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Enzo Maresca is obsessed with total domination – just like his mentor

Enzo Maresca - Enzo Maresca: The football obsessive and Pep Guardiola disciple whose 'idea' is total domination
Enzo Maresca led Leicester to the Championship title - Getty Images

When Enzo Maresca gathers his new Chelsea players together for the first time at the club’s Cobham training base, it will all be about “the idea”.

Maresca is the latest Pep Guardiola disciple to take a top job in the Premier League and, like his former mentor, is a head coach utterly devoted to his style of play.

This “idea” is a world of inverted full-backs, total domination of the ball, tiring opponents mentally and physically, ruthless breaking of lines and overloads. He will immediately outline his philosophy to his new squad and demand bravery and commitment. He will make it clear that mistakes are part of the process. Obsessed with the small details, he surprised Leicester players by insisting very early on that every pass has to be made to the correct foot.

It is a remarkable rise for the former midfielder, who is still said to hold his own during training games. To many observers, it will appear a huge risk from Chelsea’s ownership. Mauricio Pochettino’s exit last week was a surprise, and came after a stirring run over the second half of the season to secure European qualification. The impact of his departure has clearly been felt by his players, whose social media posts have told stories of sadness and shock.

Maresca has only completed one full season as a head coach, though he ended that campaign by lifting the Championship trophy. That was despite a late wobble which included six defeats in 10 matches, threatening to blow Leicester’s promotion bid off course. Polls on a fans’ forum even started to argue whether Maresca should be jettisoned before it was too late. Yet an emergency summit between the players, led by senior professionals such as Jamie Vardy, produced a defiant response which carried them over the line.

Leicester City Chairman Aiyawatt 'Top' Srivaddhanaprabha and Manager Enzo Maresca
Despite a wobble towards the end of the season Leicester won the Championship in Maresca's first, and to date, only season as a head coach - PA/Nigel French

Maresca’s brief reign at Leicester will also be damned with faint praise. It was always argued that as his squad was so talented and experienced, anything but promotion would have been deemed a failure. That is unfair, however. Maresca inherited a club on its knees after a surprise relegation, with key players such as James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and Harvey Barnes all leaving. To introduce such a unique, different style of play required courage and Maresca delivered promotion and a title.

His dedication to positional play and unwavering commitment to a philosophy has clearly caught the attention of Chelsea’s hierarchy. After Mikel Arteta’s success with Arsenal, the Pep effect on coaches is now shaping the recruitment process of clubs across England and Europe. Chelsea too are seeking a new direction after the decision to part company with Pochettino, and believe Maresca can provide it. Maresca will be content working under the current structure, where he can devote all his time and energy to his players and the training ground culture.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (L) speaks to assistant manager Enzo Maresca

Maresca has already worked with Cole Palmer at Manchester City, and he will be a focal point of the 4-3-3 formation that he likes to play. Full-backs will also be crucial to his style of play, with Leicester’s Ricardo Pereira and James Justin often moving inside to the midfield when the team was attacking. Willy Caballero, the former goalkeeper, is also one of Maresca’s coaches at Leicester and spent four years at Chelsea.

A father of four, Maresca readily admits that he can never switch off from football. He regularly spent proposed days off at Leicester’s vast training ground to prepare for the next challenge. Telegraph Sport was fortunate to spend an hour with Maresca in February, where he explained his approach in exquisite detail at the training base. He came to life when discussing tactics and his strategy, forensically explaining the 54-pass goal against Rotherham in December by pressing pause and play on my laptop.

This will be a new challenge for him at Chelsea. Expectations will be high and the narrative of painful defeats will be of a mini-crisis. He will be operating with a higher level of players, who have worked with managers far more decorated than him. Pochettino has left Chelsea in a good place, and the pressure will be on Maresca to continue their upward trajectory. The 44-year-old will be their seventh permanent manager in five years, and will know that past reputations can be trashed within months.

Enzo Maresca
Maresca will be Chelsea's seventh seventh permanent manager in five years – can he stay longer at Stamford Bridge than his recent predecessors? - Getty Images/Marc Atkins

That is the reputation that Chelsea’s owners are desperate to move away from, and this appointment represents what they insist is a huge forward step in the journey. Maresca will relish the chance to expand “the idea”.

And what of Leicester?

They are facing a difficult summer with the prospect of a points deduction for breaching financial rules. Sources have estimated that the punishment could be anything between six to 15 points.

With Maresca likely to leave this week, they will have time to properly recruit a replacement. Contenders such as Graham Potter, the former Chelsea manager, and West Brom’s Carlos Corberan are likely to come into the mix.

There is still much room for optimism at Leicester, and this is a situation they have experienced before.

Maresca assured Leicester that he was happy to lead them in the Premier League earlier this month but, as they already know, football can change in an instant.

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