If you’re going out, go out like Toni Kroos. Not like Mauricio Pochettino.

On the way:

👋 Chelsea and Poch part ways

🪓 Southgate gets ruthless with Rashford

🤝 MLS transfers to track this summer

🪡 That Kroos pass, one last time

A Bridge Too Far 🌉

Pochettino and Chelsea split after a season

In Monday’s TAFC, we posed the question: will Mauricio Pochettino survive the summer?

Twenty-four hours would have been more like it because news came yesterday: the Argentine manager is gone after one season at Stamford Bridge. He and Chelsea have parted company by mutual consent.

Mutual consent is a quintessentially English phrase. Usually, it translates as ‘sacked’. But not in this case. Chelsea-Pochettino has Brighton-Roberto De Zerbi vibes. It wasn’t working. Both sides sensed that. Facing facts was the best policy.

Yesterday’s statements from Chelsea and Pochettino were amicable enough but their relationship has been delicate for a while, like parents waiting for the kids to leave home before they divorce.

Results were mixed, to say the least, but they were better than last season and good enough to get Chelsea into Europe. The whispers in corridors never gave the impression that the club’s hierarchy had Pochettino’s back. He sounded as nonplussed by Chelsea’s recruitment as the rest of us.

Even on Sunday, Pochettino could not say if season two was in the offing. Chelsea were planning a review of his performances. That told us everything.

Money matters

There was a telling moment not long ago when Pochettino described Chelsea as “not my team”. No doubt he meant it.

Pochettino’s ideal side methodically play out from the back, via patterns of play setting up attacking positions. Chelsea’s inordinate expenditure did not build a squad specifically for him. In truth, there is probably no high-end coach who wants their squad exactly as it is.

They’ve got Cole Palmer but too often, Palmer is a Van Gogh hung in a leisure centre. If you’re looking for other silver linings, the dressing room is at least young, as opposed to old and past it.

Let’s not exonerate Pochettino. Some of Chelsea’s football was poor and on certain days, the crowd let him know that. Maybe he wasn’t a good fit.

But scepticism about Chelsea’s strategy brings you back to their co-owners, Behdad Eghbali and Todd Boehly.

Their entire vision seems to be predicated on the possibility that we’ll wake up one day and realise they were the smartest men in the room — but they are running the risk of coming second in that race even if they are the only men in it.

Mauricio Pochettino’s exit undermines Chelsea’s long-term plan

Who is next?

Forget the player transfer market for now. Managerial hiring is where it’s at this summer.

To take the Premier League alone, almost a quarter of the teams in it have already dispensed with the coach who finished this season.

Chelsea don’t intend to drag their heels. The early contenders for the role include Ipswich Town’s Kieran McKenna, Leicester City’s Enzo Maresca and Brentford’s Thomas Frank.

That list makes the point that one change in the division can easily lead to others, as owners look for shiny new toys. Pochettino wasn’t the first to move on, and we promise you this — he won’t be the last.

Speaking Frankly 🗣️

With Chelsea weighing up their next move, this interview by Jay Harris with Thomas Frank is timely.

Brentford are one of England’s big success stories. Their statistical approach to performance and transfers took them from League Two in 2009 to the Premier League in 2021.

That’s a Mike Powell-sized leap.

But they regressed quite badly this season, finishing 16th. Frank told Jay that he’ll “probably” be on the touchline with Brentford in August but he’s almost saying what some of us are thinking out loud: “Do I want to try something different?”

He has suitors out there. And given Brentford’s attachment to statistics, part of him must worry that having punched above their weight so well, the club might be trending towards a relegation battle.

England Exits 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

In certain quarters, they consider Gareth Southgate to be too nice. Too soft and too loyal. Lacking a ruthless streak.

But then came his provisional England squad for the European Championship, with no punches pulled. Two of his top boys, Jordan Henderson and Marcus Rashford, were left at the side of the road. Henderson’s omission is the culmination of a year of questionable career choices.

To an extent, Southgate is reading the room. He has talked over the years about picking players on merit, on form, but hasn’t always backed up those words with actions. This latest squad, which will be cut from 33 to 26 for the tournament in Germany, is not far off the cream of the crop.

Southgate, don’t forget, is out of contract at the end of 2024. The rapport between him and England’s followers is on thin ice. Perhaps his choices reflect how the land lies: he has to win the Euros. Or at least go very, very close.

Goodbye, German Genius 👋

Toni Kroos’ retirement might shock some but it fits his Real Madrid story

Farewell, then, Toni Kroos, who is retiring from football after this summer’s Euros.

He’s his own man, so you expect the unexpected — including this announcement — but talk about going out at the top. Kroos has just won La Liga with Real Madrid. Odds on, he’ll win the Champions League (his fifth) next week.

Dreamy midfielders are the best. It’s sad to think that we’ve just about seen the last of passes like this beauty to Vinicius Junior, away at Bayern Munich (above).

From a defender’s perspective, I’d compare it to chasing the end of the rainbow. You think it’s there to touch. But you won’t ever reach it.

Around The Athletic FC 🌎

🇺🇸 The close season in Europe means transfers, transfers, transfers. We’ve taken a look at who might get poached from MLS. My only hope? That the dice roll more kindly for poor old Duncan McGuire.

🇮🇹 The ownership of Serie A champions Inter Milan has changed hands, rather dramatically. Default on a debt of over £300m ($381m) leaves them under the control of a U.S. fund.

🇩🇪 No amount of Bayer Leverkusen and Xabi Alonso content is too much. Michael Cox has written about how the long passmaster changed his spots. The show rolls on to the Europa League final tonight as their invincible season continues.

📺 Atalanta vs Bayer Leverkusen (3pm ET, 8pm UK). Paramount+, TNT Sports 1

And Finally…

Check out The Athletic’s end-of-season awards for the men’s and women’s games — including our choices for player of the year. Spoiler: Phil Foden did not win…

(Top photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)


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