Bayern hit a bad patch and Nagelsmann went back to his rigid system.
While being tactically flexible is good, constantly switching in-season between fluid and rigid, free-flowing and rigidly structured, expansive and compact makes him look like a coach who is unsure of himself.
And at the highest level, that lack of confidence matters. If the coach is unsure of his approach, so are the players, as Potter found out: another young and unsure coach.
Further reading: Julian Nagelsmann: the good, the bad and the ugly
Dentro de Julian Nagelsmann, há três homens em conflito: o que ele foi, o que ele é e o que ele ainda será.https://t.co/cSf6nUDIHg— Clarissa Barcala ️⚧️ (@clarissabarcala) March 7, 2023
I think Nagelsmann is going through a tough time and even beyond that, he has not found himself as a top level manager quite yet. With the situation that Chelsea is in, I think we need someone more experienced.
Luis Enrique’s major success came at Barcelona, where his incisive and direct football featuring quick transitions from defense to attack was a breath of fresh air from tiki-taka-obsessed predecessors.
Although heavily reliant on MSN (Messi-Neymar-Suárez), Lucho’s Barca statistically outperformed Pep Guardiola’s teams (more goals scored, fewer conceded, higher winning percentage) while winning at a similar rate. While he has not found anywhere near that level of success elsewhere, he did win La Liga twice, the Copa Del Rey three times, and the Champions League once during his time in charge.
“If they can score four, we can score six.”
And so, they did.
Lucho has a winner’s mentality and exudes the kind of confidence that we relate with Chelsea managers like José Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Thomas Tuchel, etc. He is that guy.
He is the guy who won Barcelona’s last Champions League and did so in a thumping manner with the legendary MSN. It’s very easy to say, “hey, they have three amazing players up front, anyone can do it”, but then why haven’t PSG done it with their MNM (Messi-Neymar-Mbappé)? Why didn’t Pep do it with Messi-Zlatan-Henry?
The more stars there are, the more difficult it becomes to manage them and Lucho has shown how to do that at the highest level.
While Luis Enrique’s Barcelona were terrifying, his other teams have shown issues. His 2022 Spain were toothless in typical fashion: against both Japan and Morocco, Spain had over 75% possession but lost in normal time and on penalties, respectively.
While he has definitely shown that his teams are capable of playing direct and incisive football, he has only done that with MSN. Chelsea’s current crop of forwards are some of the most wasteful players in the league.
27 - Chelsea had 27 shots without scoring against Aston Villa; their most attempts in a Premier League match without finding the net since January 2014 against West Ham (39 shots, 0 goals). Blunt. pic.twitter.com/IrEiCPcdQt— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 1, 2023
One of the key factors that the current Chelsea ownership are looking for is a manager who is willing to
be a yes-man “collaborate”.
Lucho is not as, “collaborative” as a Nagelsmann or a Potter. He is more the Tuchel-type. He is very sure of himself, of his ideas and rarely budges from them. This is the same guy who had frictions with Messi over a positional switch from a false-9 to the right flank — and eventually got his way!
I think “collaboration” is overrated when it comes to football managers. The team behind the manager — your sporting and technical directors, scouting network, etc. — need to be collaborative but managers come and go in the modern game.
Pochettino had made his name at Tottenham Hotspur (booooo) as one of the best Premier League managers of that period, turning a team that rarely win anything into Premier League title contenders and Champions League finalists — but still not winning anything. The history of the Tottenham!
Pochettino’s earlier teams, like Espanyol and Southampton were known for their 4-2-3-1/4-3-3, utilizing swift transitions and positional play. He likes to attack, using quick plays to move the opposition around and then have players run into the space created. That may seem fairly simple, but it is also fairly effective.
He turned Harry Kane into one of the best strikers the Premier League has ever seen. Under him, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli were seen as some of the best midfielders in the league. The latter especially has never reached those heights again.
However, Pochettino also managed to turn the Messi-Neymar-Mbappe combination in just okay-ish, at best.
Pochettino is very good with young players and ensures that they achieve their potential — not just at Tottenham with the likes of Kane and Dele, but also at Southampton (James Ward-Prowse) and Espanyol (Dani Osvaldo).
Chelsea are filled with players just waiting to reach their potential and Pochettino would be an upgrade on every other manager in this regard. Not only has he done it time and time again, he has done it in the Premier League while competing against teams that were outspending him regularly.
You can’t work with Daniel Levy for such a long period of time and not be “collaborative.” For years, Pochettino worked at Spurs with minimal investment and kept doing his thing. That is a man who is willing to collaborate.
When the time did come to spend, he also spent a lot. It’s another thing that the investment didn’t go well but more on that in the next section.
More money more problems
At Spurs, Pochettino ended up acquiring players like Tanguy Ndombele, Ryan Sessegnon, Giovani Lo Celso and Steven Bergwijn. All four arrived in 2019; none of them were in the squad, let alone the starting XI in Spurs’ 1-1 draw against Everton the other week.
Of course, the less said about PSG the better. Pochettino had probably the most expensively assembled squad in history but he managed to make his time there forgettable. He had a lower win percentage than Laurent Blanc, Unai Emery and Thomas Tuchel. He also had a lower goals scored per game than his three predecessors. All this while having Messi, Neymar and Mbappe is a crime.
He also had more goals conceded per game.
His time at PSG was simply too bad. Also, I think his style of football has become very easy to stop. Of course, he could always reinvent himself but I’ve not seen it so far. Additionally, his best time was at Spurs and that is a time when he didn’t win anything of note and finished second to Leicester City.