Ranking Chelsea players by love for departed boss Mauricio Pochettino

Will Ford
Chelsea Enzo Jackson Gallagher
Pochettino's gone but which Chelsea player loved him most?

Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea and the social media messages of support from the players have been counted and verified, with reports in general claiming a combination of bemusement, frustration, anger and distress among the members of the Blues squad.

You can’t put a price on love but it turns out we can rank Chelsea players by their affection for the departing manager. It’s pretty obvious that the vast majority of them – unless they’re hiding their feelings particularly well – thought he was brilliant, so even the players towards the bottom don’t actively dislike him, they just don’t have quite the same adoration as others.

We’ve set the low bar for inclusion at 400 Premier League minutes and haven’t considered players out on loan.


19) Robert Sanchez
Signed a seven-year contract and is the club’s second choice after half a season. Possibly the only player genuinely pleased to see the back of him.


18) Enzo Fernandez
It’s hard to make a judgement as to whether Enzo Fernandez underperformed under Pochettino or not because we still don’t really know how good he could be. He won the FIFA Young Player after winning the World Cup in Qatar, and was impressive there, but in a Chelsea shirt he’s done very little of note. Has he ever reached his best at Stamford Bridge? We’re genuinely at a loss.

What was undeniable this season was that Chelsea became a far better team when Fernandez went for surgery and Conor Gallagher played alongside Moises Caicedo. Pochettino was apparently concerned all along that the Fernandez-Caicedo pairing ‘lacked the size and power for the Premier League’ and ‘privately questioned whether Fernandez was destructive enough to be a No 6 or creative enough to be a No 8′.

That’s not private anymore, and assuming Fernandez is capable of more than we’ve seen of him thus far, he will presumably be looking forward to a new coach that may be able to eke it out of him.


17) Ben Chilwell
Pochettino made him vice-captain, which was nice, but did also prefer to play Levi Colwill out of position at left-back on a few occasions at the start of the season rather than playing Chilwell. A social media message from Chilwell was conspicuous by its absence.


16) Christopher Nkunku
Injured for almost the whole season. Pochettino said nice things about how much they missed Nkunku early on in the campaign, and handed him some opportunities towards the end, describing him as “an important player for us”. Hard to make any love conclusions.


15) Raheem Sterling
Sterling may not have been hugely impressed by his lack of game time towards the end of the campaign but Pochettino backed him when he was being booed by the fans, pointing to both his “unbelievable CV” and his fine displays at the start of the season, adding that “I will always support him”.


14) Axel Disasi
He played more minutes (3,688) than any other centre-back and Pochettino has praised his ability to adapt to the Premier League perhaps more than any of the other additions from foreign leagues.


13) Mykhaylo Mudryk
We’re not convinced Pochettino “always winning” the crossbar challenge against Mudryk painted him as the motivational genius he had hoped that story would convey, but it again illustrated the time the manager had for individuals.

“Today was the first day we draw, because I always won,” Pochettino said in September. “Now you start to believe in yourself, believe in your quality. If not, it’s difficult to balance belief and quality.”

And there have been signs of growing belief in Mudryk, who has improved under Pochettino’s stewardship, if not to the same degree as some of his teammates. There is also a sense that there is a huge amount of potential to be unlocked, and someone else may be able to unlock it faster.


12) Trevoh Chalobah
Returned from his long-term injury and went straight into the team, in what was perhaps a big f*** you from Pochettino to the owners before they attempt to sell Chalobah for pure profit this summer, but the player doesn’t know that. In his eyes Pochettino thinks he’s worthy of being in his starting XI, and judging by Chalobah’s displays he’s absolutely right.


11) Benoit Badiashile
There were more than a couple of occasions this season after which Badiashile made it very easy for Pochettino to drop him, and more often than not he didn’t. After the 5-0 thumping by Arsenal, for example, but Pochettino continued to start Badiashile, and they went unbeaten in their last six, winning five of those games.

It’s clear to us that Pochettino sees something in Badiashile, so it must be obvious to him as well.


10) Malo Gusto
The idea was for Gusto to be James’ understudy but he ended up playing far more than he would have thought as a result of the captain’s injury and has been brilliant.

“It’s a pleasure [working with Pochettino], he has helped me a lot,” Gusto said in March. “He has given me his confidence and I try to return it on the pitch. He is very good for this type of team and we are very happy to have him at the club.”


9) Levi Colwill
“The big thing for me is on the first day I came in [for pre-season], he put an arm around me and showed me that he respects me as a person and also as a player,” Colwill said after his early-season form under Pochettino earned him an England call-up. “That’s a big difference, him showing that there are two sides. The majority of managers may just look at you like a footballer, he doesn’t. That helps me play my best football.”


