LONDON — Chelsea hired Mauricio Pochettino as manager on Monday, tasking the Argentine coach with getting the best out of an expensively assembled squad that has underperformed at the start of a new era for the English club.
Pochettino will take up the role on July 1, Chelsea said, after agreeing to a two-year contract, with the club having the option of keeping him on for a further year.
It is Pochettino's first coaching role since leaving Paris Saint-Germain in July last year and marks his return to the Premier League, where he had an impressive 5 1/2-year spell with Tottenham that included a run to the Champions League final.
Pochettino had been widely expected to take the Chelsea job, which is considered one of the most high-profile positions in European soccer.
He is the permanent successor to Graham Potter, who was fired in March after nearly seven months in charge. Former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard has led the team on an interim basis since then and it finished the Premier League in 12th place — in the bottom half for the first time since the 1995-96 season.
That was despite Chelsea spending around $630 million over the last two transfer windows as the club’s new American ownership — led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital — made a whirlwind start to their reign.
The unprecedented heavy spending hasn’t immediately translated into success, though, with Chelsea amassing its lowest number of points — 44 — during the Premier League era.
Pochettino has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in European soccer since leaving Tottenham in 2019, including Manchester United and Real Madrid.
He won the French title with PSG, but left last year and has been out of work until now.
“Mauricio’s experience, standards of excellence, leadership qualities and character will serve Chelsea well as we move forward,” Chelsea sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley said in a statement. “He is a winning coach, who has worked at the highest levels, in multiple leagues and languages. His ethos, tactical approach and commitment to development all made him the exceptional candidate.”
Chelsea described Pochettino as a coach who is "renowned for his sides’ high-energy and eye-catching style.
“He has built a reputation for helping young players realize their full potential within a strong squad ethos,” the club said.
Lampard used his final news conference as interim manager — after the 1-1 draw with Newcastle on Sunday — to speak bluntly about what Pochettino can expect upon taking over.
Lampard said he saw immediately after taking charge that “standards collectively have dropped.”
“We are not physically competitive enough — that’s a strong opinion I have,” Lampard said. "Also, we’ll have the capability now to get the squad in the place he wants it to be. That's going to be some work as well.
“The squad has been too big and that the biggest challenge I have found day to day is coming in and trying to work with big numbers and players who, for whatever reason, are disillusioned that they are not playing or they might be leaving. Those situations can be sorted out now — and they need to be.”
While Pochettino coached some of the world's most high-profile players in Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar at PSG, he'll have a less celebrated squad at Chelsea that is nevertheless full of talent and mostly young, such as Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez, wingers Mykhailo Mudryk and Noni Madueke, and defender Wesley Fofana.
They are among those players who joined for massive fees and on long-term deals over the past year but have lost their way amid a turbulent season at the club.
Chelsea's appointment of Pochettino, meanwhile, will be a tough one to take for many Tottenham fans, who still idolize the former Argentina defender for briefly turning their team into one of the best in Europe.
Tottenham is currently without a permanent manager following the departure of Antonio Conte, and the outside possibility of a sentimental return for Pochettino has now been dashed.
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Steve Douglas, The Associated Press