The Reality Behind Chelsea’s Managerial Search

Stop if you have heard this one before: Chelsea FC is looking for a new manager. The sack-and-hire culture established during Roman Abramovich’s reign continues under the ownership of the Clearlake Capital consortium.

Mauricio Pochettino, who led the Blues to a sixth place finish in the Premier League, along with an FA Cup semifinal and Carabao Cup final, was not officially “sacked,” but it is clear that a disagreement with the board led to his departure. The decision is baffling to many, given Chelsea’s positive end to the season.

Now, the owners are looking at potential replacements. Some of the names being discussed are surprising – Ipswich’s Kieran McKenna, Leicester’s Enzo Maresca, Girona’s Míchel, and Stuttgart’s Sebastian Hoeneß, among others.

Despite a wide availability of well-established tacticians and even some former Chelsea managers (José Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Thomas Tuchel, etc.), Clearlake seem dead-set on hiring a younger coach with little to no Premier League experience. At first glance, this makes no sense. Why take such a gamble ahead of a return to European competition next year? Quite simply, it is because the owners don’t want a brilliant, independent mind to lead the side. They want an obedient yes man who will do their bidding.

Clearlake-Pochettino Rift?

Three months ago, almost every Chelsea fan was calling for Pochettino’s removal from the managerial post. The team was in disarray, constantly dropping points to lower-half opposition. The attack was over-reliant on Cole Palmer, and the defence was leaking goals.

Come spring, and the Blues looked practically unrecognizable. A few strokes of tactical genius on Pochettino’s part, most notably the conversion of Marc Cucurella into an inverted fullback, had completely transformed the side, and they ended the PL season with five consecutive wins.

Not even a week out from the last match of the season, the Argentine has left the club by “mutual consent.” The warning signs were there in advance. Clearlake were said to be exploring alternative coaching options during the season, even after results improved. Moreover, Pochettino had grown highly reliant on Trevoh Chalobah and Conor Gallagher since the start of 2024, rendering him unlikely to endorse their departure.

Despite the manager’s objections and the players’ desire to stay at their boyhood club, Clearlake are looking to cash in on the pair this summer. This situation offers insight into the type of problems Pochettino and the higher-ups had with each other.

Replacement Options Explained

When news broke of Chelsea’s hope to hire a young and charismatic manager, the aforementioned quartet found themselves on a supposed shortlist. Roberto De Zerbi, formerly of Brighton, and Rúben Amorim of Sporting are also said to be in contention, as is Brentford’s Thomas Frank.

One thing each of these men has in common is their relatively recent arrival on the coaching scene. McKenna has only ever coached Ipswich, taking charge of them in 2021, when they still competed in League One.

Maresca’s first head coach position was also in 2021, in the Italian Serie B with Parma. He has led Leceister since the start of last season. Hoeneß has managed Hoffenheim for two seasons and Stuttgart for one, while Míchel was boss of Rayo Vallecano and Huesca before taking the Girona job.

Amorim has managed exclusively in his home country of Portugal, first with Sporting Braga and now with Sporting CP. In a similar fashion, De Zerbi worked in the Italian lower tiers before managing Benevento, Sassuolo, Shakhtar Donetsk, and now Brighton. Kompany spent a couple of seasons with Anderlecht, and then another two at Burnley. 50-year-old Frank, interestingly enough, is the oldest and most experienced candidate. Even he, however, has only ever had senior head coaching roles at Brøndby and Brentford.

What this means, in essence, is that all of Clearlake’s shortlisted candidates will be jumping at the opportunity to manage a club like Chelsea. For McKenna and Maresca, the two apparent frontrunners, it would be a first ever top-tier coaching experience. In other words, they are likelier to be easily manipulated. This applies to the other options as well, albeit to a lesser extent.

Clearlake appears not to want something so crude as results on the pitch, per se, but rather a marketable and profitable business. Part of this model is the board buying who they want to buy and selling who they want to sell. No Mourinho or Conte-level manager would ever hand over control of transfers to a group of clueless businessmen, which is exactly why no such manager will be appointed.

A Bleak Outlook

As a result of Manchester City’s defeat to local rivals Manchester United in the final of the FA Cup on Saturday, Chelsea will enter the playoff round of the UEFA Conference League next season. They will return to Europe after missing out this season, something that had not happened since 2016/17.

Expectations are not high coming into next season. A large offload of players is expected in the transfer window, meaning Todd Boehly, Behdad Eghbali and co. will be overspending once more to fill gaps in the squad. Throw in a new manager, and one preseason is unlikely to be enough of an adjustment period.

A slow start similar to the one seen this term is highly likely. This time, however, the problem is intensified by the fact that the league stage for all European competitions takes place in the fall, meaning a newly-assembled squad and staff will have to take on a heavy fixture load and high-intensity competition.

With the new manager being given a reduced role in recruitment, Chelsea will look less like a football team in two and a half months’ time, and more like a social experiment.

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