8) Marc Cucurella
Cucurella was as good as finished at Chelsea, and looked to be at best third-choice left-back at the start of the campaign behind Colwill and Chilwell. But needs must and injuries gave the Spaniard an opportunity he made the most of, playing at right-back and then a left-back/midfield hybrid at the end of the season that allowed him to produce unquestionably his best Chelsea form. There’s every chance he would have started next season in the first XI under Pochettino. Now he’s gone that feels unlikely.


7) Djordje Petrovic
“I didn’t expect to play this many games,” Petrovic said at the end of a season in which he – like the rest of – expected his contributions to come primarily in cup competitions. But Sanchez’s injury gave the £15m summer signing from New England the opportunity and Pochettino stuck by him even after the senior goalkeeper’s return.

“I really believe him and the whole coaching staff because they believed in me and gave me the chance,” Petrovic said the day before Pochettino’s exit. Chelsea may well have opted to sign a new goalkeeper in the summer anyway (they really should), but for Petrovic perhaps more than anyone, Pochettino was key to his place in the starting line-up. There’s every chance a new coach will revert to Sanchez even if a goalkeeper isn’t signed.

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6) Noni Madueke
The first player to react to his departure – if that shows anything – posting a picture of himself and Pochettino with the caption ‘Thank you’ and a blue heart emoji. But it’s more their interactions on the pitch after games that’s indicative of their flourishing relationship this season. The pair have frequently been seen talking animatedly, sharing a joke and embracing.

Initially frustrated by his lack of game time, Madueke has become a key part of the Chelsea team in the last few months of the season, having – as Pochettino put it – “grown as a person and a footballer”. Another player whom we would have loved to have seen another season of under the same manager.


5) Reece James
‘Thank you for everything boss. We had an amazing relationship from the moment we met,’ James said on Instagram, before apologising for his absence for the majority of the season. Pochettino arrived and made James captain of the his boyhood club. If that’s not the basis for love, what is?


4) Moises Caicedo
Seemingly the player who’s benefited most from Pochettino’s man-management. Caicedo has spoken out about how patient and calm the Chelsea boss was despite his struggles in the first half of the campaign, and they bonded further as Pochettino spoke to Caicedo daily over concerns for his family’s safety in Ecuador.

Caicedo’s improvement was as stark as anyone’s at the end of the season, with his simple parting words to Pochettino on social media as heartfelt as any: ‘What a person, what a coach’.


3) Cole Palmer
You might say only a fool wouldn’t have recognised Palmer’s ability and failed to stick him straight in the first team. Colour Pep Guardiola a fool in that case. And Palmer himself recognises the importance of Pochettino to his extraordinary rise at Chelsea. ‘Gaffer, thank you for everything you have done for me & making my dreams come true. All the best,’ he wrote on Instagram.

And last week, when rumours of Pochettino’s departure were circulating, Palmer again declared his love and respect for his Gaffer. “Big credit to the manager because all the players love him, we’ve got to fight for him,” he said.

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2) Nicolas Jackson
It’s fair to say that Pochettino had little option but to play Nicolas Jackson up top. Armando Broja provided brief competition but otherwise the Senegalese chaos merchant was the only recognised striker in the squad. But Cole Palmer and Raheem Sterling could have and did play in that role on occasion, only for Pochettino to put his faith back in Jackson, whose progress this season is as good a testament to Pochettino’s ability as a coach as any.

He put his arm around a very raw and slightly bonkers young footballer, to calm him down as much as anything, and reaped the rewards of improved consistency in near enough all aspects of his game as the campaign wore on.

Jackson reacted to Pochettino’s exit with facepalm emojis and the caption: ‘Love you coach. Wish we could stay together more. But may God continue to bless you and your family. Thanks for the advice and support. You’re a true lion and fighter.’ The 22-year-old will be very fortunate to find another coach so trusting and willing to work to tame his frenzy.


1) Conor Gallagher
Pochettino has made it very clear, both through his actions and response to reports of his likely sale this summer, what he thinks of Conor Gallagher. No-one played more minutes for Chelsea this season than Gallagher (4,061), who was made captain with both Reece James and Ben Chilwell, and ended up leading the team in over half of the games.

After Gallagher’s brace in the win over Crystal Palace in February, Pochettino – perhaps pointedly with rumours continuing to rage of the owners’ intent to sell him as soon as a serviceable bid arrived – described him as a “priceless” member of his squad. Asked about his thoughts on Gallagher’s sale Pochettino insisted it was “between him [Gallagher] and the club”, but said it was “pretty obvious with my starting XIs” that he would much rather continue to work with the midfielder.

Ironically, that’s probably more likely to happen now Pochettino has left, because there has been no movement towards a new contract for Gallagher at Chelsea, whose owners’ desperate need for ‘pure profit’ sales looks as though it has left them with little option but to send him on his way, possibly to wherever Poch ends up. Gallagher would surely be very keen to follow him.