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Inside the 24 hour talks that sealed Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea exit

Mauricio Pochettino – Mauricio Pochettino's Chelsea exit sealed over 'last supper' and 24-hour talks
Despite, overseeing a late-season surge to finish sixth and qualify for Europe – Mauricio Pochettino's time at the club has ended - Getty Images/Henry Nicholls

At around 11.30am on Tuesday morning, Mauricio Pochettino shook hands on his Chelsea departure and left the lawyers to finalise a divorce that had not required a relationship expert to predict.

Pochettino is the third permanent manager to leave the club under the Clearlake Capital-Todd Boehly ownership, but this time it was mutual. There was no sacking and no arguments or rancour, just handshakes and an agreement to move on respectfully.

A dinner with co-controlling owner Boehly last Friday night proved to be a last supper for Pochettino, but underlined the goodwill that remained underneath any disagreements or dissatisfaction.

With one year remaining on his two-year contract that was signed last summer, Pochettino will receive a handsome pay-off and can be proud of what he achieved at Chelsea having clinched European qualification in a five-game end-of-season winning run.

While Thomas Tuchel’s sacking was a shock, resulting in recriminations, and the dismissal of Graham Potter felt premature and harsh, Pochettino’s mutual departure appeared inevitable for some time and would no doubt be regarded as the best thing for both sides.

Pochettino was called into Chelsea’s Cobham training ground at around midday on Monday as part of the club’s end-of-season review to meet with sporting directors Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart. He also spoke with co-owner Behdad Eghbali.

Todd Boehly (left) and co owner Behdad Eghbali
Pochettino had met Todd Boehly (left) for dinner last Friday before spending several hours this week with Behdad Eghbali (right) - Getty Images/Darren Walsh

There were no disagreements over who should be in charge of transfers or which players should or should not be sold. The differences are explained as being more philosophical and relate to the dynamics of working within a club structure.

With a long season only just finished, nobody wanted to make a rash decision that could later be regretted so all parties agreed to sleep on day one of the meeting and reconvene on Tuesday morning. But nothing had changed by day two and by about 11.30am Pochettino’s departure was verbally agreed.

Boehly had returned to America after dining with Pochettino last Friday night and visiting him again at Cobham the next day, ahead of the final-day victory over Bournemouth. The billionaire kept in contact by telephone during Monday and Tuesday’s discussions.

No bad blood between Pochettino and club

Ultimately, Chelsea and Pochettino decided it was better to part now, after completing a relatively amicable 12 months together, rather than trying to push through the final year of his contract and risk a messy end to his reign.

There was also the threat that a bad start to next season or a bad run during the campaign would put pressure on the owners to make a mid-season change, which they have been keen to avoid since sacking Tuchel and Potter.

Chelsea are due to compete in next summer’s Club World Cup, which starts on June 15, 2025 and Pochettino’s deal was due to run until the end of that month. There were concerns that keeping him another year for the sake of continuity would have created a difficult situation around that tournament.

Five successive home victories at the end of the season proved to be enough to clinch European qualification and Pochettino can leave with his reputation intact after also reaching a Carabao Cup final and the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

Over a 38-game Premier League season, however, Chelsea fell short of the owners’ target to qualify for the Champions League and there were moments when they came under pressure from supporters to make a change before the end of the season.

The plan was always to review the club’s performance, including that of Pochettino once the season had finished, but clues over the direction of travel have been there for some time.

It was a few days after the January transfer window shut that Pochettino was asked a relatively innocuous question about the merit of set-piece coaches, which subsequently provided a window into how two worlds were colliding.

It also came in the build-up to the 4-2 home defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers that left Pochettino fearing for his job.

Argentine was at odds with club’s structure

Pochettino was dismissive of set-piece specialists, insisting “we are a coaching staff in charge of everything” before later adding: “Football belongs to the players. Not to the specialists.”

That was at odds with the structure being built by Chelsea’s owners and sporting directors, who have made it abundantly clear they believe football belongs to the players and the specialists.

Some of those around Pochettino claimed that Chelsea’s difficulties at defending from set-pieces could be easily explained by a relative lack of height within the squad, which would point the finger at those who assembled it.

Not only did Chelsea lose to Wolves in the next game at Stamford Bridge, following Pochettino’s dismissal of set-piece gurus, they also lost to Liverpool to a headed Virgil van Dijk goal from a corner in extra-time of the Carabao Cup final three weeks later.

Chelsea had wilted badly in extra-time against Liverpool’s kids and the nature of Van Dijk’s winner just rubbed salt into the wounds of the club’s sporting directors and owners.

Pochettino revealed that he met with Eghbali to “share opinions” after the Carabao Cup final. It later became clear, as exclusively reported by Telegraph Sport, that Chelsea were in the process of not only appointing a new set-piece specialist, but were setting up an entire department dedicated to corners and free-kicks.

Bernardo Cueva will start work heading up Chelsea’s set-piece department this summer and Pochettino no longer needs to worry whether or not he will need to make space on the touchline for another body, which he had warned he and he alone would decide.

Those close to Pochettino insist he had come to accept the arrival of Cueva and yet Chelsea’s desire to build a club structure that the head coach is part of has caused what proved to be irreconcilable differences in approach. It will not have gone unnoticed inside Stamford Bridge that Liverpool have advertised for a set-piece specialist since the departure of Jurgen Klopp.

Injury issues plagued club’s season

Chelsea’s crippling injury list was a problem for Pochettino on and off the pitch. Pre-season plans went up in smoke when Christopher Nkunku was forced out of the friendly against Borussia Dortmund with a knee problem that kept him out until December.

Nkunku managed only two starts over the entire season and Pochettino regularly had to contend with an injury list that ran into double figures. Rather than trying to apportion blame, the 52-year-old would often lament Chelsea’s bad luck. Behind the scenes, however, the situation raised serious questions and has put pressure on all departments of the club.

Pochettino’s influence in Cole Palmer’s amazing debut season for the club cannot be dismissed, while he also helped guide Nicolas Jackson and Noni Madueke through difficult starts to the season and an unnecessary penalty row in the thrashing of Everton.

Those who have criticised Pochettino’s tactics and substitutions have had to eat some humble pie after the decision to invert Marc Cucurella paid dividends and a number of players made an impact from the bench once the injuries cleared enough to give Chelsea options.

But, even throughout the winning five-game run at the end of the campaign, there remained a sense that all was not entirely well. Pochettino claimed it “would not be the end of the world” during a warning that he could effectively choose to quit Chelsea. And he did not hang around on the Stamford Bridge pitch after the final game of the season to applaud and clap the home fans who had stayed behind.

Pochettino had left the supporters to show their appreciation to the players, the people he feels football belongs to. But it meant the only men who got a personal goodbye were Winstanley, Stewart and Eghbali.

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