Who is Enzo Maresca? The Leicester manager in talks to take charge at Chelsea

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Chelsea ended the season in much-improved form under Mauricio Pochettino, but the sense of progress garnered from that mini-run was quickly ended as the Blues and their boss opted to part ways, immediately following the conclusion of the campaign.

That left fans wondering which direction the team would take next, with a couple of far less-experienced head coaches quickly rising to the top of the wish list - and Enzo Maresca now looking set to take over in the Stamford Bridge dugout.

Given he is yet to hold a manager’s job in the top flight of any nation, supporters - and perhaps a few within the club itself - might be forgiven for wondering about exactly who is taking over the reins.

The Italian-born boss is widely enough known for his exploits this past season with Leicester City, who he guided to the Championship title in England’s second tier, while it’s also a point of note in his favour that he was assistant to Pep Guardiola, so does have some exposure to the Premier League.

But there’s more to him than just being another member of the growing clan of coaches who have worked or studied under the Manchester City boss; indeed it could be argued that in one sense, Maresca so far has a little more in common with Mikel Arteta - particularly from his bridging of peak playing days into early coaching capacity.

Rewind to the mid-2000s and Maresca was an all-round midfielder, a force who could scheme and carve his way through an opposition defence, but also had the tenacity and drive to be a solid defensive performer. He was key to Sevilla’s back-to-back Uefa Cup triumphs in ‘06 and ‘07, starting both, scoring a brace in the first, while on home soil he played for the likes of Fiorentina and, earlier in his career, Juventus, winning a title with the latter.

Enormously gifted, he nonetheless failed to win full senior international honours, perhaps being unfortunate on two counts: one, his injury record was against him at times, and two, he was up against Italy’s strongest pack of available midfielders between the generation beforehand or any time since: Daniele De Rossi, Gino Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo et al were in their pomp, winning the 2006 World Cup when Maresca was in his prime.

Just as another Guardiola acolyte in Arteta was suggested to be similarly unlucky in Spain’s calibre of midfielder at the time, both nonetheless won a handful of honours at club level and quickly went into coaching, spending time working with the most iconic head coach of the modern age along the way.

For Maresca, that meant working with Ascoli as soon as he retired, officially assistant manager there in the second tier from 2017. By 2018 he was back in England - having played for West Brom as his very first club - and working at West Ham with Manuel Pellgrini, then Man City with their Elite Development Squad, triumphing with the Premier League 2 (the reserves league, essentially) in 2021 - then immediately taking a job with Parma, his first senior head coach’s job.

It didn’t go to plan. Parma won just four of his 14 games in charge and by late November he had been sacked.

Maresca, right, with Manuel Pellegrini at West Ham (Getty Images)
Maresca, right, with Manuel Pellegrini at West Ham (Getty Images)

His place at City remained open though and he returned as a Guardiola assistant for 2022/23 season, another one-year stint of watching, learning and contributing from close-quarters - then another summer departure.

This time it was Leicester, and this time he made it work.

Despite some grumblings from Foxes fans across the campaign about the perceived slow-paced style, between 6 August 28 October Leicester lost only twice, one being a League Cup match at Liverpool. A big late-season drop-off contained some questions, concerns and definite nerves, Leicester losing six Championship games in under two months, but they salvaged their form enough to win out the title and earn promotion at the first time of asking.

“He’s by far the best manager I’ve worked for,” midfielder Harry Winks said to Sky Sports back in March. “He’s incredible. I think everybody will say he’s going right to the top in [terms of] managerial stature. He’s got everything. He’s a great man-manager. He’s tactically incredible, some of the decisions that he tells us to do before the game and how he views the match is something I’ve never experienced before in football.

“It’s opened my eyes a lot to football in the way it’s played and the kind of Pep Guardiola style as well, I know he worked with him for a long time. I think since he has come in, I’ve learned so much and continue to do that.”

Maresca with the Premier League 2 trophy (Getty Images)
Maresca with the Premier League 2 trophy (Getty Images)

High praise from a key player, even if there are not yet any top-flight stories to recount, or big-name players and international superstars to oversee and impress along the way.

That will change now at Chelsea, and Maresca might need a similarly fast start. If he continues to match the pace and path of Arteta after striking out alone, that might be enough to finally see the Blues onto a consistent path to improvement.