Chelsea made a mistake sacking Pochettino

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The former Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder gives his opinion on the Blues’ new manager and how far Kai Havertz could take Germany at Euro 2024.

In our exclusive interview ahead of Euro 2024, the former Arsenal, Chelsea and France midfielder discusses Kai Havertz‘s improvement, Arsenal’s striker search, Chelsea’s new manager and the Blues’ recruitment strategy.

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Which Arsenal players do you think can impress at the Euros?

I’m a huge fan of Declan Rice, and Bukayo Saka as well. Of course they are Gunners, but I was always a big admirer of Rice when he was playing for West Ham. I’m expecting those guys to be really good during the tournament. You know that Declan Rice will be good every single time.

Kai Havertz’s improvement has been a major talking point for Arsenal. Are you excited to see him lead the line for Germany?

Kai Havertz should write a book, honestly. Since he came to England with Chelsea, with all the criticism he received, then it changes and all of a sudden, step by step, he received the confidence of Mikel Arteta. Even when he was not playing well, he was still on the pitch. If you ask me what Kai Havertz’s best position is, I have no idea. Is he a midfielder, a box-to-box player, a striker, a No. 10? I don’t know, but what I do know is that his spell at Arsenal gave him a rebirth. He’s happy now, he’s smiling. I’ve been watching him for 16 months, he was always sad on the pitch, like a victim receiving criticism and never getting a chance to answer it. But everything changed, so his confidence is back, his happiness is back, and you have to watch him because, he has the talent to be forgotten on the pitch and all of a sudden he could strike.

How far do you think he could take Germany in their home tournament?

Be careful of Germany. The pride of Germany is dangerous. They will play in front of their fans, and we all know how difficult it is to play against them, even if they are going through difficult years and they are not at the same level that they used to be. We played against them a couple of months ago in a friendly and they were much better than us, and they won. I’m always very, very careful about the Germans.

Given Havertz’s improvement this season, do you think Arsenal still need to sign a No. 9?

They need a striker, if they want to reach another step. They’ve been improving a lot for the last four years, but we all know what happened against Bayern Munich, for example. I had the feeling that with a proper No. 9 asking for the ball behind the defender, you can change the system, you can use different options in the way Arsenal are playing.

I know your next question will be about Benjamin Sesko. I commentated on his game in the Champions League – this guy’s a huge guy. He’s got a great physique, I like his movements. He can bring something that Arsenal doesn’t have – physical presence up front, someone that can hold players in the penalty area, be dangerous on set pieces – this is something that Arsenal must improve.

Chelsea have also been linked with Sesko – do you think they will also prioritise a striker this summer?

Well Nicolas Jackson was much better at the end of the season, just like a few players at Chelsea. It was, for me, a shock to see Mauricio Pochettino leave the club because in the last two months of the Premier League, this team was improving a lot individually and collectively. When you look at the games they played against the top teams in England, you had the feeling that this team is not at the right place in the table, they should be higher. Month after month, I think Pochettino and his staff did a very good job and it’s a pity to see him leaving the club with a new manager coming in.

You asked me about a striker but, for me, the priority is on the bench – the manager. You’re telling me now they’re going to start a new page? A new story? The new manager has come in, he doesn’t know the players or the club, he’s going to take weeks to fit into the system. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it was a mistake to sack Pochettino.

How much do you know about Enzo Maresca and what’s your opinion of the appointment?

He was a former player in my generation. I think I played against him when I was with Juventus. He won the championship with Leicester so they are back in the Premier League, so it surprised me that he decided to change club after he did a very good job over there. I’ve heard that Leicester fans were happy to come back to the Premier League but were not really happy with the way the team played, and I can understand that. If he wants to do the same thing as Manchester City, for example, and try to build a game from the back and get position with the ball, fair enough.

Chelsea have signed him for five years, which shows me that they have a vision, they want to build something within the next two or three years with someone with a real identity, a real DNA. It’s something that they didn’t get with Pochettino and the other former managers. Give him a chance, I wish him all the best, but my only question is how the players are going to respond with the new management, new vision and new system.

Arsenal and Liverpool have managed to challenge Man City after appointing managers and sticking with them for a few years. Are Chelsea’s owners capable of doing the same?

Those guys are Yankees, and I don’t know if they know much about European football. We are not in American sports. I was asking myself the same question – what happens if after three or four months they are 15th in the table, don’t win games, don’t play well and the fans start to boo the team at home? Are they going to sack him and start all over again?

It’s a big risk, what they’re doing, because they’ve been changing manager almost every six months. Try to imagine what the players think in the dressing room: “Come on, we are working with him and in six months he’s going to be sacked.” I say give him a chance, and I wish him the best but with those American owners, you never know. They need to learn about passions.

Could you see Chelsea selling Conor Gallagher this summer?

How many English players are actually in Chelsea’s dressing room? Not many who play for the first team. What’s the point of spending so much money for the last two years, and then all of a sudden you have to sell because of the financial rules? I don’t get it. When I read the newspapers, you are willing to bring more players into the dressing room? Do they know that they still play with 11 players on the pitch?

Try to work with your players. If you have to sell, then sell – but don’t buy more players. They’re going to bring more trouble into the dressing room if they do that. You can buy two or three players, you can sell two players, fair enough, but don’t change a lot of players again and again.

It’s so important for English fans to see English players on the pitch. In my time with Arsenal, the back four were typical English players, and it was very important because they were the identity of the club. I know that identity is not there anymore in football, but come on, do you think Gallagher is the first one you have to sell? When I look at the squad, I think there are a lot of players to sell before him.

Chelsea saw Havertz and Jorginho leave for Arsenal and both have been successful. Should Chelsea stop selling to Premier League rivals?

Do they have the luxury to do that? Chelsea have to sell, there are probably some unhappy players at Chelsea who want to leave, so this is the part of club life. Do you think that Chelsea knew that Jorginho and Havertz were going to be successful at Arsenal? No. If they sold them, it’s because they didn’t want them to stay at the club.

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